It all started innocently enough. I was just a woman in search of a volunteering opportunity, having determined that it would be better for me and possibly my little corner of my world if I got out of my head and did more for others outside the walls of my home. I searched and researched local volunteer opportunities and ultimately decided to offer my services to two organizations that I felt were a good fit with my skills and interests. Unfortunately, these organizations seemed only to be interested in unemployed or retired folks as volunteers, because all the training and the activities took place in the middle of the work day. It seemed that no one in the entire city of Tucson needs help on weeknights or on weekends. I was, in a word, discouraged.
And then one day Scott came home from work and started telling me of a news story he heard on the radio in the car on the way to the house. It seemed that the local Humane Society was overrun with the litters of puppies and kittens that seem to arrive every spring, and needed foster homes for them to avoid euthanizing them due to lack of space and other resources.
I was instantly interested. Puppies on loan? Does it get any better than that? We already had 3 dogs; we couldn’t have another one. But temporarily? We could do that!
As I warmed to the idea, Scott started expressing some reluctance, and openly razzing me about my puppy addiction. Regardless of what he tells you, I’ll state for the record that he has been at my side for nearly 20 years now, knows who I am and how I react to things, and if he really, truly, deeply in his soul didn’t want to foster puppy dogs, he would’ve never mentioned it to me in the first place. He knows better. Mentioning it and letting me run with it is his strategy, allowing him to “I told you so” if it all goes to hell later. (He’s not the only one who’s learned something in the last 20 years.)
So I sent out an inquiry e-mail about the program, and not only were they thrilled to hear from me, they happily provided training sessions on nights and weekends for prospective volunteers and foster parents. I had to attend a general volunteer orientation and a special class for fostering in order to qualify as a foster parent. I completed both within the first week of May, but in the weeks between signing up and taking the classes, I got daily notices about puppies that needed fostering. One litter of brand-new puppies had been found in a dumpster. My heart broke with each e-mail.
I finished the classes on May 6th, but told the Humane Society that I couldn’t foster until all my own kids had received all their vaccinations. Foster critters are often in ill health, and I didn’t want mine to get sick.
A week later, I received an e-mail about a single puppy, a probable Boxer mix, female, maybe 5 weeks old. Scott and I talked it over and decided we were ready to take on fostering, both of us thinking that one puppy (vs. a whole litter) would be a good start for us. I mean, really, how much trouble could one puppy be?
I wasn’t sure what to expect, looks-wise, from a Boxer puppy. I only have experience with Shih Tzu and Rat Terrier and Cockapoo puppies. Would she be cute?
Oh hell yes, she was cute. That’s how puppies survive to adulthood. And children, too, for that matter. I had decided before I even saw her that we’d call her “Daisy,” because a big, lean, tough girl dog like a Boxer requires an ultrafeminine name. It didn’t really matter; her future owner would likely change it, but it would be Daisy while she was with us.
So we brought her home to introduce her to Local Indigenous Personnel. Monte seemed unfazed by her presence, and was even a little curious.
But the Shih Tzus hated her on sight. “Who is this large, clumsy stranger you have brought into our home??” Scott answered, “That’s your mother, be nice.” And they said, “No, the other one, who is all up in our hibachis and eating our kibble and making too many sudden moves.”
The Puppies, as they’ve been known since they came home, were unwilling to cede territory to any actual puppy, and when they couldn’t avoid her, they snarled at her. Daisy, who just wanted to play and be a part of the pack, was confused and sad. She was engaging in puppy behaviors and traditional invitations to dog play, but she was already as big as the Shih Tzus, and everything she did just seemed menacing to them.
We were scheduled to have Daisy for 3 weeks until she had gained some weight and was old enough to adopt out, but within the first couple of hours, I was wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. It was going to be a really long 3 weeks. We liked her; she was a sweet dog. But if our dogs couldn’t get along with her, we weren’t going to be able to continue. Neither of us was willing to traumatize our dogs to foster others.
