You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In many cases, that’s a good thing. Sometimes it works out well to be semi-oblivious when embarking on something new, unknown, different, etc. If I let the unknown hold me back, I would not be where I am in life right now and while life is up and down, I’m largely in a good spot.

This morning, one of my Facebook memories was of my first foster, Nellie (fka Cindy) from four years ago.

I look back on that experience and realize I had absolutely no freaking clue what I was getting myself into. It’s not a secret that when I started volunteering with SNORT, I had no intentions of fostering. Lucy was still a puppy – probably around seven months old or so. Our apartment had space but it wasn’t huge. My job hours were nuts (and remained nuts for the next four-plus years). ­

I’m not even sure what prompted me to change my mind about fostering. Because Nellie was a puppy mill dog, there were no photos of her (the Amish don’t allow people on their property to take photos of dogs they are surrendering). There was zero information about her besides she was a puppy mill mama who was being given up because she could no longer have litters.

But something in me just had to take her in, so we did. I picked her up sight unseen on a super cold, cloudy, depressing January morning, took one look at her, thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?!” And promptly fell head over heels in love.

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Meeting Nellie for the first time. Love at first sight.

Now with seven fosters under my belt (and hopefully more in the near future), I’ve come to realize there’s a whole list of things I didn’t know I didn’t know before I embarked on this adventure. I was clueless about a lot.

I Didn’t Know:
1. I had such high levels of empathy and patience.
Patience has never been my strong suit. It’s why I’ve remained up in the air about wanting to have kids. But my level of empathy and patience has been practically unlimited with each foster. I don’t even have that much patience with Lucy. But with the fosters? Sure, I got upset when they crapped on the carpet or flipped the heck out during thunderstorms and kept me up for hours. But the amount of poop I cleaned up or the time I spent in the bathroom with a certain foster (Isaac!) during thunderstorms rarely fazed me. I’m not saying I’ve become Mother Teresa, but I’ve learned I have a higher capacity for patience and empathy than I previously thought.

 

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This handsome boy was petrified of thunderstorms.

2. There was so much medical lingo to learn
Entropian. Cherry eye (which I actually learned about with Lucy). Interdigital cyst. Pyometra. Thyroid levels. Seasonal alopecia. Unexplained alopecia. Spina bifida. There isn’t a single foster I’ve had that hasn’t underdone surgery or had a major medical issue. Nellie – heartworm, lyme. Violet (fka Snowy) – spay, entropian, dry eye, bladder cancer scare. Buddy – neuter, dental. Isaac – puppy Prozac, alopecia. Novalee – spina bifida. Blossom – spay, dental (I think). Lady – spay, dental.

I don’t know everything, but I’ve sure learned a lot.

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Novalee had spina bifida but you never would have known it.

3. I’d have to learn to not be squeamish
No sooner had I laid eyes on Nellie than I realized she was leaking…down there. And not pee. It was a…thick goo. Leftover from an infection or a recent litter, probably. But that poor girl just left a trail of gunk everywhere she went for a few days/weeks.

Many fosters have not been housetrained so there’s been countless pee puddles and piles of poo to clean up. So much laundry. Wiping of all bodily areas. I’ve seen tons of incisions, ears filled with wax and countless eye boogers. And let’s not talk about post-surgery poo…

Novalee once ate an entire bag of raw almonds. Let’s just say it became quickly apparent she hadn’t chewed said almonds when she spent three days walking around inside our apartment like a giant pez dispenser of almonds.

I’ve developed a stronger stomach over the past few years.

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Buddy the Pug may have peed on me (and Lucy) a time or two. #maledogproblems

4. That I would handle adoptions better than I expected
Don’t get me wrong, I was a disaster when Nellie was adopted. And tears have been shed every single time a foster has been adopted. I miss them all. But I absolutely love the experience of fostering. It gives me a sense of purpose, something to keep me busy and selfishly, it feels so good be a part of saving a dog. If I had an unlimited budget and a bigger home, at least a few of these fosters would have probably wound up as “foster failures.” But I know going into each foster that I really can’t have two dogs – not enough money, not enough space – and that reality helps when it comes time to find a forever home for each foster. Now, there hasn’t been a foster in which I haven’t uttered the words, “I think I’ll keep him/her,” but deep down I’m fully aware it’s not the ideal option for either party involved.

