My hair is dripping wet as I just jumped out of my luxurious Sunday late morning shower and put on hold my trip to Sams and anything else productive I had planned for this day, as the need to share my thoughts was so overwhelming that I realized trying to accomplish anything before getting this one out of my system would be futile.
Having had one of the worst experiences as a foster ever yesterday when I lost a foster dog to the highway after making a horrible mistake a few nights before. Allowing the mother Sheltie of 4 tiny babies off leash, assuming that despite her past tendency to run and believing that her newborn puppies would keep her close, she took off. After two nights and days of searching and hoping, I found her dead on the highway. A horrible loss and a deadly mistake. At the expense of her life, I learned a very difficult lesson and will carry both the weight of sadness and guilt with me for quite a while. Mourning her loss I went off the grid yesterday with little communication through any channels (my friends understand this is how I cope) most of the day. Until last night when I received an email from the foster who had just received a Lab puppy I had been fostering and had put on our transport van that morning. The puppies name was Maci and the email shared that she was tired, loved already and settling in just fine. It was the best news I’d had all day! And boy did I need it.
I have cried over many fosters leaving my home but didn’t with Maci. Not because I won’t miss her. Not because she wasn’t a good puppy …despite chewing everything and being a pretty strong willed little girl…she was all those things and more. I just knew I didn’t have to worry about her future. She’s a wonderful puppy that will have every chance in the world to find a loving home and in the interim will be fostered by someone like me, but with the Lab rescue that understands all the tendencies and gifts of Lab puppies like Maci. Someone who also gets what they are doing in taking this little spunky thing into their home. Helping save lives. And not just Maci’s life but the life that I now have room for because Maci is with her. Taking Maci is not just helping Maci but making room for another. And when I fill her spot in my home from someone at the shelter, I in turn will be making space at the shelter for another there. It’s a cycle of sorts.
When I heard again from the foster this morning.. still apparently ripe with emotion, burst into tears reading the Maci update and looking at pictures of her in her new foster home But it took but a second to recognize why and I shared it with this stranger-friend I had just met.
If I tell you that I’m tearing up a little over your message I’m sure you’ll understand. Not because she was my favorite all time foster or that I was so terribly attached to her or that I cried horribly when sending her yesterday. I rarely cry over puppies…usually the mothers of puppies or the adults that I worried would never find their way. Puppies are no worry and the more I love them, the less I worry about them leaving as I know they will find their homes soon.
There are moments I am overwhelmed by how fortunate I am and how much better life is, even on its worst days, because I found my purpose and follow it.
Somehow the foster theme has woven itself throughout this week as a few days ago another friend through rescue contacted me seeking advice. She was stymied as what to do about a new foster who kept adopting all of her fosters. Of course, this meant that before long she’d be dropping out as a foster. You can see the writing on the wall…”I have too many dogs of my own now to foster.”
My friend was frustrated both at what it would mean to lose her as a foster….less animals she could save. But also at her own lacking in what she considered her failing to make people understand how invaluable fosters were to rescue. More important than adopting, as in being a foster you can help hundreds of animals (so far this year I’ve fostered 92 dogs and cats) when as an adopter you may save just a few. But it’s hard to get that message across to the person who just can’t bare to let their foster go! It’s too heartbreaking. Look I know the feeling. And as I reminded my friend, not everyone can do what we do. Well they can but most won’t. As such, rescue is a race. As a fan of analogies…rescue is a marathon not a sprint and you must recognize it and not run too fast. You’ll run out of energy and not make it to finish.
Or in other words, you can only do as much as you can do and if you have 3 fosters, then you can help 3 dogs at a time. And refusing to let a foster adopt their beloved foster and expecting that will be the lesson that makes them embrace the value of fostering over their own desire to keep them forever is not very productive. The big picture is hard to see when your eyes are full of tears at the thought of letting your foster go. My friend Kim used to always say that her foster’s loved her best. I tried to remind her with each teary farewell that they loved her best because knew her best and they would love their new adoptive families just as much!
Either we’re not good at selling the concept or most just won’t try, as even our shelter has very few fosters. Especially dog ones. I can’t put my finger on what keeps people from trying it as I don’t believe everyone has a husband who refused to permit it. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me “My husband won’t let me foster”, I could retire tomorrow a wealthy woman. I wish I could find a way to make everyone feel a little of the satisfaction and joy I get from it as if they did, they’d be fostering every single day too. But I’m a flop at it having only brought in a handful of fosters over the years and yet here I am again, giving it another shot.
Partly because of how much we need them but in part because I want others to feel what I do. Its a great thing and makes each day of my life better..in some small way, special.
What sent me flying out of the shower and to this keyboard was my thinking about the mother dog that was now assuming the job of caring for the orphaned puppies that were born of the Sheltie mom I lost. Lola, who is the subject of another blog for another day, has spent the last 7 weeks here since her own babies were born at our shelter. Lola’s been a wonderful mother to them and it would soon be time to wean them as they were raking and chewing her raw and were eating from the bowl like little champs. But she remained dedicated to them and hesitant to leave them for even the shortest walks outside. But when the week old puppies in the kennel next door lost their mom, I knew Lola could take up the job as their surrogate mom. And she did with only the mildest hesitance. Yes, she obviously longed to return to the neighboring kennel and her own pups. And her own pups yearned for her, whining and crying for her to come back. It was sad. It was easier when Debbie Hines offered to take these puppies home to make it easier on all involved. But it was still hard.
I doubt Lola understood as I tearfully tried to explain that she was helping to save more lives and that her own puppies really didn’t need her quite so much anymore. Or when I reassured her puppies that they would all soon be going to homes of their own and that the Sheltie puppies needed their mommy to survive. My words were unnecessary for Lola anyway as soon enough she had assumed her role as foster mom with the same watchful caring as their mother and as Lola had done with the puppies she had given birth to.
Yes, she might have been heartbroken over the loss of her babies yesterday but you sure couldn’t tell it now. As today, she seems completely happy to care for her new charges that rely upon her for their lives. Babies that without her, might have little chance to survive.
And it occurred to me that this is what fostering is truly all about. Loving them, letting them go, and beginning it all over again until there are no more that need us to survive.