When Failure = Love

by Evelyn Lett

 Joyce, the loving product of foster failure. Photo: Evelyn Lett

Joyce, the loving product of foster failure. Photo: Evelyn Lett

As a rescue dog foster parent, one comment that I often hear goes something along the lines of, “I could never foster, I would fall in love with every one of them!”

Well, yes you will... but that’s the point! All of those precious, abandoned, neglected dogs sitting in animal control facilities who, at risk of being euthanized, are yearning for one main thing: love. Some of these pups have never experienced love, some may have lost love, others are just too terrified to realize that all they need is love. 

In the rescue community we have an affectionate term coined “foster failing.” It has nothing to do with your fostering performance but everything to do with your heart. There are those special fosters that will give you all the feels and you can’t possibly imagine your life without them, but I guarantee you won’t feel that way about every foster. Plus, if you do end up adopting your foster pet and embrace them as your next furry family member, everyone wins!

In honor of our February “love issue,” I thought I’d share just one of my foster fail love stories...

One Saturday morning I was driving to an adoption event at PetSmart with foster #46 in tow—an extremely timid, submissive, unsocialized beagle named Joyce. 

As soon as I merged onto the loop, my nose was assaulted by an awful stench coming from the backseat. I had my fingers crossed that it was just a gassy toot but with a quick glance, I was horrified to see a big ol’ pile of stink. Due to the traffic and nowhere to pull over on the highway, I had no choice but to keep driving, holding my nose to keep from retching. As we continued along our drive, desperately looking for anywhere to stop, I glanced towards the back seat again only to witness poor Joyce vomiting on top of her prior spell of diarrhea while trembling uncontrollably from nervousness. By this point I was gagging uncontrollably and literally thought my nose might fall off from squeezing it so hard. After what seemed like hours, I was finally able to exit the loop! By the time we made it to the nearest gas station, she had eaten about half of everything in the seat. I was crying and felt utterly disgusted, defeated and at a complete loss. What was I ever going to do with this dog?

Joyce’s history is completely unknown since she was turned into animal control. Due to the lack of information, all we knew was that she was extremely timid and had learned to not trust humans at all. Fostering Joyce was challenging. For the first two weeks at my home, it was heart-wrenching trying to coax her out of her crate for anything other than pottying, and I spent many hours simply lying next to her crate reading aloud to her softly. Everything from the television to our overhead fan terrified her, but slowly and steadily, and with a ton of patience, you could really see her learning how to be a pet companion. After about six weeks, I decided it was only fair to give her a chance at finding her very own forever home and was so excited to take her out to meet potential adopters!

Attempting not to panic, I exited the car and tried to figure out the best way to clean my car seat off while holding two dogs with no supplies and trying not to barf. It was right there in the middle of that gas station parking lot, experiencing the grossest moment of my life, that it hit me: I decided to adopt this little girl. I knew that I had to protect her from ever having to suffer from fear again. 

The most important thing as a foster parent is to have an open mind and to trust yourself. If you feel confident about who adopts your foster dog, then you should be able to visualize how much love they will bring to their new family. You can’t be selfish with love! But occasionally, even if you never dreamed in a million years of having a fifth dog (especially a beagle, of all breeds), you will know in your heart that the best way to love your foster is to “fail” at being a foster parent and to succeed at being an adoptive one. 

Joyce has grown leaps and bounds in my home and is continuing to trust and to learn to accept love every day. However… she still doesn’t go on car rides! 

More than Love

by Evelyn Lett

 Photo: Evelyn Lett

Photo: Evelyn Lett

Fosters are the backbone of the rescue industry—without them, most rescues wouldn’t exist. Fostering animals serves many purposes: one of the foremost is that it drastically reduces the overhead costs involved in running a rescue. Fosters help a larger percentage of donations go directly toward paying for the costs associated with vetting each animal that goes through a rescue. 

Foster homes also reduce the pressure on local government-run animal shelters that are often forced to euthanize healthy dogs or cats due to a lack of space needed for animals brought in as strays or surrendered by their owners. Additionally, injured animals that need to heal prior to being adopted can be given the luxury of time in a foster home that they may not always be afforded in an overcrowded, underfunded facility. 

I’m sure we’ve all seen the pleas from rescue groups on social media searching for rescues, foster homes, adopters or pledgers. I often see something along the lines of, “All you need is love, and we provide the rest,” in regards to fostering. And in the most fundamental sense, yes, organizations provide foster families with crates, beds, food, toys, bowls, leashes, collars, litter, you name it—they provide it (to the best of their abilities)! But in reality, it does take so much more.

Fostering isn’t for everyone. It can be challenging, inconvenient, emotionally-draining and overwhelming, but it is just as equally heartwarming and self-fulfilling so much so that, if done correctly, it can change everything you ever thought you knew about dogs or cats… and yourself. 

Fostering takes patience, sacrifice, commitment, absolute dedication, honesty with mental adopters… and did I mention patience? By no means do I want to turn anyone away from becoming a foster. I so hope that by sharing my experiences will shed light on a somewhat mysterious role that many people don’t fully understand. 

