By Lesia, TAGS Volunteer
It was never my intention to foster. I originally signed up as a volunteer for assessment and intake for dogs that were being surrendered by their owners. My own rescue was an owner surrender that I had adopted through TAGS and I was so impressed with the experience, I knew I wanted to be part of this organization in order to help others.
My very first foster was a 10 lb. Yorkie whose owner had passed away and family members were not in a position to look after him. He was an unneutered purebred Yorkie, I knew it was vital to get him asap before he fell into the wrong hands. He was in our care in less than 24 hours from receiving the application to surrender.
The rest is history. I have now fostered close to 25 dogs (have sort of lost count) and each one brings their own unique qualities.
My current foster is a 20 lb. Shitzu that came from a puppy mill. Up until recently, her 7 years on this earth were spent in a cage living in her own feces and urine, raging eye and ear infections, a mouth full of broken and rotting teeth from biting her cage out of frustration, fear, and boredom, being bred over and over again. All the people buying her puppies never stopped to ask, hey can I see the mom – what’s she like? If they had, they would have been mortified to see the conditions she was forced to live in and maybe would have thought twice about being the reason why puppy mills exist.
When receiving a new foster, I always prepare for the worst. The crate and xpen come out, pee pads placed strategically, waterproof covers on the couches. When we were picking her up, she was cowering in the corner of a horse stall with another puppy mill dog. They had obviously been cleaned up before going into rescue, but the 7 year stench of urine and feces was not so easily erased from their skin. This little girl was so frightened, she would do a dead drop and not move. Once home, she was bathed several times, the stench was still there but I knew with time it would dissipate. I immediately started with antibiotic drops in her eyes and ears. Lucky for me she did not fight me but cowered in submission. I knew I had to go slowly with this girl so over the next few days I did not interact with her other than to put drops in her eyes and ears, and carry her outside and back in to do her business. Surprisingly, she peed and pooped every time she was outside. Eating was a different matter. The only way she would eat was if I was out of the house. I would leave food out for her in the mornings and in the evenings when I took my own dogs for a walk and that’s when she would eat. I knew I had to disengage with her so that she had time to process her new situation and observe me on her own terms in order to perceive me to not be a threat. Every morning I would come downstairs and she would be cowering. Her legs had no strength in them, she was wobbling around in the backyard. No way could she do stairs. I also quickly learned that leaving her crated was not an option because whatever remaining teeth she had left, she was using to gnaw on the metal.
With patience and watchfulness, I was able to gauge when she was ready to go to the next step of pushing her boundaries. Once she got comfortable in the backyard, I would carry her out to the front yard and let her sniff around, then coax her to walk a few steps on the sidewalk. This progressed to carrying her across the road to a quiet walking trail and placing her down and letting her sniff and lead whichever way she wanted to go.
Fast forward to 10 days later. Not a single accident in the house. I can only imagine how horrible it was for this naturally clean little doggie to be forced to live in her own filth. This sweet little girl is now going up and down the stairs like a trooper. I had tears in my eyes the first time she stepped out of the house on her own, and the first time her tail curled up vs. between her legs. And the first time she did zoomies because I was preparing her meal. The last few days I have been greeted in the mornings with excitement and a wagging tail.
There is still a long road to go with my foster doggie. She still cowers when I come near her. Even though she will eat a treat that I place in front of her, she still will not take one from my hand. She is still reluctant to leave the house, but I no longer have to carry her across the road for a walk. She now jauntily goes down the front steps and crosses the road without coaxing.
It’s so amazing to see this transformation in such a short period of time. I love it when doggies like this learn that humans can be gentle and kind. Seeing their triumphs as they learn to live the life every dog deserves.
People say “how can you foster a dog and then have to give them up – I could never do it”. As painful as it is giving them up, I am hooked on being part of their transformations, being part of their triumphs, setting them up to live a successful life.
My 5 years volunteering with TAGS has shown me that there is a never ending number of dogs that need another chance in life. I can’t save them all, but by fostering, I can help save them one by one.