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. Continue reading Fostering By the Numbers

Dogs Coming and Going

Another returned dog. I won’t bore you with the details of why this dog has come back to OPH care after being adopted 8 months ago. Prior to that she was treated for heartworm in her foster home. Prior to that she was neglected and abandoned and left with the deepest, most horrifying embedded collar scarring I’ve ever seen. She makes Lucy’s neck look like a paper cut.

When Vera Bradley arrived, her adopter was apologetic, explaining that Vera was a little wobbly and confused because she’d given her a sedative for the two-hour drive. Vera’s nails were long and the adopter told me she had to have her vet do them because they’re black, plus Vera is sensitive to the sound of the clippers (we learned later in the weekend that Vera is terrified of snapping sounds – a neighbor’s nailgun sent her into a panic).

After she left, I took Vera to my local pet salon to have her nails trimmed while she was still in her twilight state. She stumbled in and stood for the trimming like a love. The technician was aghast at the embedded collar scarring and took Vera into the grooming area to show all the other employees. “I’ve never seen anything this bad,” she said. “Poor baby.”

And she’s right. It does feel like someone attempted to chop off Vera’s head, but more than likely her neck simply grew around a collar that was too small. Whether that happened when her owner wasn’t paying attention or while she was a stray, we’ll never know. I’m amazed she survived it.

When we got home from the groomers, Vera plopped down on the Frank bed and curled in as small a ball as she could, given her size (she’s about 60 pounds, but is easily at least 10 pounds overweight). She remained there the rest of the day, declining dinner until I sat beside her and urged her to eat. Even then she only finished half.

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The next day, Continue reading Dogs Coming and Going

Maybe It’s About More Than Rescuing Dogs (or how I became one of those crazy dog people)

If you follow my other blog (about my writing life), you know that lately I’ve been reading extensively about the craft of writing. One thing I hear again and again is that the protagonist (main character) must undergo change for the story to have an arc, purpose, hold the reader’s interest, etc.

For the past nine months, I’ve been working on a memoir about fostering. I keep reworking and tweaking it, while I wait on word from several agents considering it. I’ve been trying to pin down how fostering has really changed me. What kind of transformation have I undergone through the fostering of well over fifty dogs? Continue reading Maybe It’s About More Than Rescuing Dogs (or how I became one of those crazy dog people)

Team Fruitcake

What a week it has been for Fruitcake! He is making great progress. A week ago, I took him to the vet because he couldn’t sit, stand, or walk. Whenever he tried, his hind legs did a split and flailed around helplessly like flippers. The vet told me what I’d already guessed(thanks to google) – he most likely had Swimmer Puppy Syndrome. Luckily, he only has it in his hind legs, many pups have it in all four.

She encouraged me to try to make a sling to support his body and allow his legs to get under him. She also said that just moving his legs into the proper position as much as possible would help. We needed to build muscle and reinforce his muscle memory. She told me that we might also consider putting hobbles on his hind legs by tying the legs together so they couldn’t slip out sideways. And then she said, “Because of his deformed feet (he has six toes on each back foot), there might be something else going on in there. We’ll just have to wait and see and maybe take xrays when he’s older.”

I went home with my mind spinning. How could I fix this? I set Fruitcake down in the puppy box with his siblings and watched him flatten out like a pancake, with his hind legs out to the side and his stomach spread across the floor. I don’t think a normal puppy could put their legs in that position even if it wanted to, so maybe there was another way of looking at this. Maybe we could say that Fruitcake is very special – he has six toes on his hind feet and he can do a split! With those big boots and flexible legs, certainly he could learn to walk.

I spent a good portion of Friday night and Saturday morning sitting in his box repositioning his feet underneath him again and again and then holding my hands on either side of him to keep them from slipping sideways. By Saturday evening he was sitting up on his own. I decided this was HUGE progress. But what else could I do?

Here’s a video of Fruitcake after he mastered sitting up.

I wrapped a scarf under his belly as a sling and held him up so that he could get his feet underneath himself. This was awkward and he spent as much time wriggling sideways to chew on the scarf as he did standing up. Again and again he squirmed and then his top heavy front end slid forward and he landed on his nose.

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I took to the internet looking for more ideas and posted on the OPH family page to see if anybody else had ever had a swimmer pup. Ideas and sympathy flowed. The hobbles seemed like the best plan, but even with the vet’s instruction and the internet photos, I couldn’t figure out how to make hobbles out of vet rap and put them on my squirming puppy. Each time I attempted, Fruitcake screamed and fussed and Estelle grew frantic.

I texted my neighbors and Chris, who is also my vet, stopped by after work and brought tape and showed me how to make hobbles for Fruitcake.

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With the hobbles on, Fruitcake could stand and do a slow wobbly waddle across the box before spending the rest of his time trying to figure out how to get the hobbles off . Now I put hobbles on him in the morning and he is upright and easily able to tackle his siblings or wrestle a toy before successfully getting them off about mid-afternoon. I do think they will be key in his therapy.

The same day that Chris came with the hobbles, another OPH foster, Debbie, sent me a link to an article about bulldog puppies with swimmer syndrome. The breeder had built a chute that was just wide enough that the puppies could brace their legs against the sides and walk! It was amazing. I showed the article to Nick and he built a chute for Fruitcake. The first time we put him in it, Fruitcake was uncertain. He was cranky and complained about the confinement. Finally, he simply lay down and slept.

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The next time, I put him in the chute he walked the entire length of it—his tail wagging and a look on his face that said, “Wow! Look at me!” Continue reading Team Fruitcake

One Super Special Pup

I knew Fruitcake was special the moment he was born.

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He didn’t look anything like his siblings. He was white with marvelous black patches. My little cow puppy! His eyes were ringed in black like a teenager experimenting with liquid eyeliner. And when I discovered he had six toes on each of his back feet, it seemed to underline his uniqueness.

Even the other puppies thought he was special and he was often employed as pillow or couch.

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He grew wide and then wider. Each day it became more evident that he was quite different than his siblings. I thought, “Maybe he had a different dad,” but didn’t really worry until the other puppies began pulling up on all fours and he remained flat like a pancake.

Finally, at just over two weeks it became clear that something was decidedly wrong with my favorite pup. Continue reading One Super Special Pup

Estelle is a Rock Star Mom

Let me just say that four puppies is much less than twelve. And a 30 pound dog is much easier than a 60 pound dog. Sure, those are generalizations, but I do feel a bit like a marathoner who is running a 5K.

Estelle is a rockstar mom. The puppies are fat and shiny and eleven days old, but Estelle already seems restless. I think in human terms she’s one of those moms who has a hundred Pinterest boards and writes three blogs, while making all homemade baby food and teaching step aerobics.

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She hops in the box, does a quick clean up and lays down to let the pups nurse. And then she hops right back out of the box and takes a tour of the tiny room she’s trapped in, checking under the grow light table and in the buckets under the mudsink. When I toss toys in for her to play with, she inspects them and then carries them into the box and nestles them beside her pups. Then she stands guard by the gate, growling at strangers (which include my children) and barking at her reflection in the front door glass pane or the cats moving around on the porch. Each time Gracie barks Continue reading Estelle is a Rock Star Mom