Canine enmity, though, was not the last of our problems, which we discovered around midnight, right before bedtime, when I walked into the living room to smell a steaming puddle of diarrhea on the carpet. And Daisy’s a walker, so it covered a fairly big area. After I finally stopped gagging, I hollered for Scott to take the dogs outside while I cleaned up the mess. It wasn’t a perfect clean-up job, but after hours of refereeing dogs and making sure Daisy got out every ten minutes (theoretically to avoid messes like the ones I was then cleaning up), we were exhausted. I fell into bed thinking “Shit. This was such a totally bad idea. Can we take it back?”
The next day was much like the first, except we had to go to work. We locked Daisy into her crate, only to come home to find the back of her crate newly sprayed with more diarrhea. She was like the Jackson Pollock of Poop. We cleaned that out and went about our evening only to have her leave another pile in the library that evening. At that point, Scott hauled out the big carpet cleaner.
That machine didn’t get put away for two weeks, and has paid for itself now, because whatever Daisy had ripped through our three dogs as well and it was nothing but a constant barrage of puke and poop. We brought dogs to the vet, and got meds, but since then we’ve been on a rotation of sick dogs, and it is getting old.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Her unpopularity with the other dogs notwithstanding, we quickly became fond of Daisy, despite the fact that she was chewing on absolutely everything she could get her mouth on. We have since lost count of all the things she has destroyed. We had forgotten what having a new puppy was like, and were ill-prepared for the antics of a high-energy breed that likes to explore everything with its mouth. And teeth.
We talked a lot about her future at the shelter, and what we could do to make her more adoptable. First up was to get her to stop nipping and biting people, and then we’d work on the rest of the stuff. (A squirt bottle in every room, and a hair-trigger for any unauthorized tooth usage largely took care of that, though we’re still working on it.) We talked about creating a poster with cute pictures of her to put on her kennel at the shelter to entice potential adoptive families. But as we talked, I soon became aware that at least one member of the decision-making body was smitten.
For myself, I was exhausted from keeping up with her, and all the dogs, and our dogs didn’t like her. That, to me, was an insurmountable obstacle to us keeping her. Never mind the fact that when she was grown, she would be 55-70 pounds, possibly 3-4 times bigger than Monte, our biggest dog. We’d never been “big dog” people, and never would’ve purposely adopted one. And then I wondered at what point my thinking had shifted to even considering it. We were supposed to just take care of her for a little while and then send her back. Now I was wondering how we could keep her?
But the dogs settled in with each other, the virus they all had seemed to pass, and the fact was, we had a very cute puppy who loved our yard and had probably all but forgotten whatever had passed before she came to us. She’d been a stray and had spent only a single night at the shelter. We were all she knew. How could we send her back to the cold cement and chain-link of the shelter kennel to take her chances?
By the end of the first week, in spite of everything, we realized we couldn’t.
Even if she was constantly into trouble.
They have a term for it. We are “foster failures,” and most Humane Society employees and volunteers and foster parents “fail” at least once, they told us in training. Scott and I, being overachievers, failed spectacularly, right out of the gate. We realized that we are not wired to not get attached. We should’ve known that about ourselves to begin with, but we know now. Daisy is our first and last foster puppy. To paraphrase Bill Cosby, we have 4 dogs because we do not want 5. And that’s what would happen if we attempted to foster again.
Last week, exactly a month after we brought her home, we officially adopted Daisy, who is about as silly a little girl as you can imagine. She will lick your face off, given half a chance. She prances around the other dogs with her toys, a la Wind In His Hair, trying to get them to play. She climbs into the shower to steal the plug whenever we forget to secure the bathroom door. She has a fondness for eating greenery and she prunes all our shrubs in the backyard. She talks to herself constantly in a whiny sing-song punctuated with random barks. She’s getting along with the other dogs, who will play with her now, and snap when she gets too rough. She’s learning, to be a dog and to be a Cunningham.
And she’s a sweetie. Never in a million years would we have adopted her on our own, but sometimes you take what comes to you in life and are better for it.