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.

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.

Happy Birthday From Afar

Today is Cindy’s (Nellie’s) ninth birthday!!

Cindy's first-ever birthday party.

Cindy’s first-ever birthday party.

I cannot tell you happy it makes me every year that she is able to celebrate her birthday! And unlike Snowy, we know exactly when her birthday is, according to the papers she came with.

For those new to the blog, Cindy was my first-ever foster and as such, holds a very, very special spot in my heart. She holds that special spot for so many more reasons than just being my first foster, though. Cindy was a puppy mill mama and over the six months that I had her, I learned how rewarding it is to see a dog learn how to be a pet. It sounds so silly – learn how to be a pet? – but she had NO idea what being a family dog meant.

First time playing with a toy!

First time playing with a toy!

Cindy spent the first seven years of her life in a puppy mill; we don’t know exactly what it was like but she was likely kept in a wire cage, saw little to no significant time outside that cage, was forced to produce litter after litter and never received proper veterinary care. Her c-sections were likely done in horrendously unsafe conditions as evidenced by the fact that when her forever family had her spayed, it was a very complicated surgery as they had to essentially dig through layers of scar tissue. Her paws were splayed (due to the wire cage, I’m positive) and her joints? Horrible. Her shoulders were/are bowed and I’ll never forget when our vet sort of pushed her shoulders up and in to show me where the joints should be. Her back was/is swayed and she was both heartworm and lyme positive when we got her.

But she was not only an absolute trooper through all the medical treatments she had to endure but also a true sweetheart. Every single day she amazed me by her ability to be so sweet after being so abused for so long.

She LOVED pillows.

She LOVED pillows.

And she had so many cute little idiosyncrasies. For example, her jowls would puff out and flap every time she exhaled particularly hard. It was so cute. And the way she would take minutes to adjust the couch pillows just so until she was happy enough to settle down on them (see above!). I’ll never forget the first time she ran or how, before she began heartworm treatment, she would slowly trail behind Lucy and me on our walks around the block, no leash needed. She was A: too slow and B: just wanted to be with us – it never seemed to cross her mind that running away (not that she ran fast enough to get away…) was an option.

Cindy’s adoption process was a tough one; twice we thought she had found her forever home only to have the homes fall through. But it was all for a reason as Cindy found the absolute best home ever. Truly. She is loved beyond belief.

Here are a few more of my favorites photos of the birthday girl.

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Smiles

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Paws crossed.

Paws crossed.

After heartworm treatment.

After heartworm treatment.

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Sweet Cindy waiting at the vet.

Sweet Cindy waiting at the vet.

Cindy's double bed setup.

Cindy’s double bed setup.

How can she look so sad in sparkles??

How can she look so sad in sparkles??

So addictively cute

So addictively cute

Like Snowy, I miss this squish every single day. It’s because of her and my wonderful experience with being her foster mom that I continue to foster. Happy Birthday, sweet girl!

One-Year Adoptiversary

Guess what happened one year ago today? Snowy (now Violet) was adopted!
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I simply cannot believe it’s been one year! Some days it seems like just yesterday she and Lucy were snuggling on the couch and in other ways it’s sometimes hard to remember the specifics of day-to-day life with Snowy. I do know for sure that she was one of our most fun and sweet fosters and I miss her every single day.

I mean, come on, does it get any sweeter?

I mean, come on, does it get any sweeter?

Snowy/Violet and Cindy (now Nellie), our first foster, were both puppy mill dogs. Snowy was a few years younger than Cindy but still had had more than a handful of litters. Unlike Cindy, though, she was in much better physical shape. Her eyes were not good, her skin needed some TLC and she had entropian surgery several months after I got her, but for the most part everything was fixable (and thank goodness her cancer scare was just that – a scare!). Her joints were really good for a bulldog, she had no breathing issues and had (and still has, I’m sure) energy to spare, at least for a bulldog.

She loved being outside.

She loved being outside.

In contrast to Cindy:

Those joints and that back sway always looked so painful.

Those joints and that back sway always looked so painful.

Of all our fosters, Lucy was definitely closest to Snowy. Cindy tended to get a bit cantankerous with Lucy from time to time (don’t get me wrong, they snuggled and got along 99% of the time but Cindy had no issues letting Lucy know when she wanted to be left alone 🙂 ) and while Buddy and Lucy were great together, I think sometimes Buddy’s energy got to Lucy. Snowy, though? There were never two better buddies.

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They loved each other so much.

They loved each other so much.

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People always ask me how I can stand to give up my fosters. I’ve written about this on more than one occasion but there are several reasons, the first being money. SNORT features all short-nosed dogs (hence the name, Short-Nosed Only Rescue Team) and more often than not, short-nosed dogs have health concerns and/or are high-maintenance starting at a young age. In short (no pun intended), they are expensive dogs to own and neither Marty nor I are in lucrative careers.

