I’ve been fostering dogs and puppies for my local shelter for 15 years. Wow! Time flies – until I thought about it, I didn’t realize it had been that long.
Recently I was talking to another long-time foster provider, Kathy Callahan, trainer and author of 101 Rescue Puppies. I shared with her that, on the day I brought my most recent litter of puppies that I had been fostering for my local shelter back to the shelter to get spayed/neutered and adopted, someone who had seen me crying my eyes out over bringing the puppies back to the shelter said to me, “I could NEVER go to a shelter, it’s too sad!” Well, this snapped me out of that crying spell; I whisked over to “furious” in just a few seconds!
“Sad?!” I snorted. “I’ll tell you what’s sad: The fact that too many people would rather ‘rehome’ their intact dogs or ‘accidental’ puppies to other individuals, who fail to spay, neuter, or contain THOSE dogs, so the cycle goes on. It’s not ‘sad’ if puppies in shelters ALL get vaccinated, neutered, microchipped, and placed in a screened home, it’s SUPER HAPPY NEWS.” Whew! I was seeing RED.
I got hot again when recounting this conversation to Kathy, and fortunately she laughed wryly, completely understanding my emotional whiplash. She said, “I’ll tell you what makes ME see red…” and within the space of a few minutes, we had a Top Five Stupid Things People Say to Foster Providers.
We agreed that number 1 is this: “That puppy/dog loves you so much! You HAVE to keep him/her!” (Rebuttal: One of our most important jobs as a foster provider is to help the dog or puppy/puppies learn to love and trust humans. If they love me and the other people in my fostering circle, they should be able to learn to love and trust other humans, too. Plus, if I keep this one, my fostering days are likely over. You see, I have only so much time, money, and energy for my dogs. One more dog at home will max out one or more of those limited resources, but if this dog gets placed in a loving home after growing to an adoptable age/recovering medically/improving behaviorally, then I can help several more dogs this year!)
A close second: #2 is, “Those two dogs/puppies love each other so much! They HAVE to get adopted together!” (Rebuttal: Usually, when two puppies or dogs are super tightly bonded, this affects their ability to bond to the humans in a household. Tightly bonded pairs tend to look to each other for support, comfort, and direction, and avoid the less-familiar attention of the humans they just met. Separating them may seem harsh for a day or two, but they will almost always start to pay more attention to and seek attention and comfort from humans once they are separated. Only then can real work begin to get them socialized and happy with humans – a prerequisite for finding “forever homes.” It’s far, far more difficult to find families who will take two dogs than one, and almost impossible to find families who want two dogs who want little to do with humans.)
Number 3 is the first one that Kathy first shared with me: “I love dogs too much to foster! I would want to keep every one!” (Rebuttal: Our love for dogs is exactly why I and Kathy foster: We want to help as many dogs and puppies as possible learn the social skills they need to succeed in homes and then find good homes. The idea that someone who doesn’t foster loves dogs more than us is ridiculous. We love dogs so much that we want to see as many of them in homes as possible.)
My trainer friend Sarah Richardson, owner of The Canine Connection in Chico, California, offered #4 and #5: “You’ve put so much work and training into that dog, don’t you just want to keep him/her?” and “It seems cruel to send that dog to another home, now that he/she is so comfortable with you!”
Sarah has had some very long-term foster dogs, including one that she took on from my local shelter following an environmental disaster (the collapse of the Oroville Dam spillways). This dog was on the list to be euthanized by the shelter, likely right after all the evacuated animals were returned to the shelter – but this particular dog (and about 15 others) happened to be taken in by Sarah, who had volunteered her facility as a temporary safe space while the shelter had evacuated due to the potentially collapsed dam. The dog had massive, serious health and behavior issues – and she also loved humans with a joyful spirit that just grabbed at Sarah’s heartstrings. Sarah dedicated herself to saving this foster dog’s life, and spent literal years and thousands of dollars solving the dog’s physical and behavioral issues – and keeping her either safely away from other animals (since predation and dog-aggression were her most serious issues) and happily engaged with enriching toys and activities, to maintain her mental health.
Since Sarah has several of her own dogs, keeping a dog-aggressive dog means neither her own dogs nor the foster dog can ever be completely relaxed and comfortable – or enjoy full, free access to Sarah’s entire home. But letting the dog-aggressive dog be placed in a home with other dogs (or other small animals) sets up that dog for inevitable failure. And so it took years to find a safe, suitable, only-dog home for that dog. Anyone else would have lost hope for finding that dog a home and given up; Sarah was a superhero for holding the line at finding the dog a genuinely qualified spot, and keeping her own dogs and the foster dog as safe and happy as possible until that happened – but she did it. That dog finally found a home with people who love and appreciate her affectionate, playful, joyful spirit and perfect leash manners.
(So, the rebuttal: “When I foster, my goal is not to just get rid of the dog as quickly as possible, it’s to equip the dog with the skills and health he/she needs to succeed for the rest of her life in a home, to help find a home that can meet the dog’s unique needs, and to help the dog and the family learn to love and trust each other. When I foster dogs with significant health and/or behavior problems, accomplishing these goals can take a long time – sometimes, much longer than I had planned or hoped. But it makes no sense to settle and rush the dog into a placement that is likely to fail. And when the right adopter comes along, someone who is ready and able and excited about providing everything the dog needs, it makes all the time and money and energy worth it. And then I can go back to enjoying my own dogs full time, without guilt over the one who was euthanized because no one cared enough to put in the work she needed.”)
Do you foster? What’s the stupidest thing someone ever said to you about fostering? Or, have you inadvertently said something stupid to a foster provider? Spill it, and we can likely rebut it for you. 😊