“Why don’t you just keep him?”
Everyone who fosters dogs for a shelter or rescue group has heard some version of this, probably every single time they foster:
“That puppy is so happy with you! And he gets along with your dogs so well! You should keep him!”
“I can’t believe the transformation! He looks so gorgeous now, and is so well behaved! You should keep him!”
And the clincher: “That dog loves you so much! You should keep him!”
Why we can’t just keep them all
Here’s the thing: We who foster know that our foster dogs look better, feel better, are happier and healthier, and are better behaved than they were when we got them; that’s why we foster. And we are acutely aware of how much our fosters seem to love us. We, sometimes quite painfully, love them, too. But for most of us, if we keep our foster dogs, it means we can’t foster any more. So the next time for the next few years that our local shelter or rescue group calls, looking for a foster provider for another very needy but worthy dog or litter of starving puppies, we have to say, “Sorry, I can’t.”
“But what is just one more?” our friends ask. Well, when it comes to just one more mouth to feed, truthfully, it’s not that much. But every dog owner should be aware that the price of feeding a dog is just the tip of the iceberg of a dog’s total costs.
Veterinary and insurance costs add up quickly
Veterinary costs, especially for any emergencies, can completely sink a household budget. I’m a strong believer in pet health insurance, and it has saved me thousands – but there is the matter of the monthly payment and an annual deductible. As an example, I’m currently paying $60.05 a month for 3-year-old Woody’s insurance ($720.60 for the year), and $147.38 a month for 11-year-old Otto’s insurance ($1,768.56 for the year). Both have a $250 annual deductible; I pay the first $250 of veterinary expenses each year, and then the health insurance reimburses me for 90% of the rest of that year’s veterinary bills. So, my cost each year, before I qualify for any reimbursements, is $2,989.16. The cost for one more young dog’s health insurance would be at least the cost of Woody’s: $970 before the insurance would reimburse me a penny.
Does that sound like a fortune? Well, it is. But it’s a monthly bill I can budget for – whereas a $6,000 bill for emergency surgery or a $10,000 bill for cancer treatments would be quite a blow. One can gamble with these things, but it’s just that, a gamble. And I don’t like gambling when my financial stability and emotional health are riding on the outcome.
Don’t forget about boarding or pet sitter costs
Then there is the cost of care if and when I travel. If I needed to board my dogs, the difference between boarding two and three is significant. My local boarding options charge anywhere from $45 a day per dog for a jail-like kennel and no extras, up to about $75 a day per dog for a nice facility that takes the dogs out several times a day. So one more dog would add $315 (for the jail) to $525 for a week of boarding.
Truthfully, I haven’t ever boarded my dogs or used a professional pet sitter (another option). I rely on friends and family for help taking care of my dogs when I travel – and in return, they can count on me to help them when they need it. Providing care for extra dogs can be time-consuming when time is at a premium, but it’s the deal we make with each other to ensure that our dogs are as safe and as secure as possible, with people they know and love, when we need to travel, whether for work or family emergencies or, every once in a blue moon, an actual vacation!
When my husband and I leave town, my senior dog Otto always goes to stay with my sister and her husband; he loves being the big dog in her pack of little dogs, and the plush life they enjoy. (On his first stay with them, he staked out the queen-sized bed in their spare bedroom as his preferred sleeping spot, even though he had access to lovely sofas and heaps of dog beds. No other dog gets that privilege! But his “Aunt” and “Uncle” love him and allow it, and I love them for it, even though he’s not allowed on my beds at home!)
I generally leave Woody at my office/house, and my tenant there feeds him and lets him outside. (I actually provide food and other supplies for his dog, so that’s a favor my tenant owes me.) Another friend, who walks dogs with me a lot and knows all about Woody’s training and proclivities and the trails where it’s safe to go, will stop by and pick up Woody to take on walks with her dog; so I owe Jessie some favors after she helps keep Woody happy when I’m gone.
