Welcoming A Foster
Many of us are crazy about dogs, especially one’s that we know do not have forever homes. How many of us shed a tear when we see the homeless puppies during Sarah Mclachlan’s commercial on TV? I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. Or, when at a local adoption event, how many of us say to ourselves “I wish I could take them all!” While we know we can’t adopt every single dog without a home, some families try to make a difference by opening up their doors to become “Fosters”. Merriam-Webster defines the word foster as an object that “helps (something) grow or develop”. When my partner Kim and I opened our doors to our first foster dog this month I found that I had to remind myself of this definition multiple times. It takes a big commitment from everyone in the home to welcome in a new foster. So, for my latest blog I’m going to talk about my personal experience with fostering Tiberius, an 11-month-old deaf Australian shepherd, and how it changed my life.
Over the last three years I have become close to a local Portland rescue, Deaf Dogs of Oregon. Being the Aussie lover that I am, I fell instantly in love with them because most (but not all) of their dogs are usually Australian Shepherds. When they asked me to pet sit one of their dogs and then possibly become a local foster for this particular dog I was in. Game face on, challenge accepted. Being my amazing partner that she is, Kim came to me asking if we could sit down and really talk about all of the logistics of bringing in a foster dog into our home. To this day, I will always be thankful for the conversation that we had. We had to organize how we were going to do this, and how to integrate Ti with our current animals at home.
Organize your Full House
In our home we have three dogs, three cats , and a lizard ( I know we’re like a small petting zoo). We knew that brining in a new dog, especially a young male, would take patience, positivity and reassurance from Kim and I on all ends. When you bring a new animal into the home, make sure that your current ones have safe places to go. In this case with the dogs, we have multiple kennels that we have set up, each with a comfortable bed, a toy, and blanket draped over them. For the cats our first step was to keep them separate. We created a safe space for them in their own room. When the day finally came for Ti to stay with us we brought out the good stuff, epic amounts of treats. I’m talking string cheese, turkey dogs, beef sticks you name it- we had it. We introduced everyone outside of the home and monitored everyone for quite sometime. When we finally returned back inside, we continued to monitor them for even longer. Sometimes this doesn’t go as planned, my biggest advice is to not actually have a plan. Allow the dogs to steer the direction of where things are going, if introductions don’t go as planned try a group walk, go to a more neutral area, there are so many things you can try before forcing them to go inside. The only solid plan and thought Kim and I had was that we knew our home could handle a foster dog, and we knew we could too.
New Species Introductions
Now that we got the dogs covered it was time to introduce Tiberius to the cats. With foster dogs sometimes you are lucky enough to have an entire background on them, or in most cases, you won’t have any information at all. We had no information if Ti had ever met cats before, so we decided to take things slow. I kept Ti on a leash and let him know that every time he would look at the cat and then look at me he would get a treat. This created a very positive outcome for everyone involved. The cats did not have to deal with him in their faces and he now came looking to me instead of them for entertainment or, in this case a treat. I kept this momentum the entire month. Except, with an occasional chase here and there, overall he did amazing.
If introductions to another species also don’t go as planned. Always plan to give more time for the animals to adjust. Allow attempts at introductions to be safe, positive and small durations. You can even try to have them just see/smell each other through a barrier like a baby gate. Get creative, stay patient, and remember that you probably didn’t love every roommate you had over the years.
Providing a stable home with a routine
Okay, now honestly, the hardest part isn’t even over yet. The hardest part is keeping the harmony. It is important to make sure all of your hard work during your introduction doesn’t go down the drain by someone fighting over a bone because you weren’t paying attention. As a dog trainer, I educate my clients that the first year, yes I said it, the first year is always the hardest whether you just adopted a dog from the shelter or you recently purchased a puppy from a breeder. It takes time to build any relationship, a new friendship, a new love interest and even one with a new dog. The easiest way to keep things even keeled with your new relationship, as in any new relationship really, is to have solid communication.
Provide your new dog with a solid routine and stay consistent. I had to make sure our new guest went out at the same times during the day, sat before he was given breakfast and dinner, waited at all side walks, and was given an afternoon nap in his kennel. Obviously, we did much more. Little things like these over time help a dog feel comfortable through consistency. In a little less then a month Ti’s anxiety about this new space slowly dissipated as we wove him into our family routine.
Becoming a foster parent isn’t everything I expected it would be. I expected to start training right away to help him get settled. I expected to be challenged by this teenage dog with high amounts of energy and the fact that he could not hear me. What I did not expect is the impact this 11-month-old Tiberius would have on this family. Ti brought energy to the house that we have never really had before. He brought out parts of our current dog’s personalities that made our hearts melt. Mostly every dog I introduced him too wagged their tail and immediately wanted to play. When I brought him to private lessons, my clients left with a cheek-to-cheek smile after meeting Ti. What I didn’t expect is the emotional attachment you begin to have the second they lay in your lap at the end of the day, the way he licked my face at all the right times and the way we looked at each other after a very successful training session. There is am attachment builds slowly over time without you even being aware of it. And the moment you’re truly aware of it, is the happiest moment of the dog’s life … adoption.
I loved our foster dog, Tiberius, like he was apart of my own pack. I trained him along side our dogs, client’s dogs and more. I took him hiking in the woods, we went to restaurants and we cuddled on the couch until late hours of the night. But what you don’t expect is how beautifully difficult it is to let them go. To remind yourself that a new family will come in, continue that same routine and provide a home just as wonderful as you have provided. As selfish as it is to want to adopt them all and love them all, we can’t and we shouldn’t.
I say this now, fostering a dog allows you to grow from this experience. Too feel all the emotions that come with it, and learn from them. I feel like I came into Ti’s life during a period where he needed me, he needed the social outlet, the training and the all the love. But what I didn’t expect is that he also came into a period of time when I needed him.
This blog is dedicated to Tiberius the deaf Aussie and too the wonderful couple that adopted him this week 10/16/17.