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Lady, my first foster all on my own.

5. It’s a total team effort
Six of my seven fosters came when I was living with Marty. While the interest in fostering was 100% me, actually fostering was a different matter. When more than one person is impacted by taking on a foster, it becomes a team effort. Maybe not with the equal distribution of work and time, but each person in the home has some added responsibility and stress.

It also takes help from my employers – days I may need to leave early for a vet appointment or even take an entire day off to shuttle a dog to a vet appointment or surgery.

And travel impacts everyone – most holidays I’ve had a foster so that impacts every family we visit over the holidays. Each foster is different and because each was not my own nor raised as my own, their quirks don’t necessarily make them ideal houseguests. So it does indeed take a village.

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Backseat roadtrip buddies.

6. It’s stressful
I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but it is stressful to bring a foster home. The days leading up bringing home a foster are anxiety-ridden. What will he/she be like? Will they like Lucy? Will Lucy like them (probably not). Are they housetrained (probably not)? Will they eat (probably not)? Where will they sleep? Are they super sick? And then once I get them home? What does that bark mean? Are they scared? Why don’t they lie down and sleep? Is that cough normal?

I’m an anxious person by nature so the early days surrounding a foster are really stressful for me. Everyone’s different but stress is one of the overriding emotions for me when I’m fostering.

I’ll never forget one of the biggest sources of anxiety with Nellie – she refused to eat. I tried everything. Dry food. Wet food. Chicken and rice. Wet and dry food mixed. Straight bouillon. Nothing worked. Until it was suggested from a fellow foster mom that she probably had no clue what a bowl was or how to eat out of it. So, I scooped some food into a super shallow frisbee and voila! She was eating like a champ. But I was just so stressed out during those first few days when I could not get her to eat.

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Making a mess; we soon progressed to a frisbee. Baby steps.

7. I would have a hard time saying “no”
I’m kind of a selfish person. Hence the reason I’m not sure I want kids. I like setting my own schedule (when work allows), taking naps on the weekends and essentially doing what I want to do when I want to do it. Fostering puts a crimp in that. Having a foster is double the work, often triple the work. After Nellie was adopted, we were going to take a break and reassess whether we wanted to foster again and how quickly. We’d had Nellie for about six months, I think, which is a pretty substantial amount of time. But roughly six weeks after her adoption, I got a phone call about Violet, saying she needed a new foster home and wondering if I was interested. “Yes” may have slipped out before I could give serious thought to it. Oops.

So despite being a self-proclaimed “selfish” person, I’ve found myself saying “yes” a lot more when it comes to fosters.

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I’m not quite sure how you say “no” to that face.

All of this is to say that fostering is a big (and important) commitment. But there isn’t a single foster experience I regret. Each dog has meant so much to me and I can’t emphasize how much the benefits outweigh the stressors.

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Four Years Ago…

Four years today ago my life changed in the biggest, best way possible. I brought home my first foster, Cindy (now Nellie).

Looking back on my blog posts from the first few weeks we had her, I had forgotten how much I didn’t know!

Cindy was a puppy mill mama to a “T,” and while they are the most rewarding fosters, they are also the most work, the most depressing (because of their pasts) and the most stressful. I had forgotten she refused to eat for the first few days, snapped at Lucy and had fluids leaking everywhere. I forgot she had no idea what toys were, what food bowls were and what a soft, comfy couch was.

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She was quite the complicated foster and yet from day one I was hooked. I can’t fully express how rewarding fostering her (and every other foster) was. It really hit home when she was adopted. We drove her to her forever home and after getting her settled with her new family, Marty and I got ready to leave. And then she followed us as we made our way to the front door. I remember sitting in my car and seeing her standing at the glass door watching us. It just about broke my heart and I cried the whole way home. But looking back on it I realize the fact that she wanted to follow “her” humans meant I did what I was supposed to do. I made her trust humans; I let her know people can be kind, unlike the humans from her past; I taught her what being a pet is.