It takes a village
Since I took on the ask of fostering my current foster pup Odin and his siblings back in November, I have had to call in even more favors for Odin’s care than for my own two dogs. An eye condition meant Odin needed eye medication many times daily for months and months, so when I traveled, the management and logging of all of those eyedrops fell to my friend Leonora – the one person I knew who was comfortable with administering eye medication and able to do it as many times as required.
Ultimately, all of our efforts failed, and Odin’s eye was finally surgically removed, but he still requires more consideration when I leave town than my own dogs do. Odin is still very much in the adolescent “Fail to give me enough stimulation and I will chew anything I please” stage, so, in the past few months when I have traveled, I have had to call in yet more favors to keep him out of trouble. Leonora picks him up from my office/house on her way home from work, and he plays and sleeps with her dogs at night and on the weekend. He has shown that he can’t quite be trusted not to chew up stuff if left at her house during the day, but he’s perfectly happy and mostly nondestructive if he hangs out with Woody at my office, so my friend drops him there on her way to work each morning. That’s a LOT of favors I owe her after each trip.
Like me, Leonora loves and enjoys Odin, too. But she also has two dogs and two pet health insurance bills each month, and her older dog needs costly medication each month. She also pays for a pet-sitter to come to her house each day to let the older dog (especially) have a mid-day potty break. She would love to adopt Odin, but, like me, is concerned about the cost of adding another dog to her household.
I can usually easily dismiss the “You should keep him!” comments I get from family and friends and the people I am trying to promote my foster dogs to. I know they are well-meaning, and that, sentiment aside, most people understand that the commitment of a pet can’t be taken on that lightly. But a discussion I had last night with an acquaintance who is having a very hard time with two sibling foster-failures made me decide to just put this little tirade out there, anyway.
This woman is retired, and has two elderly dogs with complicated medical needs; both are former foster dogs who needed so much care that she ended up keeping them. Recently she fostered a mama dog and her puppies for a local rescue. The mama dog and the other puppies got adopted, but she just fell in love with the last two puppies, and they seemed to play so well together that she thought, well, they can keep each other company.
But now that they are in adolescence, they are starting to aggravate each other, and are also bothering her older dogs. She has sought out help from a professional trainer, but still feels overwhelmed. My friend is both kicking herself about making the decision to adopt them, and feeling desperate and heartbroken at the idea of re-homing one or both. She is in actual, physical pain at the idea of letting one or both of these pups go – and I totally get it. When I just think about saying goodbye to Odin – when I find the perfect home for him – I start to cry. I think back to what he looked like in November: a scabby, hairless, skeleton. How could I forget our many trips to UC Davis, trying to save his eye, and the many vets and vet students he charmed and delighted there. I am going to miss his habit of burying his head in my chest and leaning in for long, sweet hugs.
Finding a forever home that’s just right
My acquaintance and I both know that these dogs can be happy elsewhere. And I think that we both know that they should live elsewhere. I can’t speak any more for her, but I know that I will be supremely happy when I can find a home for Odin where he will get more individual attention and love than he can get with me. It hasn’t happened in the past few weeks because I am being crazy-picky about who is going to get him. I want to make sure he ends up in a home with people who truly have time and space and a budget for a dog, and who will be just as touched by his cuddling and amused by his zoomies and appreciative of his gentle friendliness toward all humans as I have been.
When that happens, and I am certain he’s in the right place, and my heart recovers – then I can foster again, and try to help another little starving, mangey, and/or frightened dog or puppy get healthy and find a home. When I own just two dogs, I can afford that. But owning three dogs, in terms of time and money, puts me just over the line of what I can afford and take on responsibly. And I would like to keep giving back to more dogs, if I can.
If you’ve read this far, you probably aren’t the kind of person who will tell your friend who fosters, “You should keep him!” But if you are the kind of person who fosters, feel free to share this with your friends, so they can understand a bit more about what likely crosses your mind when they say that.