I’ve been thinking a lot about Frank. He’s the first foster dog I’ve had who was returned. I feel partially responsible for that fact. I worry I didn’t present Frank as frankly as I could have. I wonder if I could have said or done something differently that would have made the situation turn out differently. Maybe, maybe not. I do believe that there are courses we are all on and we must follow them. So maybe Frank moving to Virginia and then back a week later was a lesson for me, for his adopters, and probably for Frank.
Since he moved back in, Frank has been my daily joy, showering me with his devoted affection and constant company, but he has also had a few episodes that illustrate why he wasn’t such a great fit in Virginia.
This morning, I separated him from the other dogs so that everyone could eat in peace. Frank has a habit of sampling everyone else’s food when it’s served and Gracie and Tenn are not sharers, plus Tex can’t afford to miss a meal. So Frank was left alone in the living room with his bowl. I was nearby, folding laundry.
Frank did not eat. Instead, he grew frantic running between me, the gate into the kitchen where he knew T&T were and the door to the porch where Gracie was. Panicked would describe the expression on his sweet face.
When he finally slowed down for a moment, he paused and peed on the dog recliner (the ugly, filthy blue recliner that we long ago stopped trying to keep the dogs off and now keep around just so they can rebel and sit on it). I was shocked! Frank hadn’t peed in our house since the first day he was here over three weeks ago. I yelled and reached for him, but he raced away and I followed him upstairs where he peed on the edge of the blanket on our bed. This time I yelled, but I was able to grab him. I dragged him outside, and left him there while I cleaned up his mess. He whined at the door, but I didn’t let him in until I’d located his male dog wrap and securely fastened it around him. There would be no more peeing in my house.
As soon as Frank was reunited with the other dogs, he relaxed. He spent a half hour wrestling on his humongous bed with Tennessee, his favorite playmate and his biggest advisory.
I sipped my tea and watched them, thinking about Frank’s actions. It occurred to me that Frank has never been without other dogs. He came from a home where there were six dogs, briefly lived in a shelter with hundreds of dogs, and then lived here with Gracie. Maybe being alone caused him to panic.
He’d had an entire week alone in Virginia. Now I understood the stories I had read via email last week from his adopter Mommy. If the Frank that moved south with them was the Frank I had just witnessed, they were completely unprepared for that Frank. Anyone would be. They were expecting the sweet, mild-mannered Frank I had experienced not the terrified dog who just peed on my bed.
One of the best things about adopting a dog from a foster home is that the adopter is told what a dog will be like in a home situation as opposed to a shelter. We can figure out if the dog is good with cats, children, or other dogs. We know if he is housebroken, walks nicely on a leash, or chews up the shoes children leave out. But we can only know what a dog is like in our home. We can’t know what a dog will be like in a new home. There will certainly be a period of adjustment; that’s to be expected. But there may be some serious issues that are unique to the new situation. Some of us are up for that challenge and some of us are not.
Frank has been a different dog this time around because this time around there isn’t just one slightly neurotic, not-so-bright girl dog living here, but this time Frank came home to Gracie plus two whip-smart border collie boys.
He’s felt threatened from the moment he entered. He’s jealous of the attention I shower on the boys, nudging his head under my arm and pulling it away when I pet them. He’s felt threatened in his role as alpha dog by Tennessee and the two have had several scary tussles that required me to remove Frank forcibly from the room. Frank is a different dog in this dog-filled house, just as he was in a dog-less house. Sure, he’s still his goofy sweet self most of the time, but he’s exhibiting behaviors we hadn’t seen the first time around.
Why am I writing all of this? Because I’m learning so much, and that’s how I sort things out – by writing.
I’m learning that we should never assume anything about a dog. We can tell adopters only what our experience has been, but that doesn’t mean theirs will be the same. I’m certain it’s still better information about a dog than you’d get from a kennel worker at the shelter, but it’s not perfect. Anybody adopting a dog hopefully knows that going in. And hopefully they know where to get help with training issues and what they can and cannot handle.
Yes, a return is sad. But a return is much better than a sad dog and a sad family. It happens. I’m sure it will happen to me again, but hopefully I’ve learned something from this. Hopefully I’ll be better at preparing the next adopter to bring Frank home. Because, no, we can’t keep him. Even though he’s the best dog I’ve encountered since I lost my beloved Lucy last year and started this amazing fostering journey. He needs a home that doesn’t change weekly. Keeping Frank wouldn’t be fair to him or the future foster dogs we will have the privilege to love.