Fostering By the Numbers

Nelson went home on Saturday morning.

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His story illustrates how the foster dog system works when all goes well:

  1. Nelson is selected from the dogs in a shelter in Virginia as an adoptable dog that just needs more time than a shelter has room or funds to provide. OPH pulls him and after a vet determines there is no medical treatment needed for his eye (it was an old trauma), he is neutered, tested for heartworm (he was negative), vaccinated, and microchipped. Then he waits in a local foster home until he can catch a ride north with an OPH transport.
  2. I pick Nelson from a list of dogs in need of fosters, but can’t meet the transport van, so other OPH volunteers step in to pick him up and house him for two nights until I can take him. (Thanks Karie and Evan!)
  3. Nelson arrives here and we assimilate him into our home, walk him, feed him, and get to know him.
  4. I write up a bio about him saying that yes, he is housebroken and yes, he is crate-trained, and no, he isn’t a threat to cats. I write that he’s an easy-going sort of dog who is very lovable to everyone he meets but can counter-surf despite his size. Information like this is something you can’t get when you pick a dog out at a shelter. (And not to discourage ANYONE from adopting from a shelter, I’m just pointing out that there is much good about the foster system that makes an adoption match more likely to be an informed one.)
  5. Nelson is with us for just under two weeks. He is adopted by a family who discover him via the OPH website and have already applied and been approved to adopt a dog. They bring their current dog with them to meet him at my house, adore Nelson on sight, and take him home.

Many, many foster experiences happen just like that. But a few don’t.

After Nelson left, I picked up our newest foster, Gala, who will be with us through her heartworm treatment and eventual adoption. Gala’s story is a little more complicated than Nelson’s.

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She’s been in the OPH system since February, but after traveling north, spent a month in a boarding facility because there was no foster home available. Already, OPH has spent hundreds on her care in boarding and her heartworm pre-treatment. Today I will take her to the vet for her heartworm treatment. She’ll stay overnight and if all goes well, be back home here tomorrow to recover. This past weekend’s Fast & Furriest 5K raised money to care for dogs like Gala, as adoption fees cannot even begin to cover the cost of rescuing dogs.

Nelson and Gala, along with Darlin’ and her pups are the lucky ones. So many others don’t ever get that chance. If you’d like to see some of the hard numbers, check out the 2015 shelter report from North Carolina where many of our OPH dogs come from (Darlin’ is from Greensboro, NC). It documents how many dogs (and cats) are being euthanized each year, plus the costs of caring for these animals. It’s sobering. Rescue can work and fostering is a great system, but it’s not enough as you will clearly see.

While those numbers are hard to bear, they only reinforce my own commitment to saving more dogs. This is why we live in a gated community these days, with gates keeping the dogs away from the puppy area

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And gates that give Gracie her own space, as foster dogs can easily overwhelm her.

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I took Darlin’ to her first adoption event at the Pet Valu in York on Saturday. It was the first time she’s left our house since she arrived back in February with her belly bursting with puppies. She was happy to meet people, as I knew she would be since she’s always friendly and kind to visitors at our house.

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What I hadn’t expected is that she would feel so threatened by the other dogs. She and Nelson had gotten along great, and she and Gracie have never had issues. Maybe it was the strange setting. She was a street dog before she became our baby mama-turned-lounge-lizard, so her hackles were up. She definitely knows how to take care of herself, even if she’s allowed us to indulge her these last few months, but it is time she found a forever family who can make her feel safe the rest of her days. Saturday’s event reminded me how far she’s come.

Darlin’ and I brought home Gala after the event.

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Gala is a happy girl – way too skinny, but happy all the same. Maybe she knows how lucky she is, but I suspect it’s just her nature. She and Darlin’ have been negotiating use of the Frank bed and I’ve been stuffing her with 4 or 5 meals a day in a desperate attempt to get weight on her before her heartworm treatment. She loves the outdoors and all of us are learning to slither out a crack in the door rather than open the door completely and risk Gala’s escapee prowess. She’s had three little adventures, but luckily has gone no further than the wonderful smells of the barn area.

The pups went for their healthy pup exam last Friday and I held my breath as we waited (loudly) for the vet to check them out. The girls got clean bills of health, but Puddin’ has a few concerns. His concave chest isn’t just the result of all the extra time spent lying on his belly before finally getting on his feet at nearly five weeks. He actually has a condition that causes his sternum to go inward rather than outward. The vet said it shouldn’t cause him any issues, his chest is only slightly inverted, but he won’t be winning any confirmation classes.

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Puddin’ also has what we hope is only septic arthritis, which sounds terrifying, but should clear up with antibiotics. The infection seems to be in one joint on his front leg. He’d been limping on it occasionally for about a day. Already, he seems better, although the swelling is still there. Neither of these conditions have slowed him down at all, but they are more cause for me to cuddle him in excess which is only making his third condition – that of being ridiculously spoiled — even worse.

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Fostering is always an adventure and this week has been no exception. It’s a crazy ride, but a very rewarding one. If you’ve ever thought of fostering a dog yourself, I’d encourage you to give it a try. You don’t have to foster entire litters of puppies (although it’s fun!) or multiple dogs like some of us crazy people. One dog at a time or only when it works for your family/schedule, is fine.

OPH, and many other rescues and shelters, are always looking for more foster homes. The more homes we have the more we can affect the numbers in that report. Many people think if they work full-time, they can’t foster, but that is far from the case. Most dog owners work full-time also, so crating a foster dog while you are at work prepares him for his eventual adopter. If you live in MD, DC, VA, or south central PA and would like to know more about becoming a foster, volunteer, or adopter with OPH, please visit OPHrescue.org. If you live somewhere else, contact your local shelter or rescue group. Fostering is one way to take pressure off the overwhelmed shelters and help them save more dogs.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like more updates on fosters past and present, join the Facebook group Another Good Dog where I post periodic puppy videos, news, and plenty of pictures of our foster dogs. It’s also where you might catch an update from some of the dogs and puppies you meet through this blog.

(I write other stuff, too. If you’re interested, you can find links to my books and blogs at CaraWrites.com.)

Have a great week. Together we rescue.

 

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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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