Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why I became a Foster DogMa

Recently Tony and I had the privilege of being foster parents for a heartworm positive mini Collie named Andy. Many of our friends and family have asked exactly what led the two of us to do this.

Believe me, this didn't happen by any direct path. Back in February, I received a review copy of one of those heartwarming animal tales books I have been addicted to since childhood. Only the warmth some of the stories generated was more like heartburn.

The story was entitled "A Lesson in Love." Livy found four orphaned kittens. Since she was newlywed and they'd just adopted other animals, her husband would not allow her to do anything more than foster the babies until they could go to forever homes. She loved one of the kittens in particular and when she could not have that one, she decided to turn her attention on the runt in an experiment of love. Well, the runt started to thrive and the husband relented and allowed her to keep it. Then, the runt died of a bone calcium deficiency.

So, at the end, Livy opted to visit the three kittens to see how her experiment in love had worked. One kitten was sharp and unfriendly. The other was sweet and bland. The final (smart) kitten hid from her in fear.

By the end, both of us were physically sick. What was Livy thinking? She proved nothing that didn't already exist in ream after ream of nurture studies.

And what did she actually accomplish? Well, at least the third cat had the god-given sense to hide from her. But moreover, she gave three homes poorly adjusted pets who'd have difficulty all their lives functioning as loving members of their families and perhaps end up in a kill shelter as undesirable.

Then, I had to stop and think of the terrific people who'd fostered all the loving and intelligent cats and one dog who've come to live with me. Sure, no animal is perfect, but I knew every one of my animals had been pre-loved before they came to their Forever Home with me. What a gift these foster families gave.

Right now, Reese is snoring on the couch opposite me. The first time I met him, we loved each other. Somehow through every visit before we could adopt he knew me and came straight for me. Then, there's Heather, his sister who'd love any animal who came to the home and help if they were ill. And, our youngest cat, Indy, who's brat, but can go limp in your hands when you're about to throttle him then purr like a vintage muscle car and blink his baby blues at you. Our eldest member has some issues. She was dumped. The Austin ASPCA found her and loved her the best they could. And so do we.

That story bothered both Tony and me. We kept bringing it up at odd moments as I reviewed the book, then passed it on to a friend for her library.

I guess if you put something out in the Universe often enough, it does come to you. In April, Jennifer Tippens, the President of Collie Concern and a friend of ours, called and asked if we wanted to foster a heartworm positive dog. We'd mostly have the animal crated for 28 days and only get them out for potty breaks.

My immediate answer was yes. While I hadn't prayed for an opportunity, doing this seemed like a great way to pay back at least some of the kindness we received from the foster parents of our pets. Tony was a lot more reticent. He needed to have answers and details like was the heartworm contagious (very unlikely, but we used Advantix on the cats to be sure), was the dog good with cats, etc. Finally, Tony wanted to meet the dog we'd foster just to see if we were a fit.

The first dog was a no-go. He was in Birmingham, AL. We didn't have a way to meet him but fortunately, another Collie Rescue took him.

The second dog was named Orphan Andy. One look at the little tri's big brown eyes and I was sunk. We met him at an adoption event and applied as fosters.

We had to wait a bit. Jen's workplace got cyber-hacked and she was working double shifts. We finally got Andy on Easter morning.

Let's just say he's the best Easter gift I have gotten in a long time even if I couldn't keep him. From the beginning, I knew Andy was a very sweet dog. Yes, he'd seen some damage. He was reserved with strangers. But he also showed a patience with the cats and a willingness to please that still makes me believe that dog could do well anywhere he was placed with proper care and training.

That's where the hard part came in. Somewhere down the line, Andy was a woman's baby. He wanted very much to sit on my lap and lie on the couch. Those would both be fine if he were my dog, my battle-scarred calfskin couch has marks from more cats and one dog than you can count. But, if Andy were to go to a small woman or an elderly woman, his forty pound weight could be a problem. And many people do want nice furniture as well as pets. From the beginning, I had to think in terms of good manners and what might get him returned to Collie Concern. While Andy is a great dog, I knew he could only take so many moves and I planned to make sure his move to his forever home would be his last.

That was hard, though. Love is medicine and there was no way I'd withhold my love from him. But I had to toughen up, too. Every day I told him I loved him but I was just getting him well for his Forever Mom. I really wasn't sure he'd understand, but it was the best I could do and I knew Andy loved to hear people talking to him.

Fostering a heartworm positive dog seems easy, but it's not. You've got to treat heartworm positive dogs like glass once they've gotten the shots to cure the heartworms. Those dead heartworms disengage from where they are lodged forming bloodclots which the dog's body eliminates normally within that 28 day crate rest period. Anything that gets that dog's heart beating too fast can dislodge those clots and cause a stroke that'd result in paralysis or death.

Poor Andy spent a lot of his time in his crate staring at the family on the couch. When he got out for his three potty breaks per day, he wanted to play and run. We couldn't let him. He did get out every evening for a brief obedience lesson in sitting and settling to watch television.

Tony was champion. I intended to do most of the work and walking. Unfortunately, I dropped two liters of shampoo on my bare foot and couldn't walk for nearly ten days of Andy's confinement. I read to him and kept him company during that time and Tony picked up the slack walking him three times a day.

