I usually pride myself on thoroughly thinking decisions through before I make them. I try to look at things from all angles and weigh the pros and the cons. I try to think with my head and not just react from the heart. But, everyone has moments of weakness here and there and I am human so I too sometimes make rash decisions because I acted impulsively from the heart. I almost had one of those moments yesterday. I got the call I had been waiting for yet dreading all at the same time. Someone wanted to adopt my current foster dog. As a foster, this is the news we want to hear...this is the goal from the start, right? But, when you are a huge animal lover and you have a dog living in your home that you have treated like part of your family, the letting go is very tough to do. I came extremely close to telling the potential adopter that my foster buddy Artie was already spoken for, that he was already home. In that moment I quickly contacted the adopters of two of my previous fosters that I nearly kept to ask how they were doing...to get an update. Both quickly responded sending me pictures of my former foster babies looking so healthy and happy and loved. Both told me how great the dogs were doing, how happy they were, and how much they loved their new family member. Both thanked me for helping them find their new companion pets.
It was then that I remembered it was not my job to keep Artie. It was my job to place Artie in the most loving home I can find, provide that environment for the pets I already own , and keep moving so I can help another dog in need down the road. This whole near "failure" brings me to my point of my blog post. How in the world do you let go? How do you break that dog's heart? People often ask, "you realize that dog thinks you adopted it , right? Now it is going to think you are abandoning it like its last owner did. How can you do that?" I know the rescue I work for is in need of fosters all the time. People constantly say....I would LOVE to foster but I can't because I'd just want to keep them all. So, they don't. I am hoping that some insight from someone who does this can help those on the fence realize how much they can help and see that yes, they CAN let go and no they will not have to keep them all. Anyone that knows me knows I try to keep every animal I find. If I am able to foster and let go, then anyone out there should be able to do the same. I have been fostering for 9 months, a total of 13 fosters and I have not failed one time. And I've wanted to fail at least 9 of those 13 animals, but I didn't. I do have one cat that stayed but not because I failed, because everyone else failed to adopt her and she just never got chosen so she is still here and I accept her as one of my pack now. There are some out there that foster because they WANT to fail. They are looking for a new pet and fostering lets them "try it out" before committing to adopting. For these people fostering is easy as they have something they are personally looking for. But for those of us that want to help but are not interested in keeping the pet forever, it's not quite as easy. I can give some advice on how I do this and I can only hope that my advice will strike a chord with someone out there who wants to foster but doesn't think they can do it! So, here goes....
My first piece of advice is choose a foster dog that is not your "type". We all have a type....for me it is big sporting breed dogs. I have an English Pointer/Border Collie mix and a lab/pit mix. Both of my dogs are large, similar in body structure and both are black and white. They are my "type". I love all animals, but to be honest, small dogs have always annoyed me to some extent. I saw them as yappy, nippy little things that bark too much and often they needed groomed too. Small dogs are not for me. So, guess what I foster? Yep, only small dogs and usually not black ones! Out of the 13 fosters only one was a big dog. Twelve have been itty bitties only. Nearly all of them brown or white. Of all small dogs, my least favorite breeds have always been chihuahuas, small terriers, and weenie dogs. I had bad experiences with weenies when I was young and just thought they were all mean! Chihuahuas fell in the same mindset for me as the weenies and the terriers I knew had always been way too hyper and frankly had a weird odor to them! Artie is a chihuahua. My last foster Fannie was a chihuahua. Another foster I nearly failed, Bitsy, was a weenie dog. I had a terrier mix named Ralphie I loved. I purposefully choose dogs that aren't right for me. This helps me let go. This advice is not only great for helping you to let go, but also for erasing stereotypes and incorrect viewpoints you have on certain breeds. My daughter said it best....at just 6 years of age these were her exact words, "Mom, I love fostering because it lets me get to know and love all different kinds of dogs. Dogs I would have never thought I'd like, I love that." Those were her words and she hit the nail on the head. By fostering dogs that aren't your type...even breeds you think you don't like, you get to see and learn what those breeds truly are all about. You will be surprised at how much you learn to adore and appreciate breeds you once thought you were not fond of. Almost every foster I've nearly failed has been one of the breeds I thought I disliked. But in the end I knew they were not the dog for me, they were not my "type", so I was able to let go. If you choose a dog that is not right for you, the letting go will come much easier. Even if you fall in love, as I did with nearly all of them, in the end you will actually look forward to the normalcy that comes back in your home after that foster leaves.