The second reason is that I love fostering. If we owned a larger house and had more regular schedules (and a larger income), perhaps we could have more than two dogs at a time which would allow us to adopt another dog and still continue fostering. Unfortunately, our apartment is not big and two dogs are our limit; therefore, if we kept any of our fosters, we’d have no means to continue fostering and that is something I definitely want to continue doing.

That doesn’t mean that seeing a foster adopted isn’t hard; it is really hard. All of our fosters have been with us for a minimum of three months so we obviously get really attached. And for the most part Lucy gets attached, too, with the exception of Isaac (she is SO done with him!). Therefore, it’s very emotionally difficult and draining to see them go. But every single foster we’ve had has gone onto the most perfect of forever homes. Honestly, these dogs are far better off in the long run in their current forever homes and that’s the whole point of fostering.

Thus, it’s comforting on anniversaries like this to look back on our time with each foster while also being so thankful they moved onto perfect forever homes. We miss you, Violet!

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Why I Volunteer

I’m not sure I ever really talked about why I started volunteering with S.N.O.R.T. – besides loving dogs, obviously. It’s clear from various posts over the past year that I do volunteer (two foster dogs are evidence of that!) but I tend to focus more on the dogs than my volunteer experience.

Let me backtrack a bit. I moved to Central Pennsylvania in August of 2010 to take a job as the Director of Athletic Communications for a Division III school with 23 varsity sports. I had (have) one, 10-month assistant. When I moved out here, my apartment wasn’t ready, I was forced into two different temporary housing situations and I was basically thrown into the start of fall sports, which included one huge source of stress for me – football season.

Now, things got easier and Marty and I started hanging out roughly six months after I got here. But it was still lonely. I did not have a lot of close friends here; all of my friends were either back at my previous job or where I grew up in New Jersey. I desperately wanted a dog but our apartment had a no-dogs policy.

Finally I convinced Marty that we should seriously look into moving into a dog-friendly apartment and start contacting English bulldog breeders (my mind was set on getting a bullie!). So we did just that.

Baby Lucy!

Baby Lucy!

We brought Lucy home in May of 2012 and like I always say, she was the best gift I ever could have gotten for myself! It sounds self-centered to look at it that way, I suppose, but she really has been the best addition to our home.

Unfortunately loneliness was (and still is!) an issue. Athletic jobs are very transient; I’ve already had three jobs at three different schools in just seven-plus years of working! Friends in an athletic department that you make one year are likely gone the next. So, six months after getting Lucy, I figured volunteering might help ease some of the loneliness.

When I reached out to S.N.O.R.T. in the fall of 2012, I initially said I was interested in volunteering with transports, website writing and more but that we weren’t going to foster at the moment. Our apartment isn’t huge and Lucy was still only eight or nine months old.

Omar LOVED her flying squirrel toy

Helping to transport Omar, who LOVED her flying squirrel toy

But then I got an email about a female English bulldog who was being freed from a puppy mill in Lancaster, Pa. – really not all that far from where I live. I immediately forwarded the email to Marty and while I acted as if I were half-serious, I really did want to foster this unknown dog. Fortunately Marty agreed to foster; I’m still not sure if he really wanted to, but he let me go ahead with the process anyway.

We got a quick home visit and approval to foster and home came Cindy (now Nellie).

Sweet Cindy.

Sweet Cindy.

Cindy’s foster period lasted over six months and was emotionally draining. We absolutely loved her and if money hadn’t been an issue likely would have kept her. She was a complete and total sweetheart who was physically broken down but so full of love!

After Cindy moved on to her forever home, we agreed no more fostering through at least the fall season. It is our busiest time with a lot of long days, long weekends and a lot of travel. But then I got a phone call from S.N.O.R.T. looking for a new foster home for Snowy and of course I said yes.

A happy Snowy.

A happy Snowy.

Snowy is already a long-term foster as she’s been with us for roughly four months and still has to undergo eye surgery and her spay surgery. She will be just as hard to let go as Cindy was and let me tell you, it’s hard. Especially when you’ve had a dog for months and months.

Like Cindy, I’d love to keep Snowy but money remains an issue. Now, I’m sure we could keep her and we wouldn’t lose our home or starve, but there are things like savings accounts, retirement funds and emergency funds that need contributions more than we need a second dog. So in a few months we’ll go through the process of finding her home and like last time, I’ll be an emotional wreck for a few days (ok, weeks).

But this volunteering stuff has eased some of my loneliness and made me happier. Sure it’s really, really hard to let the foster dogs go, but for however long I have them, our foster dogs make me very happy and satisfied.

Me and Snowy

Me and Snowy

So there’s the story of how and why I began volunteering. A better experience that I could have wished for.

