Foster Dog Overwhelm: Saving Dogs Even When Your House (and heart) are Full

Sitting down to write this morning, I’m debating with myself how much I should tell you. There are times during this fostering experience when the difficulties stretch my commitment thin as tinsel and I am certain it will snap.

I don’t blame the dogs or OPH or even the wrongness of the necessity of the work we do. I occasionally blame my husband, because that’s what he’s there for and he’s an easy target, and he’s out of the country anyway, so he’ll never know. (Kidding.) I do understand that the blame falls squarely on my own weakening shoulders.

I am the one who wanders around with rose-colored glasses believing everything will work out, or at the very least, everything will turn out as it should. I am the one whose heart thinks it can handle anything and can always find room for one more, who can’t bare not to step in the gap, even if it is a chasm.

The deeper I get into fostering, the harder it gets. I long for that first year when I screwed up plenty but didn’t know better. I just loved the dogs and dealt with the stained carpet or ruined shoe or destuffed animal. One dog to love at a time. Now fostering has gotten complicated.

Going away is hard. Sure, I can send a dog to boarding, which is where Daisy went while I was away for three days this past weekend, but even that required not just dropping her off and picking her up during the required times, but packing up comfort items for her and then worrying about her while I was away. Daisy has made so much progress – would the boarding experience be a setback? Or had her time here made her strong enough to handle it?

Back when I brought home a pregnant dog from the Rescue Road Trip, I couldn’t have known (but should have known) that there would be complications.

Thelma has had gastro troubles from the get-go that have now required two vet visits and a second round of medication. Preparing to leave her and her pups, required a significant investment in food preparation, babysitter preparation, and enlisting an amazing friend to sacrifice time/effort/emotion to look in on them (and unexpectedly have to deal with my overly zealous guard dogs and take Thelma to the vet).

Flannery is such a known quantity here and certainly knows how to take care of herself, so I didn’t worry as much about her.

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It was just three days, but it got very complicated quickly when Nick’s travel was rearranged and required he go out of the country the weekend I was to be gone.

Figures, I thought. This is just like how in the early mornings when I walk my miles on our country roads and I don’t encounter a single car for nearly an hour, until two cars inevitably appear at the same time from opposite directions and I’m forced to drag whichever dog I have up on a bank or into the tall grass to get out of the way.

I spent my day preparing as best I could to leave and then on Thursday, anxious but certain I’d done all I could, I took off for my annual ‘girls weekend’ with dear friends. We gather in a beautiful rented house—the kind none of us can afford, but all of us can appreciate in the mountains of Virginia. We talk and eat and drink and hike and reconnect. It’s a kind of communion for me- recentering and reaffirming life and friendship and the fact that I am so very, very blessed in the place I hope to someday call home.

I enjoyed my time with my girls; they were possibly the best panacea for my distracted self. There were many (many) calls home and texts, and in the end, everyone survived and I came home somewhat rested. Frankie and Flannery were overjoyed to see me. Thelma, too, but the puppies were not well – a new adventure awaited.

Best guess after more vet calls and discussions, is that the puppies (and Thelma) have serious worms which has led to little bellies that are bloated and firm and what is coming out of them likely reflects that (plus the medicine that mom is taking). Everyone has now been dewormed and I am in full-on hover mode, weighing them twice a day and sitting in the box with them till my butt hurts and I run out of tokens on Scrambler. We are holding steady, waiting for the tide to turn. Thelma is doing fine and is happy for my company.

I picked up Daisy at boarding and was told she did fine. She doesn’t seem worse for wear and is back to her regular routines – chewing her antler, making laps of the kitchen, leaping in happiness at the sight of me, and spending most of her days outside in the playyard sniffing and exploring (and waiting for me). This is a video of Flannery ‘playing’ with Daisy from the other side of the fence last night.

So, it’s a lot. And I can handle it. But I’m looking for the lessons here. Better ways to manage my own dogs and the foster dogs and my tendency to take on so much. It’s hard to dial back, though, especially when I know how many dogs aren’t as lucky as Daisy and Flannery and Thelma.

The day before I left, I got a desperate plea from one of the shelters we visited. They are faced with moving twenty-four dogs in two weeks or euthanizing. I’ve met those dogs. I’ve hugged them and played with them and I know exactly which ones will be the first to go. Not the small ones or the young ones or the fuzzy ones or the long-hair ones. It will be the ones that look just like my Frankie. And there were many, many of them there.

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Still, I know if the rescue takes any, that buys time for the Frankie’s. The urgency is real. Which is why I feel so compelled to work for change, despite my limitations. I have to do what I can, which with my full house, is mostly write about it. I know there are solutions. I’ve seen them. We have to keep talking about this, even when it’s messy and hard and heartbreaking.

Even when our houses are full.

not rocket science(Note: If you’re wondering what some of the obstacles and solutions are, consider reading my friend Aubrie Kavanaugh’s new book, Not Rocket Science: A Story of No Kill Animal Shelter Advocacy in Huntsville, Alablama. She does a great job of defining the problem and the solutions, plus shares the fight that she has led in Huntsville.)

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more about my blogs and books, visit CaraWrites.com or subscribe to my occasional e-newsletter.

If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, visit AnotherGoodDog.org, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, and what you can do right now to help shelter animals! You can also purchase a signed copy or several other items whose profits benefit shelter dogs!

If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog Facebook group.

I love hearing from readers, so please feel free to comment here on the blog, email carasueachterberg@gmail.com or connect with me on Facebooktwitter, or Instagram.

Best,

Cara

Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now

Another Good Dog cover

 

 

Published by

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.

8 thoughts on “Foster Dog Overwhelm: Saving Dogs Even When Your House (and heart) are Full”

  1. It’s heartbreaking. You do such a fabulous job in caring for all these beautiful souls. We have the same problem over here in the UK. I wish people wouldn’t buy puppies from breeders, when there are so many in care to save 😦 You’re wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the video of the two running. They are really enjoying the play time! I agree with the UK post, don’t buy breeder dogs. We have too many and they are dying by the hundreds every day!!

    Liked by 1 person

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