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Cindy was the first of six fosters to date. The stress of the first few days with each foster always makes me question why I do it but then after we settle in a new routine, I wonder why I ever questioned my decision.

The rest of my fosters were equally rewarding:

Clearly I’m more than anxious to foster again but now that I’m living on my own in a teeny, tiny apartment, I need to wait for the right foster. My complex doesn’t allow bulldogs (I got in before that rule was passed, so Lucy is fine but I’m beyond annoyed) so I’ll have to wait for a pug or Boston from SNORT. I work further from home than at my previous job which is a negative but I do have weekends free so I know I can make it work. I won’t pretend it will be easy to foster and be in charge of the care for two dogs but I really need to foster again. I have a few hobbies but NONE bring me this level of fulfillment.

Settling In

I’ve been in Lancaster for almost two weeks now which have flown by, thanks in part to work and the move. Besides the physical move, I forgot how much other stuff has to get taken care of! Change of address, new mail key, bills put into my name, items for the apartment I still needed (took me over a week to finally get bath mats). I have a few things left to take care but bit by bit my to-do items are getting crossed off.

I love my new apartment; it’s super tiny (680+ square feet, I think) but it’s perfect (minus the overflowing toilet issue…). The rooms are small and getting furniture in was a bit of a jig saw puzzle but after two weeks things are pretty much in place.

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Lucy was settled in the minute I put her food bowl down.

I found a new CrossFit gym after some trial and error. Did NOT like the first one I went to; in fact, the first time I cried since being out here was after going to that first CrossFit gym. It made me desperately miss my old gym and the people there. Outside of co-workers at Susquehanna, they were my only friends in Selinsgrove. But the second gym I tried was much better and made me miss my old gym a little bit less. It’s less than four miles from my apartment and with evenings and weekends free, I should still be able to get there a minimum of four days a week, five if I really try (5:30 a.m. classes are available three days a week but man, that is early). Still trying to fit in running – early morning running around here isn’t totally feasible right now. I have to be at work at 8 a.m. so it is too dark to run before work because I live near some really busy roads and right now I can’t get into my community building during off hours to run on the treadmill (I need to get on fixing that issue). Nor does treadmill running sound appealing anyway.

Anyway, onto the holidays! Marty and I spent Thanksgiving in Lancaster, just the two of us (and Lucy). I had to work Wednesday and technically my office was open Friday and I did not want to use a personal day so early into the job. To travel both to my family’s (or Marty’s) in one day just did not seem practical so he came down to Lancaster Thursday morning and will spend most of the weekend here. We did manage to make Thanksgiving dinner without any disasters. Next year’s goal? Homemade stuffing rather than the boxed stuff! Feel free to send any (easy) good recipes my way!

 

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Plus, now that I have weekends free, I can get home more often and we’ll be making it back to New Jersey for Christmas. For Thanksgiving, though, it was really nice to just stay put and relax.

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Lucy and I discovered a park just a short drive away.

And I have lots to be thankful for since last Thanksgiving. The bittersweet ending to a job I’d held for six-plus years in a career field that has been my life for 10-plus years. A new job in a new career field. Three successful fosters (Isaac, Novalee, Blossom). A (mostly) healthy Lucy. A new life in a new “city” (while Lancaster is referred to as a city around here, I still can’t refer to it that way with any sincerity). The opportunity to see friends and family more. There’s plenty more – as much as I love to complain, I have many, many things for which to be thankful.

Now onto my absolute favorite time of the year – Christmas! I may or may not have pulled out my Christmas tree at 6 a.m. this morning 🙂

Two Days I’d Rather Not Relive

Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows this has been a hell of a few days over here. For those who aren’t aware, hang on…

I have to rewind to maybe a month ago. One morning Lucy got sick – vomited and may have had some other intestinal distress, I can’t remember. It really wasn’t a big deal – we fed her a bland diet for a day and just a few hours after getting sick she was already back to normal.

Maybe a week or 10 days later, the same exact thing happened except this time she puked up some random round object. I looked at it for a while and really had no idea what it was. Still don’t have a clue. But I figured that may have been in her stomach the first time she got sick but now it was out of her system and I thought that was the end of it.