Spa Day

Ok, the title is 100% misleading. The “spa” was Petsmart and it was more like 20 minutes than a day. But, earlier this week, I took the doggies to Petsmart for some nail trimming.

Lucy I knew wouldn’t be any problem. She’s had her nails ground down at least four or five times and while I wouldn’t say she loves it, she certainly soaks up the attention and treats she gets from the staff afterwards.

I took Snowy along for the trip figuring that it wouldn’t hurt to try and get her nails filed down. I figured worst case was that if she freaked out, no harm no foul. The pads of her paws are very puffy and swollen (thank you, puppy mill) and so it takes her nails a very long time to grow long enough to really touch the ground. But, she hadn’t had them filed down since we got her so I thought we’d give it a shot.

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She kind of had to be (gently) dragged along the floor but they did get her to the table and heaved her up there. Of course, she was facing the wrong way (but apparently really liked looking at herself in the mirror!) but they turned her around and got to work.

The staff said she was very good and she definitely was, but I think honestly she was too scared to put up any sort of a fight. That’s very common with puppy mill dogs or dogs that have been abused; they “pancake,” or flatten themselves onto the ground and almost seem to go inside themselves and ignore everything around them. While Snowy certainly didn’t go that far, I do think she was too nervous and confused to fight the process.

Good news is, though, she got her nails cut and she (and Lucy) got lots of treats afterwards.

All in all, I was very proud of her. She’s going to have to have her nails filed down every few months so I’m glad the experience went as smoothly as I could have asked!

Hoppy

I know it’s difficult to believe based on where Snowy came from, but she is truly the happiest dog I have ever met. It took her a few days with us to feel 100% comfortable, and she’s still quite nervous and edgy around most men, but her personality has come out in full force.

Every time I enter the living room – whether it’s after work, in the morning, after just walking in from the kitchen – Snowy breaks out her hoppy dance. She goes up on her hind legs and hops around. Usually I catch her front feet and we “dance.” It’s as cute as it sounds (well, she is at least. Me, not so much).

But perhaps my favorite quirk of hers is during our walks. I noticed it right when we first got her and it’s continued ever since. Every few minutes, she busts out in a gallop in the midst of our walk, totally unprompted. It’s like she can’t contain her joy at being outside for a walk! I can almost guarantee she never experienced a walk at the puppy mill and is probably just so happy to be outside with grass under her feet.

I will literally never get tired of watching her walk/run. It is both the cutest thing and saddest thing because she never experienced the joy of a walk before.

Another bonus to her love of walks? It gets Lucy to walk with a lot less resistance (although it would be hard to resist walks more than Lucy did). Once Snowy breaks out into her gallop, Lucy follows suit so by the time we get back, we have two tired doggies!

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Two tired and happy doggies!

I’m a Liar

And here’s the proof:

Meet Snow White

Meet Snow White

Remember when I said we weren’t fostering again until the fall season was over? Well, obviously that didn’t hold true!

Late last week I got a call from S.N.O.R.T. that a female English bully, who had been rescued from a puppy mill just like Cindy, needed a new foster home because her current foster mom needed to have surgery. I obviously consulted Marty and told him several times that we were under no obligation to take Snow White in; we had said that we were holding off on fostering for a good reason (a LOT of crazy weekends) and there are two of us in this relationship. He needed to be 100% okay with fostering again so soon or it just wouldn’t have been worth it to me.

Marty assured me he was okay with it and that we would make it work so today after spending the day working several volleyball matches, I hopped in the car to pick up Snow White.

Snow White with a side of Marty's bony knee.

Snow White with a side of Marty’s bony knee.

So much to say! First off, I did not choose her name, despite the similar fairy tale theme as Cindy (aka Cinderella)! Second, she’s a sweetheart. Not quite as openly affectionate as Cindy (perhaps slightly more detached, although I don’t know any dog who was as openly affectionate as Cindy) but a big lovebug nonetheless.

Exploring her new digs

Exploring her new digs

She is a very, very solid girl. She could definitely stand to lose a bit of weight but fortunately she walks very well on a leash and is a million times more agile than Cindy (i.e. her joints are actually in their sockets where they belong!).

Her skin isn’t in the greatest shape; from my understanding her collar from the puppy mill had slightly embedded itself in her neck and she has a few patches of thinning hair that we’ll get checked out at my vet. She also has some very puffy paws on her back legs but she appears to walk without any pain. Her eyes are the biggest health issue from what I can tell. Her lower eyelashes curl into her eyeball so she’s on several drops to alleviate the irritation.

No problems with the two of them so far...

No problems with the two of them so far…

Because she’s been a foster dog for well over a month now she’s used to households and other dogs. She and Lucy so far haven’t had any issues although we will definitely be separating them when we’re not home. Snow White does have a fear of men, however, leaving Marty to accuse me of getting her just so I could run him off 🙂

Despite being more agile than Cindy, she can’t propel herself onto the couch although she made it clear that’s where she wanted to be…

What's going on up here?