My second piece of advice is for the part that happens AFTER you make the choice to foster the "wrong" dog for you. So, you bring the dog home...what now? Be an active part of searching for the dog's new home and training it to be a good pet. Do not just take the attitude of just loving on that dog while the Rescue searches for the home. If you do this, you fall in love, and then when the rescue tells you someone else wants the dog you feel it is being taken from you and you are heart broke. If you actively search yourself for the home, it keeps it in your mind that you are in a sense just dog sitting this dog until it's owners are found. It gives you another job other than just the job of "loving" the dog. It also helps ensure the dog goes to a home you feel great about. Take tons of pictures and videos of the dog. Post them to your social media accounts. Take the dog with you to the bank, the drive through, the park, your kids baseball game, everywhere you go. Put an "Adopt me" bandana on that dog when you go out so everyone sees it needs a home. Yes you may annoy your friends and family, but never stop looking for its home, as once you do, it is easy to forget that the dog is not yours. While looking for that home, work on teaching the dog to sit, walk on a leash, learn some cute tricks, and potty outside...all things that make it more adoptable. Giving yourself these jobs helps you to keep a focus on something else other than just loving the dog.
While that foster dog is in your home the last piece of advice I can give you is to learn from my mistakes and involve your entire family. This is hard for me as my husband and sons are not interested in fostering, just my daughter and I are. So, they do not willingly get involved. Hopefully you do not have this situation and have a family willing to support you in your efforts. If you do, then you want to let the dog bond with EVERYONE in the family. Do not lavish so much love onto the dog that they become dependent on YOU. You do not want the dog to become a one person dog, you want it to be a family dog. This is where I fail miserably and it is 100% the cause of my heart break each time. The dogs come to my house and I instantly try to give them all the love they deserve all at once. I don't leave them alone. I love on them nonstop. It doesn't take long for the dogs to choose me as their primary human. I am the only one that feeds them and gives them treats. They sleep in my bed, they sit on my lap...you get the picture. By doing this, the dog becomes too attached to me and then the guilt of breaking its heart comes into play. Even though the dog is not "my type", I see the dog thinks I'm its "type" and it then becomes gut wrenching to break its trust and pass it on. Let the dog sleep with your children if it doesn't have to stay in a kennel. Let your spouse, roommate, child, whomever you live with feed the dog. During TV time, encourage it to sit on someone else's lap. Encourage others to play with the dog. Do not let that dog latch on to one single person in the house, or that one single person is going to have guilt and sadness. I fail here as this is the hardest part and I don't have a lot of others in my home willing to do these things so I do them. If you can master this advice I give, you will avoid a lot of the heart ache.
In the end, fostering rescue pets is one of the most rewarding things you will do. You will laugh and have so much enjoyment over watching them thrive in your home. You may cry when they leave and this is okay. But, I can promise that 24 hours later you will have a sense of relief that you let them go and have your normal life back. And I can also promise that not long into that normal life you will suddenly have the longing to do it all again, heartache and all. You will make new friends if you keep in touch with all of your adopters. They will send you updates and pictures and you will feel proud seeing your babies all doing so well. Offer to dog sit for them if they ever travel, I do this and love seeing my fosters again! Start the letting go process right from the start by choosing the wrong dog for you. Make it your job to train the dog and search for its home, not just love the dog. And finally, involve everyone in your house if you can in bonding with that dog. And just know that if someone as weak as I am can do this, you sure can too! Give it a shot, you will not regret it! Worst case scenario you foster fail and have a new best friend to love on, but with the right mind set, you can be a foster success!