Fostering is hard. Let’s get that out of the way. You get a puppy, kitten, dog, or cat and you help them grow from a scared, mannerless disaster to a confident, perfect pet that any family would be lucky to welcome into their lives. You lose sleep. You lose money (sure, a rescue will sponsor vet bills… but your foster puppy NEEDS that “Adopt Me!” collar from Hollywood Feed too, right?). You will lose your sanity worrying over spay incisions, bouts of mange, potty training, and socialization. Then, you lose your heart when you give them away. With each one you battle the Foster Failure questions, and when each one leaves you get slapped in the face with – “Should I have kept him/her?” and “will his/her new family love them as much as I do?”
However, you know what you gain with fostering a homeless pet? – A purpose.
I started fostering in January of 2014 just after moving into a duplex with a fenced-in backyard. I had been visiting Memphis Animal Services weekly with Memphis Pets Alive! to take photographs and network the animals housed there, but had previously been unable to foster due to my living arrangements. Knowing the immense need for fosters in Memphis and encouraged by my Memphis Pets Alive! family, I was eager to begin the adventure. My first little fluffy puppy, Albert, was adopted after only a week and a half to a friend of a friend. Little crying at night, no health problems, born outside of the shelter in a home to a rescued mama – he was confident and happy. His new mom and I are Facebook friends and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to watch him grow into a BIG fluffy puppy and see how loved he is. He set the bar high. He spoiled me in terms of foster puppies, gently starting my addiction and teaching me the joys of a happy ending.
Norah set the bar higher. I planned to take a “short break” in between puppies, but next thing I knew there was a plea for help. Four puppies had been found starving in a field in East Memphis. Their mother had been struck and killed by a car and they were alone and feral – never touched by humans – and were going to need a lot of groceries and socialization to get them on track to finding forever homes. So after photographing dogs at Wag Along Tuesday one night, I came home with a skinny brown puppy wrapped in a towel. Within days she was transformed. She fell in love with my boyfriend, caught on to potty training, slept through the night without a peep, and learned commands within hours. She truly blossomed and the smarter she got – the more I struggled with the idea of keeping her. After two months and two visits from potential adopters, Norah found her forever home via social media and word of mouth. I cried for two days and all the way to the vet’s office to drop her off for her spay surgery. Would she think I was abandoning her? Luckily, the receptionist was expecting me – so I didn’t have to talk much during the blubbering. Norah is now thriving in her forever home with her new mom. Her ears have now reached full satellite status and are bigger than her head. She’s incredible. Norah taught me that hard work pays off and how to let go. Having her for two months, we went through a couple of puppy stages and the antics that accompany them. Do your research and give them the tools they need to succeed – and when it’s time to say goodbye, its okay to sob to a vet’s secretary at the handoff.
Next was Dempsey – a short term fostered Great Pyrenees puppy rescued from a rural MO shelter with his siblings. He crashed at my place only a week, but I still blubbered letting him go to his next foster home. He was the happiest puppy I’ve ever met – despite his horrible life before he landed in the arms of a rescue volunteer. When I woke up in the morning, he would lie in his kennel and just stare at me, thumping his tail loudly against the tray in his crate. He loved to play in his water bowl and carry it around the house sloshing it all over the floor and my lap. Dempsey showed me how forgiving dogs can be – even when their lives don’t start out as ideally as they should.
Winnie was my first personal mission of a rescue – after seeing her at Memphis Animal Services for two weeks, I knew she needed to get out quickly before she was euthanized like the majority of pets that walk through their doors (666/1,201 in July 2014 were killed). Whenever I passed her kennel, she would press herself up against the bars and freeze – begging to be touched. A rescue friend offered to try and pull her if I was committed to fostering her until she could go up to New England to find a home and I eagerly accepted. I was nervous, having never fostered an adult dog, and scared she may be aggressive towards my two cats – but Winnie passed the cat test with flying colors and joined my home. Completely housetrained, intelligent, kennel trained (if she were in an airline crate – she’s a magician in a wire kennel), and the most loving dog I’ve ever had. She needed to be near her people and preferred to be kissing them at all times as well. We went on walks, to the park, to dinner, to patios, to friends’ houses… we drove around to run errands – Winnie was a dream. Stepped in the door and she instantly became a perfect dog? Surely I needed to keep this one, right? Again, I spent the night before her transport spooning with her on the couch and crying into her neck, sick over whether I was making the right decision by letting her go. The time came for her to travel to New England and she was immediately adopted by the most wonderful family. I’ve become friends with her new mom and get to see photos of her swims in the harbor, her hikes in the mountains of New Hampshire, and her games of fetch in the woods with her brother surrounded by waterfalls. She has a life most people would kill for. I hope I can travel up North one day and see her again – but I rest comfortably knowing that she could not have found a more perfect home. Winnie taught me to trust my gut and go with my instincts. She chose me in the shelter & despite my heart wanting to keep her as my own, my gut told me there were better things for her.
Now, we come to little Alice, my current foster. After taking over a month off, I was browsing Pet Harbor I came across her photo at Memphis Animal Services and saw that she had been moved to the Stray Area of the shelter, where the public could not see her. I went to see her in the shelter on a Thursday evening and she was precious – wiggly, cute, and covered in ticks. I knew she had no interest noted in her file and without rescue she would be killed on Saturday. That sealed my fate. I found a rescue to sponsor her and brought her home. My initial thoughts on her breed were completely wrong and the beagle in her has really shown itself. She is unhealthily obsessed with my cats and quite the tracker, but also full of goofy happy puppy love. We’ve conquered the kennel and are steadily improving in the housetraining department. I’m sure Alice will have plenty of lessons to teach me in the time we have together before she finds a family to call her own, but in the meantime she will be just fine.
There’s also a lesson they’ve all taught me…that letting go of a life you’ve come to love is the hardest thing to do, but if you don’t let go, you’re losing even more lives – to kill shelters, to neglectful situations, and to the streets of your city. Rescues do amazing work, but without fosters they are helpless. If I had kept Norah, would Winnie and Alice ever made it out of Memphis Animal Services alive? As a person in the rescue community, you literally have the power to save a life. If you’ve ever thought about fostering, I can’t tell you yes enough times. You will lose your sanity, but you will gain so much more. The unconditional love of an animal far outweighs the tiny sacrifices you give up by letting them in your home. Find a reputable rescue to show you the ropes, find a family of volunteers to have insane group chats with about puppy poop and that hairless spot that may or may not be mange, and find a homeless pet that needs you. Your life will never be the same.
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