What’s going on up here?

So I helped her up 🙂

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There will be lots to say over the coming weeks but for now we’re going to settle in for the night!

Selective Memory

I was going through old pictures the other day and stumbled on a bunch from Cindy’s first few days with us.

As we were getting ready to send Cindy (whose new name is Nellie) to her forever home, Marty kept telling me what a good foster mom I had been, saying that Cindy had come a long way and it was because of my care. I brushed him off; in my mind, Cindy had been easy from the start. She was a sweet, sweet dog who had minimal needs – just a couch, food and a hand to pet her (and not stop!).

But in looking through the pictures, I realized Cindy did come a long way in the six months we had her (although I maintain that given her background, she obviously had an inherently sweet disposition and was a fighter. No dog who isn’t innately sweet and strong would come out of that situation as well as she did, no matter what care they receive after escaping a puppy mill).

Bringing Cindy home

Bringing Cindy home

Blurry, but you can see she was just cowering in her cage.

Blurry, but you can see she was just cowering in her cage.

It really didn’t take long to see her personality start to shine through but physically it was a long (and not-so-pretty) road.

You can see her wrinkles were so red they were almost black.

You can see her wrinkles were so red they were almost black.

Some diligent cleaning, filtered drinking water and quality food quickly erased those tear-stained wrinkles.

She also had a leaky private area. For the first month-plus, we had to keep her in the cage when we were gone in part because she leaked goo all over the place; I should have bought stock in baby wipes during that time! I still have a stain in the trunk of my car from her drips. The cause wasn’t anything serious, most likely an infection or remnants from her final litter and she was treated with antibiotics, so I really didn’t think twice about wiping her; Marty told me not everyone would “wipe a dog’s hoo-hah” but it was simply what had to be done.

Cindy also had dry eye so she accumulated some impressive eye gunk that had to be cleaned out several times a day, even with the eye drops she was given.

I don’t write all of this to pat myself on the back – not at all. There are many, many people who do more than I did with Cindy. It just occurred to me that in the midst of caring for Cindy I really didn’t think about what I was doing. I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t want to do whatever needed to be done for this face:

Smiles

Smiles

It’s funny the things we remember and the things we block out; to be honest, I had completely forgotten about Cindy’s leaking until Marty had mentioned it. Knowing the type of environment from which she came, though, it was impossible for me to deny her anything, from attention to care, no matter what that care entailed.

I don’t think I ever once got frustrated with her, even when she wouldn’t eat out of a bowl or leaked in my car, and that’s saying a lot. Patience is not a trait I possess but I found myself incapable of getting frustrated with Cindy. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that I’d be willing to foster again down the road. Besides the obvious saving of a dog’s life, it teaches me patience and I know I get as much out of fostering as the dog does.

What’s Next?

We’re going on our second full day without Cindy and things are a bit gloomy around here.

Sad Lucy

Sad Lucy

I think I’ve dealt with things reasonably well (even Marty agreed) although nighttime is the worst – that’s when I miss her most because I let myself truly think about her; Thursday night I cried myself to sleep. But the updates I’ve gotten so far have been great ones; Cindy has really found her perfect home which makes this process a million times easier. She deserves her wonderful new home!

It will take a few more days to determine how Lucy’s adjusted to the loss of Cindy and that will deserve its own post down the road.

So, the logical question is what are we going to do next? For now, we’re going to hold off on fostering for the immediate future. Come late August, my Saturdays are pretty much entirely devoted to football (and all the other fall sports!) and Marty’s cross country teams compete entirely on the road – no home meets at all – which means that we’re out of the house all freaking day on Saturdays. We get someone to watch Lucy but with a foster dog, you often just don’t know what you’re going to get; it could be a dog that doesn’t respond well to strangers, needs some sort of special medical attention, etc.

Do I (we) want to foster again? I think I do; it was beyond hard to see Cindy leave, but it was such a rewarding six months. More rewarding than I ever expected it to be.

How could you not fall in love with this face??

How could you not fall in love with this face??

We also happen to (unfortunately) live close to Amish and Mennonite puppy mills, which means there will likely always be a Cindy that needs saving in addition to all the non-puppy mill dogs S.N.O.R.T. takes in who need foster homes. However, we also had Cindy for longer than we thought and we developed such an emotional attachment after six months; it’s emotionally draining to say good-bye when you form that kind of attachment.

So to answer the question, what’s next is nothing for a little while. I’ll obviously continue volunteering with S.N.O.R.T.; I write some of the adoption bios, help with transports when I can, etc. I also know that in the future I’m going to have a very hard time not taking in another dog that needs saving but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it!