Full disclosure: Fostering has changed my life and given me a feeling of having a greater purpose. Watching an animal transform from a terrified soul who’s never known love into a beautiful, confident pet who knows how to play, trust and express joy is humbling and extremely gratifying. And then having the opportunity to watch that same pet find their perfect family who needs them just as much as your foster needs them—it makes you instantly forget all the trials and tribulations, and you are inevitably left with every precious, loving memory of each foster once they’ve left the nest.

One aspect of fostering that can be intimidating to people is that it carries quite a bit of uncertainty. For example, my rescue, and many others, regularly visit rural animal control shelters where dogs are found as strays or turned in by their owners. After they’re held for five days, they become subject to euthanasia. When these shelters become full or have a particularly busy week, the animals are put under even more pressure to find homes, either by direct adoption or by being pulled by a rescue organization. These rescues serve as a type of temporary middle-man to get the animals fully vetted and treated, evaluated for personality and behavioral traits, and acclimated to living and being comfortable in a home. 

The majority of these animals have completely unknown backgrounds. They may have never lived indoors; dogs’ listed “breed” is honestly just a best guess based on their physical appearance; they’ve never been taught any behavioral commands; they might have been abused verbally or physically; some have been unexpectedly separated from the one and only human they’ve ever known and are in mourning; and others just need a little extra TLC before going directly to a new home. 

There’s never an “absolute guarantee” to any animal that you bring into your home, and often it can take several days to weeks to reveal your foster’s personality and any unusual “quirks” they may have. You must be ready to adjust your current setup and schedule to fit each individual foster animal, since no two are the same!

Fostering exposes the utter resilience of these amazing creatures we have chosen to share our lives with, and ultimately chosen to be members of our families. So please, be patient if things seem chaotic at first. Take a few deep breaths, gain perspective and think outside the box to address any specific issues that may arise. Remember your importance: you may possibly be the last chance this little furry kid has at their “happily ever after.”

The Impact of Fostering

by Evelyn Lett

 Photo: Evelyn Lett

Photo: Evelyn Lett

There once was a pup named Speck. For about six years she lived in a small home in the country with her owner and over 30 fur-siblings. Speck grew up having to learn how to compete with her siblings for everything: food, a place to rest, affection. Her entire life was restricted to living inside a cramped home full of trash and other horrors. 

To make matters worse, the neighbor who lived next door was not happy with this living situation and decided to take matters into his own hands by regularly shooting the dogs with shot pellets. In effect, the dogs had to literally risk their lives if they dared to venture outside for fresh air. This unbelievable terror resulted in at least four dogs with limb amputations. Speck was one of those unfortunate pups. 

One day Speck’s owner passed away unexpectedly. Once authorities realized the living conditions on the property and the number of animals present, they didn’t have any feasible way to manage or even temporarily house the dogs and therefore had to make the hard decision to put Speck and her siblings to sleep. Who knew that there were still some counties in the state of Georgia that don’t even have an animal control division?

 Photo: Evelyn Lett

Photo: Evelyn Lett

Thankfully, in their final moments, one official took it upon themselves to reach out to a local rescue group to plead with them to save any of these unfortunate souls. Immediately, a group of selfless, dedicated volunteers with Circle of Friends Animal Society scrambled to collect every crate at the rescue’s disposal, jumped in their personal vehicles and drove directly to the deceased man’s home to recover as many dogs as they could. In total over 20 dogs’ lives were saved in what each of these veteran rescue volunteers deemed as the worst hoarding case they had ever witnessed.

At present, less than two months following their “jail break,” several of these resilient sweethearts have already found their forever families! Thanks to the mostly full-time employed, volunteer foster homes, we were able to instantly make a huge impact in the lives of these dogs by giving them the second chance that they deserve in life. 

In the intimacy of individual foster homes, these dogs were able to be rehabilitated while simultaneously gaining firsthand experience in how to react to normal daily activities that they hadn’t previously been exposed to. As a result, dogs being fostered are given the best opportunity to thrive versus the traditional method of rescuing that typically involves sending them directly into a loud shelter with limited stimulation and attention. 

So what was the fate of that feisty little tripod named Speck? As a way to symbolize the beginning of a fresh new start in life, she now goes by Skippy. Just after being rescued, this unstoppable girl was found to have a raging case of heartworms that had to be aggressively treated by painful injections into her lower back in a risky (but necessary) attempt to kill the adult worms living in her heart and bloodstream before they killed her. For three months Skippy is required to keep her activity level to a minimum or suffer a potentially fatal blood clot. Living in a foster home allows her activity level and health condition to be more closely monitored than if she were living in a shelter kennel. 

Skippy’s story is just one extreme example illustrating the many ways that fostering is so important to rescue groups. At full disclosure, it must be mentioned that most foster cases are not this dramatic, emotionally taxing or time consuming. Skippy is considered an advanced case, so before you say, “That’s more than I can handle!,” don’t worry. Most rescues will only place dogs with you that they feel you can handle and care for properly (typically based on factors like experience level, lifestyle, proximity to a veterinarian, etc.). 

Skippy will always hold a piece of my heart wherever she may go, and I’m so excited and hopeful to see what the future has in store for this spunky little tripod girl who, despite everything, is the biggest love bug who never fails to put a smile on my face. She is finally ready for adoption and is actively searching for her very own family that will welcome her into their lives with open arms forever.