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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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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A Christmas Survey

I think we’re just about ready for Christmas! Shopping is pretty much done and wrapping is almost complete. As usual, Marty and I (and the dogs!) will celebrate Christmas a few days early; this year we’ll celebrate on Monday, Dec. 22 since we’re leaving for New Jersey for the holidays on the afternoon of the 23rd.

I’ll be sure to post a quick recap of the doggies’ Christmas celebration on Monday night but for now, here’s (what I thought was) a fun survey for the holidays!

Favorite Christmas Movie
I’m going to cheat on the very first question because I have two: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon version ONLY) and White Christmas (I may or may not have a crush on Bing Crosby). It’s a tradition that my family watches White Christmas together, so guess what we’ll be doing when we arrive in New Jersey this week?! 🙂
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(source)

Favorite Christmas Song
Since I have an aforementioned crush on Bing Crosby, just about any of his songs but I love his versions of White Christmas and The First Noel.

White or colored lights
Both! But if I could only pick one for all my decorations (inside and out), I’d have to go with colored. Hard to believe these are now considered “vintage” but they’re the lights my family still uses to decorate the tree.
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Christmas Eve traditions?
I’m pretty sure a lot of families have this tradition, but we always open a new set of pajamas on Christmas Eve (yes, even at the age of 30).

How did Santa deliver gifts?
We didn’t have a fire place growing up so he used the front door of course! 🙂 His presents were always mixed in with gifts from my parents.

Christmas Day traditions?
My dad’s famous French Toast. He only makes it three times a year (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter) and it’s to. die. for.
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Favorite Christmas cookie?
I guess they’re not technically a Christmas cookie since you can make them any time, but Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies (with walnuts). Growing up I’d help my mom make at least one batch a year. Probably one of my favorite desserts ever, to this day.

Favorite Christmas candy?
Um, I don’t know that there are really any Christmas-specific candies that I traditionally eat, but Reese’s Christmas Trees are delicious. 🙂
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(source)

Eggnog…yes or no?
Yes. I never really liked it growing up and while I hardly ever drink it now, I’m a fan.

Do you send Christmas cards?
You bet! Who doesn’t like receiving Christmas cards?!

What do you want for Christmas this year?
Books. Lots of books and money for books. Since I’m officially done with grad school (!!), I’ve been reading non-stop. Oh, and a CrossFit jump rope so I can practice double-unders and stop doing this to my hands:

Pretty much as painful as it looks.

Pretty much as painful as it looks.

Money, Money, Money*

I mentioned it in a post earlier this week, but I’m going to be working with Ashley of Saving Money in your Twenties to try and get my budget in order. There are a lot of reasons I want to do this and why now is the perfect time.

I’m about breaking even right now given that I’m paying for grad school out of pocket and my job isn’t exactly lucrative, but I want to do more than break even. Especially since I hope to be done with grad school by the end of the summer and it would be nice to have some positive habits already in place by then.

It’s also no secret that I’d love to add another dog. It’s not practical for a number of reasons: mainly because our apartment is small and because of finances. There are a lot of things I should be saving for – my savings account, IRA, a future house I might own by the time I’m oh, 50, etc. – and while a second dog would be nice, it’s not the necessity that saving money is.

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(photo credit)

However, I’m hoping that by getting my finances in order a second dog might be an option down the road. I don’t think I need a massive overhaul in my spending habits (although maybe I do!) but an outside opinion and advice will certainly be helpful. I may find that what I think is “normal” spending is actually too high or there are obvious areas in which I can cut down.

Given that my job is emotionally draining, especially this time of the year, it’s very easy to find myself buying things to make me “feel better;” a coffee more than a few days a week before work, a soda from the vending machine. Those are the small things I’ve thought about cutting out but honestly didn’t think they would make that big of a difference; Ashley might tell me otherwise.

What I will be spending money on this weekend, though, is gas when I make an hour drive to pick up Buddy on Sunday!

Buddy!

Buddy!

*Blog title inspired by Abba. No, I have no shame that I love Abba. I may even own the Mama Mia soundtrack…

Two-Year Checkup and Other Stuff

Lucy had her two-year checkup today and everything went well!

"Of course it went well, mom. I'm perfect."

“Of course it went well, mom. I’m perfect.”

The vet’s office was relatively empty which meant we didn’t have an incredibly long wait and Lucy got plenty of attention. No less than three vet techs (in addition to our own) stopped by our room to say hi to Lucy and she just ate it up. I don’t think her butt stopped wiggling the entire time we were there!

She definitely almost followed a women into the bathroom.

She definitely almost followed a women into the bathroom.

Health-wise everything is pretty good. She put on a little over a pound since the last time we were there which was probably sometime early in the winter (I could check but I’m lazy). I honestly expected that. This winter was so brutally cold and snowy that we definitely didn’t get in as many walks as we should have. The weather has to get warmer at some point soon, though, so I anticipate being able to work that winter weight gain right off of her!

"I look skinny from this angle, though."

“I look skinny from this angle, though.”

She got all her vaccinations and booster shots, her teeth look good and I just have to stay on top of her allergies. Lucy even got a cute bandana for having her Lyme/heartworm screening done!

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Of course, all that meant I walked out $313 poorer but that did include just about a year’s worth of lyme/flea/tick/heartworm medications so it’s about what I expected.

Which brings me to another topic. I actually have a blog post coming up later in the week about how I’m trying to get my budget in order. It’s not that I’m doing badly; at least, I don’t think so. I just know I could be doing better. There are certain things I can’t or won’t eliminate (food and Lucy fall under those categories, for instance), so I’ll be working with Ashley from How to Save Money in Your Twenties (a category into which I’ll only fit for a few more months, ugh) to help identify possible areas I might be able to save some money.

I would love to have a second dog but it’s financially irresponsible to do so; because of grad school and the fact I’m paying for it without loans, I’m just barely breaking even. Which is honestly okay because I’ll be done with grad school in a few months and not in debt because of it, but I know there are areas of my spending in which I can do better and hopefully do more than just break even.

It’s not easy to plunk down $300+ for one vet visit but that makes me motivated to start saving in other areas and working with Ashley will mark the first time I’ve made a concerted effort to do so!