Another entry in my ongoing series on the impressive patience of English dogs. This happy little guy was waiting outside a Pret in our neighborhood in London. I wanted to scoop him up, but I know that itis simply not done.
Teach me, O wise one, your patient ways, that I may import them to my wild shepherds in America…
I don’t tie up our dogs outside when running errands, simply for fear of all of the potentialities (namely, one of them feeling cornered by another dog and lashing out or Pyrrha feeling trapped by a child and attempting to bite), and so I always admire the dogs that seem to have so much composure.
Do you ever tether your dog while you are in a store? If so, how does he or she behave? (And if patiently, how did you train that?)
We haven’t been fostering very long, but these 10 essential things have been SO helpful to us in our dog fostering adventure. So, here are some items to have on hand for your venture into the world of dog fostering.
A crate. Crates will be your lifesaver! Crate training keeps a dog safe when you can’t watch them, prevents them from tearing up your house until they know better, separates dogs when necessary, and gives adjusting fosters a sense of security. Many fosters will be unused to crates, so it may be rough at first, but make the crate a happy place for sleeping and receiving good things. We give our fosters treats once they’re in their crates and reward them warmly when they are calmly crated. Never use the crate as a place of punishment! We love crates, and our dogs do, too!
Baby gates. A corollary to crates, baby gates will also save your sanity as a new foster parent. Since you don’t want your dogs to always be crated, baby gates in key areas of the house will help you keep dogs separate while feeding or when you can’t keep an eye on one of them. We have a baby gate to our kitchen walkway, and it has been a huge help. We have this gate, and I really love it. The swinging door makes it much more convenient for humans, too!
Martingale collar. I am a huge devotee of martingale collars, like the ones made by Premier. If you foster shy dogs, as we often do, being involved in German shepherd rescue, martingale collars will be immensely helpful to you. A nervous dog cannot back out of these collars, but they do not endlessly and dangerously tighten, like a choke collar. Love them. I have a martingale collar in every size for all of our fosters! (Note: We often just use martingales for walks and outings. They can catch on things if they are too big for the dog or during dog-on-dog play.)
ID tag. Make some generic ID tags with your name, contact information, and address for your fosters, particularly if your rescue does not provide this for you. Make sure your foster is wearing this tag at all times! Jeffers Pet has some very affordable ID tags in a variety of sizes, and I bought a number of them with our info on it for our fosters to have, while we are waiting to get tags from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue (SGSR).
Kongs, sterilized hollow bones, or other stuff-able toys. Dogs are going to get bored, and new fosters are likely going to be anxious about their new environment. A Kong or a hollow, sterilized bone, stuffed with something like kibble, canned pumpkin, or peanut butter is a great way to keep a dog occupied, happy, and out of trouble.
Vehicle restraint. If you can’t fit a crate in your car, find an alternate method of restraint for a dog in your car. I made the mistake of assuming that other dogs would be as calm as our dog is in the car. Not so! (Brando, particularly, was a NIGHTMARE in the car.) Get a car harness that straps down or buckles into the seatbelt. Or get a grate that prevents the dog from clambering up into the front seat and endangering you while you drive. If you’re like us, you’ll probably be transporting your foster often, so a trustworthy method of vehicle restraint will be very helpful to you.
Lots of old towels and blankets. I’ve given up on expensive dog beds. Our dog and our fosters like to rip them to shreds, and they can often be difficult to wash. Instead, I’ve been going to thrift stores and buying lots of old, cozy blankets and old towels to put in their crates. These can provide just as much comfort as a dog bed; they’re inexpensive; they’re easily replaceable; and they’re easy to clean in the event of accidents. (Old towels will also be very helpful in the car and around the house on wet, muddy days.)
A trustworthy local groomer (or self-serve grooming station). Fosters often come in reeking of what we like to call “the shelter stank.” (You’ll know it once you’ve smelled it.) A reliable local groomer or a self-serve grooming station will be your best friend. Grooming makes a lot of dogs, especially rescue dogs from uncertain backgrounds, very nervous. We don’t have a great set-up at our home for bathing indoors, and so our local self-serve grooming operation has been a godsend. We’re huge fans of Wash & Wag!