And I combed that dog. Andy had crate-head and I figured the one thing almost as bad as a bloodclot would be a hairball. He shivered when anyone touched his hips so I worked gently massaging and scratching.

One good aspect for us was to see how our four felines would take to the foster dog since Jen knew someday I did want another dog of my own. Reese, the big Siamese, spent twenty or thirty minutes the first night just staring into Andy's crate telling the dog who was boss. Tara and Indy were afraid. Heather took to the dog like she was the foster Mom.

Animal kindness doesn't surprise me. I've seen our one dog, Drew, clean every single one of our cats each night. He'd get them between his paws and gently lick them from head to tail. He loved those cats and when his particular kitten, Spider, died of cardio-myopathy, only another kitten would get him out of that tailspin of doggie depression.

Heather spent a lot of time in front of the crate. Sometimes, in passing she'd go to the side of the crate and just peek in, chirruping a cheerful greeting to Andy. When he came back from the vet after his heartworm injections a week after we'd gotten him, Heather seemed to know Andy needed more. She'd spend hours in front of the crate and sometimes come and get me if she thought something odd was happening. Instead of sleeping up near my head, she'd taken to sleeping between my feet so she was closer to the door and her 'goggie.'

Milestones came and went. One day, he backed up between my knees and wiggled his bum. I realized he wanted me to scratch his butt. When I did, he never shook or looked back. I had tears in my eyes by the time I was done.

Every little sound had me wondering. I knew I had to watch out for a cough. He coughed once--probably got something in his mouth. I was up half the night listening for more. Thankfully, he didn't end up with any complications.

Later, near the end of his 28 day jail sentence, Andy got restless. I remember waking early one morning to a massive bang. Heather jumped off the bed chirruping anxiously. I followed, struggling to waken rationally and pull my glasses on and grab the house phone in case I needed to call for help.

Andy was sprawled upside down in the crate looking like a giant had twisted him. His back feet were in one direction, his front the opposite. And his face bore a huge doggy grin.

Heather sat in front of the crate. Her coat was fluffed and her ears were so far back, you could see a distinct 'bat face' part between them. Her wide blue eyes were narrowe and I realized the look on her face was utter disgust. If she could have gotten in that crate, I think she would have smacked Andy up the side of his head for worrying her!

I sat down beside her and laughed til tears ran down my cheeks.

I posted reports on Andy often in my Facebook account. My goal was primarily to raise awareness. I expected a Tennessee family to adopt Andy. I was surprised when Pam, a friend I'd met through doll collecting, expressed an interest in him. I knew she wanted another dog since their beloved shepherd Chelsea died a couple of years ago, but I'd thought the dog was going to be another shepherd. I suggested she contact Collie Concern and put in an app.

Then, I crossed my fingers and said a prayer or three. Over the years, I've come to respect Pam very much for her thoughtfulness and her thoroughness. If I were a dog, I'd want to belong to her. As much as I was trying not to, I was getting attached to Andy. I was certain having him go to a home where I knew he'd be loved and spoiled rotten would make giving him up a lot better.

Andy and I both were getting anxious by the last week. He came out of his crate running in circles, frantic with pent-up energy with us struggling to brake that exuberance with his lead and verbal commands. I knew we were close to leaving on vacation and I wanted someone approved to take Andy because I just didn't want that poor dog going to another temporary situation. He needed his Forever home and I needed the assurance that I was handing him over to good people first-hand. (I didn't think I was that much of a control freak, but I was invested!)

Finally, Andy was free. Our wonderful friends, Pam and Brian Trainor of River Dog made him a cake with his name on it. He got to eat the cake with their dog Cooper at the store. And yes, he got several excursions that last week.

Every day, I kept telling Andy he was going to his Forever Home. Soon, he'd have his parents. I didn't think he understood, but I knew he liked it when I talked to him. I'm not a Dog Whisperer, but I'm definitely a Dog Talker. LOL!

Then, I got the news I was waiting for. Collie Concern had approved Pam. They were coming down Friday night to bring Andy home with them to DC!!!!

Pam was probably more excited than I was. The night before an eight-hour drive she stayed up til one AM baking doggie treats. She knew instinctively the way to that dog's heart.

Of course, Andy loved the treats. The big surprise was Andy was far less reserved with Pam's husband Rick than he's been with any man. They sat and talked for a bit with us while they petted Andy.

Then we went out to dinner and came back. By the end of the evening, Andy was willingly sitting at their feet.

He stayed one more night with us. Again, in the morning, I told him his Forever Parents were coming. He had to know what I'd said because when the doorbell rang, he nearly pulled my arm off on the lead getting to that door.

He's been with them several days now. Already he's made friends with most of the family and he's been by himself in their home for five hours, which was my big concern about him. Andy's found his forever home.

Yes, we miss him. Heather most of all, because I don't think she understood that she couldn't keep her goggie.

People credit us with saving Andy. Sure, we helped, but it took Collie Concern to pick him from the shelter and decide to put him in the program. It also took Dr. Babbi Dilbeck's expertise to give him the right dose of the heartworm treatment that'd make him better without having negative effects. Bless them all.

And bless Andy and his new family. May they live together many happy years.

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