Then on Thursday morning – her fourth birthday! – she got sick yet again. I was planning to call the vet that day anyway to set up her yearly physical and when I mentioned she had gotten sick three times in 3-4 weeks, they suggested bringing her in that morning. Twenty minutes later we were waiting in the vet’s office.

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Among other tests, they took some x-rays and found something somewhat concerning on two of the four images – a round object in her intestine. Because the round object disappeared on two of the four images, the vet wanted to send it off to an expert x-ray reader (didn’t know such a job existed…) for a second opinion. They sent me home with some probiotics and instructions to wait to hear back about the x-ray.

Well, five minutes after we got home, Lucy puked up the half a cup of bouillon she had drank that morning all over my couch. I called the vet and barely got the words out “Lucy puked” before they said to just bring her in and they would keep her until they figured out what was going on.

That afternoon the vet called back and said the x-ray expert recommended surgery – he felt strongly that something was blocking her intestine and making her sick.

At 5 p.m. Thursday evening, she went back for surgery and the vet found two objects. The first was something completely lodged in her intestine – as in, they could not get it to move at all. So it took a bit more cutting than they had anticipated to get it out. What was it? Still no freaking clue. They said it was a big hairball but I was able to look at it – and it doesn’t look like hair, exactly. It looks like a solid dust ball or something. I don’t know. We’ll never know.

And the second object? Even more random. There was a piece of something dangling into her stomach. They showed me that object, too. It’s not a foreign object – it looks like a small clot or tumor of some sort that was hanging on by…body tissue, maybe? Anyway, it was hanging off her stomach wall and into her stomach. Probably not making her sick but the vet recommended getting it biopsied. Crossing my fingers the biopsy shows nothing concerning.

Thursday night I was able to sneak into the vet to see her before they shipped her to the overnight ER clinic. So pathetic.

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She arrived back at my vet Friday morning but they wanted to keep her for the majority of the day for observation. Because she has stitches not only on her tummy but also literally holding her intestines together, they needed to be sure that small amounts of food wouldn’t rupture the stitches before they felt comfortable sending her home with me.

I picked her up a little after 4:30 today and I could not have been happier.

Oh, and while all this was going on Novalee was adopted.

Yup, Miss Nova found herself a forever home.

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Her adoption was finalized earlier this week and her new mom is from Central NJ. I had planned to drive home to my parents’ house in NJ on Friday to do the exchange; our university is on spring break and I thought taking Friday off for a road trip with Lucy and Nova to get Nova to her new mom while also visiting my family would be ideal.

And then Lucy decided she needed surgery the day before our planned roadtrip. Novalee’s new mom was kind enough to meet me about an hour from here and she was so happy to meet her new addition. Nova was just happy to get back in a car and sleep.

I actually held it together when they drove off. Nova is such a people dog and I know she’ll absolutely love any home she’s in. And she won’t have to share attention with another dog. Her new mom is very bulldog experienced and could not wait to bring Nova home. She even bought her a new martini glass collar – my kind of woman 🙂

But wait, there’s more. Marty has been gone since Wednesday morning and isn’t home until midnight on Sunday (Monday morning, technically) so I’ve been handling all this on my own. I’m stressed and tired but I managed everything just fine. Logistically things were a little tricky but all of us got through it. I know I’m capable of doing anything that needs to be done on my own but when you’re used to having someone else in the equation it’s easy to get used to relying on the other person for support of all kinds. I’m proud that I handled everything on my own without asking for or needing outside help (asking for help is not a strong suit of mine).

So, Nova (whose new name will be Holly) is settling into her new home, Lucy is snoring away next to me on the couch and I’m drinking a massive glass of wine.

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I have to keep a close eye on Lucy for a few days to make sure her food seems to be moving through her without issues and we go back in 10 days to get her stitches out. Hopefully the biopsy is completely normal and we don’t have any lingering issues from that.

Right now I’m still in a fog; it’s been a really, really weird and stressful two days. In some ways it works out well that Nova was adopted today. Sure, it made for a long and emotional day but Lucy’s issues prevented me – and are still preventing me – from dwelling too much on the departure of Nova.

I hope the next time I blog it’s about something completely trivial.

