True Confessions of a Faux Foster Fail

It’s a chaotic month in this house. My oldest is graduating, my youngest is playing two sports, my daughter just finished one show and auditioned for a new show that begins rehearsing this week, and my garden went from arid desert to out-of-control weed-infested jungle in less than an hour. My husband is spending hours online lusting after used tractors and scheming about all the things he could do with that tractor once he has one. There are three horses wasting away (well not technically, but what’s the point of having a horse if you don’t ride it?), the graduation party yet to be planned, and then there’s the beach camping trip to follow (did anyone air out the tent after the last trip?). Want more? The deadline for my next novel is a week or so away, the house is trashed and the relatives arrive momentarily. So, of course, my hubby and I took a little three-day vacation last weekend. But now it’s time to pay the piper. And that goes for Carla, too.

At this point, it’s looking like Carla is with us indefinitely. She’s been here a month and there are no applications on her. We’re realizing that it’s time to start treating her as our dog even if she isn’t our dog.

DSC_8819For the first few weeks she was here, we babied her. She was sad. She was lonely. She deserved to be indulged. Wrong (always having to learn this the hard way).

This week I am weeding – in every sense of the word. I’m weeding the gardens that have finally gotten the rain that didn’t come for weeks. I’m weeding the final edition of my manuscript – taking out the parts that don’t work, even knocking off an entire character! I’m not weeding the house, though, it is what it is. But I am taking my weeding metaphor out on Carla, too. It’s time to weed out the bad behavior.

Because we’ve occasionally allowed her to be on the furniture, she doesn’t realize we mean it when we shoo her off the beds/couches/chairs. So all the furniture blocks are back up, the doors are closed, her access is restricted. I see this as an ongoing battle, one we may have to reach a compromise on. Her inclinations are entrenched and she is a wise dog. She knows when no one’s looking, and for a dog so large, she can slink around this house quieter than a cat.

While we were gone last weekend. Carla had more than a few accidents in the house, barked incessantly and was simply, underfoot. My mother, who was staying with the kids, wasn’t happy.  “When are you going to get rid of that dog?” I defended Carla – her schedule was disrupted, she wasn’t getting exercise, no one was paying attention to her needs….but secretly I was frustrated! This dog is housebroken. She’s been so good here! What happened?

Knowing this situation could happen again (when we are gone for the beach camping trip in a few weeks with twelve teenagers! I know, nuts.), we need a better solution. Carla can’t come with us; I’ll have enough to do keeping track of other people’s teenagers. And Carla is not a house dog.  Or at least she isn’t a house dog if someone doesn’t take her for a four mile run every morning. The housesitter might find that fact overwhelming. All this has led me to make the decision to treat her as one of our own but that does not mean she is a foster fail! It simply means we are preparing for a summer of Carla – just in case! (If my twelve year old is reading this – we are NOT keeping her, no matter what it looks like!)

So I’m going to reveal something that could earn me more hate mail than my unfair rant on Westie rescues
because we are treating her as our own, we’ve started training Carla to the Invisible Fence.IMG_1697

Yes, that invisible fence. I’ve struggled to understand why it’s such a dirty word amongst dog lovers. In fact, one of the reasons we are fostering is because the shelter that had the one dog I was prepared to adopt, denied us based on my confession that we did own an invisible fence. I wasn’t going to lie. (Even though everyone told me I should lie if I wanted to adopt a dog.) So we decided not to get a dog. And then we waffled just a tiny bit and decided to foster instead. We’d practice having another dog. And we wouldn’t use the invisible fence – what would be the point in training a dog who is only leaving anyway?

Let me be clear, though, I have no problem with an invisible fence. Our property is too hilly, rocky, and weird shaped for a traditional dog fence. Nevermind that we don’t have the thousands of dollars to install one. If we put up the one we could afford instead of the invisible fence we have, it would have been a 12 foot by 12 foot cage. Instead we installed an invisible fence that has an ice cream cone shaped 3/4 acre+ space for the dogs to roam. It runs under the enormous pine branches, avoids the driveway, and includes the raspberry and asparagus patches.

My previous dog of 17 years lived 16 of them within the bounds of an invisible fence – happily. She loved to run. And I loved to watch her run. She spent the better part of most days happily patrolling our yard, safely racing the UPS truck up the driveway, and shooing off any rabbits that threatened our garden.

Carla is not the kind of dog who should spend her days inside. She’s a coonhound, after all. Granting her free access to the invisible fence space makes sense. At least to my mind. She and Gracie can finally play the way two big dogs should, instead of the abbreviated bouts they have inside before someone slams into something.

So we put up the little white flags, tested the extra collar and started training her. She got it. Maybe too well. Now she sits on the porch cowering. She’s terrified of the beeping sound the collar emits when she wanders too close to the flags. The fence is turned down as low as it goes and I don’t think she’s actually felt anything worse than a static shock, but she is not leaving this porch, no way, no how.IMG_1701

My guilt is eating at me. My sweet puppy is petrified. How could I do this to her? I remind myself that our old dog did the exact same thing each time we moved and installed a fence (three times in her lifetime). She will venture out and embrace her newfound freedom, eventually. I hope.

So, now you know. I’m a horrible foster mommy who cruelly torments a sweet dog that had finally become comfortable again. But here’s my defense – Our house is too small and our lives are too busy for Carla to live indoors. She needs an outside space and accepting the invisible fence will mean she can run freely outside anytime she wants and not just for our run at dawn. Now instead of her periodic two minute walk when I snap a leash on and impatiently wait for her to pee, she can go outside and linger in the sunshine, maybe even chase down a rabbit.

But right now, for today, yes, I feel awful. I can’t stand to drag her out the door and watch her cower on the porch, terrified to set a foot on the grass. Her bigness only disguises her timid soul. And I crushed it. So I feel horrible.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Hopefully, next week I will have a new story to tell of a happy, carefree Carla and the Invisible Fence.

(Gracie has offered to walk her for us, but that’s not a long term solution)

DSC_8823

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Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

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