High-quality food. Most rescues have been eating pretty poorly. As SGSR recommends, we get our fosters on a high-quality kibble immediately. Grain-free kibble is important to me, so we are always researching what’s best for our dogs. Even though we can’t afford (financially or time-wise) to feed our dog or fosters raw, we are passionate about improving their health right away through a four- or five-star kibble. Dog Food Advisor provides great information and reviews on dog kibble.
PATIENCE. And this is the most important thing of all! Foster parents need lots and lots of patience. But you probably knew this already. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work. There’s nothing quite like helping a dog transform into a happy, healthy, functional member of a family!
For those more experienced fosters out there, what do you recommend? Anything I’ve missed on my list?
On Friday, I volunteered for the Charlottesville SPCA during an adoption promotion event on the downtown pedestrian mall. It was the 35th anniversary of the mall’s creation and the streets were packed with people. I was helping walk dogs (including Elizabeth, featured above), handle kittens, and talk to people about adoption.
When I got there, I was feeling kind of uneasy about my role as a volunteer. My husband walked me over there and as we walked, he mentioned that one of our mutual friends harbors some disdain toward me for my dog obsession (OK, that’s fine; it is a bit out of control) and for being a volunteer at the SPCA. This person thinks that pets are frivolous and unnecessary and that people should never own domesticated animals. Accordingly, this person believes that it is silly and wasteful for me to give my time to dogs at the SPCA.
Naturally, I disagree, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty as I went over there. Should I be volunteering at the homeless shelter instead? Serving food at the soup kitchen? I do believe that people are more valuable than animals, but I’ve never felt called to work with the homeless. I don’t think I’m gifted in that kind of ministry. Thankfully, there are many people around here who are capable and motivated to work with the many homeless people in our community. I’m just not one of them.
Somewhat troubled in spirit, I arrived at the SPCA’s table and was handed the leash of a large, placid lab/hound named Thurgood (not pictured, because I think he was adopted this weekend!). Our area was mobbed with people, especially parents with children. Animals act like magnets to most kids. The cat pen was packed with little kids who were squeezing kittens and the three dogs that we handled were constantly being hugged, petted, and ambushed. Thankfully, the shelter staff made a good choice by bringing Thurgood and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a senior hound who is extremely patient and slow-moving; she’s friendly to everyone, especially those who smell like food. Thurgood is a youngish, steady lab/hound mix and I worked primarily with him for a few hours. He was stubborn, but very gentle and submitted to the attentions of every type of person who rushed up to him.
The dogs were showing signs of exhaustion and stress–especially the third dog, Benny, who was unable to cope with the crowds and had to be walked away from everything–but they never showed signs of irritation or aggression. This alone taught me a lot about patience. I think I would have snapped at someone if I had armies of squealing children sticking their fingers in my eyes and mouth. But the dogs took it all in stride.
One of the biggest lessons the dogs taught me that day was about unconditional love. As I’ve already mentioned, our table was very popular with all of the children on the mall that day. But I also noticed that we drew a steady crowd of homeless and mentally handicapped adults. These people were more or less ignored by the other booths. It was assumed that they weren’t capable of supporting any of the neighboring causes or even carrying on a rational conversation about a business or a fundraising campaign. Other people would just look right past them when they approached, as if they weren’t there at all. No one paid them any attention. Except for the dogs.
The dogs treated them like everybody else. These socially marginalized people found attention, respect, and love from these animals, who did not discriminate against them based on their appearance, mental ability, or class. I will particularly remember a mentally handicapped woman who stayed at our table for almost half an hour. She kept stroking Thurgood’s head over and over, bending down to hug his neck, and kept excitedly saying to me, “Look, he likes me! Look how much he likes me!” I reassured her that he did like her. Because dogs don’t lie.
If I ever had to give an answer as to why I love dogs, I’d tell this story. The unconditional love of dogs is one of the primary reasons why they matter. It’s the motivating reason why I think we should do everything in our power to give these homeless dogs the best life possible. They have done so much for us and we have done so little for them. Just watch a dog lavish love on a complete stranger. I think that should be proof enough that dogs are valuable.