The Sweetest Thing

Our apartment building is set behind a karate school and its adjoining parking lot. Our front door faces the school and Novalee loves to start our walks by going through the lot. There are always people and cars to look at and she’s no dummy – she knows that the odds are in her favor someone will stop to pet her.

As soon as I got home from work the other night, I leashed Novalee up and we began our pre-dinner walk through the parking lot. Immediately a boy – maybe seven or eight years old – rushed over, asked if he could pet Nova and plopped down on the pavement to start petting her.

His dad is someone I “know.” He’s the one who helped me rescue Isaac after he ran away. His son still attends karate lessons so I see him from time to time in the parking lot plus he lives along the river which is one of my frequent running routes. So I know him well enough to smile and wave and his son was all about Nova so all three of us began chatting.

Actually, his son began chatting. He told me about how he used to have a dog but they recently had to put him to sleep at 17 years and three months old because he was in pain. He told me about how they thought the dog was invincible and might never die. And about how now he’s lonely and doesn’t have anyone to play with at home anymore. He said he plays by himself with his toys and sometimes lays in bed watching TV but that it’s lonely without his dog.

He told me about how he wants his dad to take him to go look at dogs that are available for adoption and that maybe a bulldog would be a good dog to get. And that maybe his new dog could sleep in his bed with him. And “does this dog like to sleep in your bed?” he asked, pointing to Nova.

All the while he never once stopped petting Novalee and kept saying how cute and well-behaved she was and that again, maybe a bulldog would be a good dog to get (not so subtly hinting to his dad…).

Novalee started to get cold (I actually think she was milking sympathy pets out them) and so the dad started to get his son to move toward their truck and head home. As the son got in the truck, he turned around and asked me what the dog’s name was and I told him Novalee.

Nova and I continued down the sidewalk and as the dad and his son drove by on their way home, the son leaned out the window, started waving and shouted, “good-bye, Novalee!” He waved all the way down the street.

I have never been so happy to spend 15 minutes outside in 30 degree temps.

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Life with Novalee

It’s been just shy of two weeks since we brought this nugget home:
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(I know, she’s a model)

It was super stressful for the first week or so. She just did not like Lucy and she displayed that dislike by growling, lunging and snapping at her. So we separated them. Which worked in regards to keeping both dogs safe, but Novalee is a very needy dog. She must be not just in the same room as her people but physically touching them. And they must pet her. At all times.

After the first couple of days we were able to keep them in the same room if we were home and Lucy stayed on the couch (a place she was used to being after Isaac the Hump Monster stayed with us for 17 months). Gradually Novalee began going over to the couch, sniffing Lucy and then walking away.
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Progress.

Now they can even be on the floor (with supervision!) for several minutes at a time without incident. Novalee even tried to play with Lucy today – this is HUGE. I’m super, super cautious and nervous so I’m always prepared for the worst. It’s too early to say if they’ll ever be friends but I’ll take indifference on the part of Novalee toward Lucy.

Novalee went to the vet Monday to get her spay stitches out and to make sure everything else looked good. She was the hit of the office. Everyone loved her and she loved them! Her sutures look good, her ears are good and her dry eye is status quo.

Which means that she is officially listed for adoption!

I know, super fast. But there honestly isn’t anything we can medically do for her and behaviorally she’s house trained, knows basic obedience commands and is great with people. With time she might become better with dogs but I am positive there will be plenty of dog-free homes interested in her.
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Trust me, I am not getting ahead of myself and thinking we only have a few weeks left with her; adoptions are totally unpredictable. And I absolutely will not rush this process. She needs the right home that understands her future is pretty uncertain when it comes to her spinal issues and the effects it might have on her health down the road.

Plus she’s so freaking cute it’s almost like she’s fake; I am not anxious for her to go anywhere any time soon!

Finally, I got an update from Isaac’s new dad. And it was a great update. His new dad adores him and Isaac is one lucky, spoiled dog.
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I was happy but also largely relieved. We hadn’t heard from Isaac’s dad since the Wednesday before Christmas and I was nervous things weren’t going well. To get not only an update but an update as positive as this one is more than I could ask.

