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.

Lady’s New Home

Foster number seven is in the books.

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Lady with her new mom and foster brother, Arnie

This morning I drove Lady to her forever home; she has two wonderful parents and a Boston Terrier brother, Arnie, who was already madly in love with Lady before I left. Both parents are older and retired; they’re home almost all the time and when they’re not, Lady will have Arnie for company. I think Arnie is ecstatic with that arrangement.

This one was hard for a lot of reasons. Lady was the first foster I handled by myself. While fostering has always been “my” thing, before I moved out here I had someone else living with me to help. Now I’m out here alone. I got really lucky with Lady, though, because she was the easiest foster I’ve ever had. Not the best because I can’t pick a favorite, but the easiest. Her health issues were minimal, she got along well with Lucy and her energy level was perfect for my small apartment. Her housetraining was the biggest struggle but compared to having two dogs who don’t get along (ahem, Isaac and Lucy) or a dog who had serious health issues (Cindy aka Nellie) or dogs who barked a lot (ahem, Buddy and Blossom), she was a breeze.

It’s also hard because it’s been a rough few months. I crammed a lot into just over four months – ending a job I’d held for six-plus years, accepting a new job in a totally new career field, a move, new city, a new foster and the end of a long-term relationship. So “losing” Lady is another big event in a short period of time.

But I am ridiculously happy I fostered her. She kept me occupied and busy and I think Lucy liked having the company. Selfishly, it was also really nice to have a dog that was utterly in love with me, not just me with her. Every time we took a car ride, she sat in the passenger seat and just stared at me. When I relaxed on the couch, if she wasn’t asleep she was keeping an eye on me to make sure she didn’t lose sight of me. It was so gratifying to see love in a dog’s eyes.

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Always watching me.

On the one overnight trip I took with her (to my parents’ house), she didn’t handle the separation well when I went out for a few hours. She didn’t freak out, but she apparently sat on top of the couch and stared out the window waiting for me to come back. It makes me worry about her first few days in her new home but I hope she settles in quickly.

As with every foster, there are very specific things I want to remember about her that made her unique:

Her love of anything soft. A pillow, a bookbag (which I would argue isn’t all that soft), a blanket – if it was soft and on the floor for even a minute, it became a bed for her.

Her three bottom front teeth. They were the cutest chicklets ever and I was so happy they didn’t have to come out during her dental surgery.

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That she was mostly deaf. I loved being able to catch her sleeping before she noticed me. And being deaf didn’t hinder her in the least.

Her wardrobe. She was the second dog I’ve ever had who genuinely needed to wear sweaters because she got so cold so easily. All the generous donations we received helped keep her warm (and cute) in the cold.

How after the first week her personality came out and she started doing her happy dance for treats and food. She gets so excited for food and runs around in circles while waiting for her treats.

Watching her speedy little legs come running after me whenever she lost sight of me. Her eyesight was perfect, that’s for sure.

Her snoring. For a pug-mix, she sure snored a lot and loudly! I’m going to miss knowing she was on the floor right next to my bed every night. It was so comforting – for both of us, I’m sure.

How she frequently slept with her head in the air, as if she didn’t want to actually fall asleep for fear she’d miss something but just couldn’t manage to stay awake.

And there are certain pictures that capture her best:

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So regal

So this was a tough one. She’s been bounced around a lot but she now has a forever home that is so excited to have her and I’m sure she’ll fall in love with them.

A (Deservedly) Spoiled Dog

Friday night, I had five packages waiting for me; four were for Lady. She now has a wardrobe that spans a matching harness and leash to (sparkly) sweaters to an outdoor coat.

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Thanks to wonderful SNORT supporters and family and friends, Lady is not only warm, but she has an entire wardrobe!

We went to the vet Thursday night and so far so good. She’s still on meds for kennel cough and Lyme and we started an anti-yeast medication to get her itchies under control. Right now that remains the most obvious issue – she is still very, very itchy, so we’re working on that.

She’s also put on two-plus pounds! That’s my girl! She adores treats, peanut butter and mealtime so it is zero surprise she’s putting on weight. She’s now started whining when I’m not fast enough with the treats – just like a normal dog!

I can also see why she’s inclined to be skinny – like every pug I’ve ever met, she follows me everywhere. If she can hear me, that is. I’ve quickly figured out she is partially hard of hearing. Whenever I come home, she usually stays fast asleep because she hasn’t heard me open the door. I kind of love it, though; I get to see her all curled up and peaceful before she wakes up.

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Lady is also getting to be so excited when she finally realizes I’m home. She runs right over and waits for me to kneel down and pet her. She puts her wee little paws on my lap for closer snuggles. I love it.

And we’re now t-minus four days until I pick up Lucy; I’m more than anxious to see how that goes. Because of her kennel cough, I haven’t let Lady near dogs in the apartment complex but at this point she isn’t contagious anymore so I’m hoping to let her meet a dog or two before introducing her to Lucy so I can see how she is around dogs. Today she spotted a dog across the street and was super interested – in a good way. So I’m optimistic (for once).

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I just adore this dog. She was sweet from the start but now she’s starting to become a bit more outwardly happy and it melts my heart.

Foster Adventure #7…

Get ready for a long one with very few pics…

Tonight I drove to Selinsgrove to drop Lucy off with Marty where she’ll spend the next two weeks. Why?

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(The above pic is from the shelter)

Normally Lucy wouldn’t be going anywhere with a new foster, let alone for two weeks, but a few hurdles with this foster made it necessary.

On Sunday,  Jan. 29, a request was put out from SNORT to foster a nine-year-old pug mix (that would be Lady) who was in a kill shelter in Maryland and had until Wednesday at 7 p.m. to find a foster home. You can put two and two together and figure out what would happen if a foster home wasn’t found by Wednesday.

I agreed to foster, thinking that it would be like every other foster – I’d bring her home, slowly introduce her to Lucy and then go from there.

Except on Monday morning, SNORT found out that Lady has kennel cough (and more – I’ll get to that in another post) and needed to be kept in a dog-free home for two weeks until the medication ended any threat of her infecting other dogs. Yikes. I am most definitely not dog-free but SNORT also had no dog-free homes available to foster.

Lady started antibiotics on Saturday and apparently within two days was a totally different dog. She went from despondent, detached and nonreactive to playful and friendly. How in the hell could I let a happy, unsuspecting dog be euthanized?

I couldn’t, so with Marty’s support and (immense) help, I am able to foster Lady. Lucy will spend the next two weeks with Marty while Lady finishes up her medication for the kennel cough. After the two weeks are up, I will bring Lucy back home and we’ll begin our “normal” fostering journey.

While every foster is drastically different, bringing home a new foster without Lucy there (for two weeks, no less) is just plain strange. While I know Lucy is in phenomenal hands with Marty, I’ll miss her. She’s been my buddy for the two-plus months I’ve been out here on my own.

Plus, I worry about Lady getting comfortable being the only dog for two weeks when all of a sudden I add Lucy into the mix. And I worry about Lucy walking into my apartment only to discover a new dog who’s gotten plenty comfortable in Lucy’s absence (don’t worry, I’ve already thought of a solution for that one!).

One thing at a time, though. For a change, I can devote all my attention to my foster for the first few weeks (which are undoubtedly the most stressful and chaotic) rather than having to divide my time and attention between two dogs.

I can also get a sense of Lady’s temperament and try to figure out how to best manage the two dogs once Lucy’s home. My apartment is not that big but I picked up a new crate and have a baby gate so we’ll make it work if the dogs wind up having to be separated when alone (or together…).

So to address my aforementioned solution for integrating the two dogs, my plan is to pick Lucy up from Marty’s with Lady in tow. That way they can meet in semi-neutral territory and then walk into their apartment here in Lancaster together. I don’t know what the hell Lucy would do if I walked her into the apartment after two weeks away and she saw Lady curled up on the couch in Lucy’s spot. Nothing good, I’m sure.

And hey, maybe Lady won’t be a typical Velcro pug (hahaha!) and won’t want to be on the couch with us. Or insist on following me everywhere – although even if she does, my apartment is 680 square feet. She’ll quickly find out there’s nowhere far I can go. Maybe Lucy will be her favorite companion, not me.

That’s the nerve-wracking and exciting part about fostering. You almost always have no idea what to expect.

Also, the big variable with this foster? Minus these first two weeks, I’m doing this all on my own. Two dogs. One very tiny apartment. Vet visits, potty breaks (and cleaning up those potty breaks if Lady chooses to take them inside…), mealtimes – all on me.

I guess this is kind of my test as to whether I can foster on my own although it admittedly varies widely based on the specific foster dog. Isaac would have been fine to handle on my own. No health issues, no housetraining issues, etc. Cindy (now Violet) would have been much harder with all her vet visits, housetraining issues, etc. But if I can manage Lady who, from what I can tell, is in need of some serious TLC and attention, I have confidence that while fostering may be a bit less frequent than in the past, it’s still possible.

Wish me luck!

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.

That Was Rough

On Sunday, Blossom was adopted. Cue the waterworks.