While Novalee is wonderful and I am ecstatic we have her, I really still miss Isaac. He was our most difficult foster but also one of the best. It was great to have a dog that so clearly loved us – and of course we loved him!

While bittersweet, this reminds me exactly why I foster.

I’m Back…

For now. And for two very good reasons. Hang on, this is a long one…

First, on Dec. 22, Isaac was adopted.
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I know, as soon as I made the decision to put the blog on hiatus, Isaac was adopted. It took me a while to write this post for several reasons. First, holiday travel. Isaac was adopted the afternoon of Dec. 22 and the very next morning we were on the road for travel.

Also, while his adoption was/is a very valid reason to update this blog, I just flat out did not want to write about it. I missed him beyond belief, the holidays were over…I guess I just felt too blah to write about it. He was adopted, it was over and we’ve moved on, or tried to.

I still miss him desperately, though. I sobbed when he left; I cried myself to sleep that night. I kept hearing phantom noises I thought were him because I was so used to him following me literally everywhere. Even the bathroom. I was used to him snoring next to me at night (yes, he found his way back onto our bed).

I’ve been taking myself for two walks a day to make up for the lack of walking now that he’s gone. It’s pitiful, really.

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“I like it right here.”

He was adopted by a wonderful man, though. Isaac will be the only dog, have the run of the house and his own personal dog walker during the day while his new dad is at work. It killed me though when his dad picked up him. As they drove off, Isaac looked back at me, as if wondering why we weren’t coming with him.

Lucy is obviously the beneficiary of Isaac’s departure. She has been so much more playful and overall just a happier and more relaxed dog.

The second reason to update the blog is that Lucy will not remain an only dog for long. In fact, as I type this she is already no longer an only dog.

Yup, we’re fostering again.

Meet Novalee.

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Novalee is a one-year-old puppy mill mama. She comes from an Ohio puppy mill. She actually spent the past two weeks or so with another foster mom in upstate N.Y. but it was never meant to be a permanent foster home for her. I expressed interest in taking her, so here she is!

Her background: she has spina bifida, dry eye, ear issues and a butterfly disc in her back. Sounds like a hot mess, right? Not really. Her spina bifida actually has almost zero impact on her quality of life – for now. She is completely mobile and has no neurological issues. Practically unheard of. She is largely continent; if left alone too long she may have some issues but none of our dogs are ever left alone for long.

She had a difficult spay before she got here but is healing. Honestly, there is not much more that can/needs to be done for this girl. Her ears need some attention, she needs some meds to clear up a recent UTI and her dry eye will always need attention, but her spina bifida is what it is at this point. There is no magic cure or surgery for it and since her quality of life is exceptional at this point, she’s really a “normal” dog!

Now, how about her personality?

Holy sweetness. If she is in the same room as you, she must be touching you (or any person) at all times. Seriously. She will paw at you when she wants to be pet, which is all the time. She gets annoyed if you do not pay attention to her.

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She is not (yet) good with Lucy. She’s not bad, but she’s growled at her and made moves to…lunge at her? I don’t know. After Isaac I am super cautious and we are taking it very slowly. As with Isaac, I think Lucy will spend a lot of time on the couch if the two are in the same room together. Novalee is content enough on the floor. Since she’s been home, though, I’ve largely kept her gated in the kitchen. Things need to go slowly and she’s had a long and confusing day.

After Isaac I had hoped for a dog like my first three fosters – Cindy, Snowy and Buddy – who either had no reaction to Lucy or adored her. Maybe with time, that’s what I keep telling myself.

Finally, the big question – why do I continue to foster and why do I foster at a continuous pace? Why not take a break?

Because I can’t say no?

Honestly, that’s a very big reason. Although I wasn’t even asked to take most of my fosters – I volunteered. So that’s only partially true.

I love dogs? Of course. I love bulldogs in particular? Absolutely. I want a ton of dogs but can’t afford a ton of dogs so I foster? Yup.

I’m trying to fill a void by “collecting” dogs? I don’t know, you’d have to ask a shrink. Maybe. Probably. I don’t have kids. I have a job I’m less than thrilled with. I’m located far from friends and family.

Either way, I’m happy and I’m hopefully helping out a few dogs and families along the way.