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She was adopted by a guy who is somewhere in my age range. He lives in a New York suburb outside of the city and is newly single. He lives in a single story home and does a lot of work from home. I told myself  the only scenario that would be better than our home was an owner who was home more than we are – and we found that. After less than a week on the available page, I was already in touch with Blossom’s new dad and everything was official yesterday.

Blossom is our sixth (!) foster and I don’t have favorites. Seriously. But she was the one I was closest to keeping for a variety of reasons. She is old, she had a horrible life and was bounced around a LOT the last year and yet had made tremendous strides to overcome her past in the two months we had her. And I loved her. I loved everything about her (ok, except her barking!). She and Lucy got along well and Blossom was happy with us. But an even more perfect home came around and I had to let her go.

It’s quiet and lonely at home now. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Lucy and she is more than enough for us – we don’t NEED two dogs around – but it’s funny how quickly you get adjusted to a new normal. Our normal with Blossom was a lot louder but a lot more fun, too.

I already got an update after Blossom got home Sunday afternoon and things are going well. She met some extended family – of both the human and dog varieties! – and the meet and greets went spectacularly well .

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Thanks to Marty for allowing me to bring her home. Thanks, Marty, for leaving it up to me whether we adopted her. Thanks to SNORT for allowing me to foster her and for working in finding Blossom the best home. Thanks to my parents for letting me use their house as the exchange site! As always, this was a team effort!

The Old Lady Gets Surgery

It’s been a while between posts but that’s because things have been very routine, which is good! Blossom has settled right in. She gets along well with Lucy (although we call her the “fun police” because she barks at Lucy when Lucy tries to play), has our routine down pat and has been generally wonderful. No accidents and she sleeps through the night – in our bed, of course 🙂

This past Thursday, though, the time came to get her spayed. SNORT (and I ) went back and forth about whether it was worth it to spay a 14-year-old pug. We ultimately decided that spaying her could only help her odds of being adopted. Plus, we could get a dental done at the same time; since she wouldn’t let the vet examine her mouth during her initial exam, we really didn’t know what we were facing.

I was nervous because of her age but she did fine – better than fine.

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“How do YOU know I’m doing fine?”

I picked her up Friday afternoon and she was very happy to see me – as I was to see her. She was not sorry, however, to say good-bye to the vet. To quote the vet tech, “she doesn’t like us very much.” I’m assuming she was not a happy camper and had several “fits” when they tried to pick her up, put her collar on, etc. Oh well. Everyone survived.

She did lose 10 teeth – teeth that were either broken off and/or decaying. But other than that, the surgeries were routine and she’s doing great. Eating well, moving around well and not at all happy with the cone of shame.

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All cone, zero dog.

All in all, very glad to have this behind us. Surgery and recovery have, so far, been better than expected and now she has a healthy mouth and her spay is all taken care of. Next step – available for adoption?

PS – Lucy says hi.

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Blossom Update

So we’ve had a few highs and a few lows since bringing Blossom home.

Let’s start with the highs:

She’s adorable. So freaking cute. She has an adorable gray muzzle, the biggest cow eyes and the best head tilt in the world.

She has settled into our routine relatively easily. She’s quick to join us (and Lucy) on the couch, knows she gets a treat after doing her business outside, knows our walking route and quickly got into the routine of sleeping in our bed 🙂

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She and Lucy are still getting along very well. Again, I wouldn’t say they interact all that much – Blossom certainly doesn’t play with toys like Lucy does – but they are totally comfortable being in the same room and spend the days sleeping on the couch together.

Blossom’s relatively healthy (more on that in the “lows” section, though). She is perfectly house trained, eats with no issues and gets around wonderfully.

Now, the lows:
Despite appearing to be healthy, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Her levels came back low enough that treatment isn’t necessarily required but we’re still gathering the facts. Ultimately, she might have to undergo treatment for it, which would suck.

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Her “Elvis lip”

She has a few big quirks which I mentioned in my previous post. I cannot touch her feet and when trying to put on her (adorable) new harness we had a not-so-minor freakout that left her “off” for the rest of the night. She was antsy and nervous. Poor thing. I can’t expect years of abuse to be erased in a few days, if ever, but it makes me sad she was scared when I simply tried to put a harness on her.

She is a barker. Fortunately, a 17-pound peanut of a dog doesn’t bark very loudly but it’s still in stark contrast to Lucy.

She’s a velcro dog. This isn’t really a low but I wouldn’t call it a high, either. It’s hard to call it a high when I can’t pee by myself. But she’s so darn cute it’s hard to get angry.

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I cannot get angry at this face.

Anyway, it’s obvious I love her and she is fitting in very well after less than a week. We’re still learning her quirks and I’m very quickly remembering what it’s like having a pug around but so far it has been really good for all of us!