On Dasher, On Dancer, On Darwin, and the New Year

When I checked my blog this morning, I realized that I hadn’t written an entry of quality since Doc passed away.  It’s true that the news hit me pretty hard, but life has been going on despite all of that.  I’ve been seeing his partner in chiropractic, and actually doing fairly well as far as that goes.

Christmas was a wonderful affair this year.  My mom threw a party at her house where I got to see my brother, his girlfriend, my parents, and my grandma.  We had fun and joked and just enjoyed each other’s company.  The gift exchange, however, with my family wasn’t until after the holidays, since Jeffrah and I headed up to Canada to celebrate with them this year.

The Canadian shindigs were even more fun this year than in years past–at least for me.  I knew more people, they had seen and heard of me more often, and I didn’t have to stick to Jeff’s side like I might sink if I didn’t.  His aunt trimmed my bangs, I managed to pop Jeff’s cousin’s boyfriend in the face with a cracker (still sorry, Shelley!), and Jeff’s parents were really generous this year.

While I missed my family (as always), I really felt integrated into his family and it was really nice.

So there’s the recap of the holidays.  What I *really* wanted to write about, though, is our experience fostering a pit bull.  I won’t mention the shelter that we went though, because I refuse to endorse them, but I did want to encourage folks to foster–overall I would definitely do it again.

I filled out a foster application after not clicking with any of the currently-available dogs at the shelter.  I really wanted a dog to focus on so that I could get my mind off of the miscarriage, doc’s death, and all of the other bad things that were going on in our lives.  I was getting pretty depressed, and I thought that being needed by another living thing could help pull me out of it.  Darwin came to our house as a stray that had been picked up by Animal Control.  They didn’t know anything about his history, but surmised that he must’ve been destined for a dog-fighting ring.  The good news is that he was still a young pup, so he had absolutely no signs of aggression at all.  He was not neutered, though, and hadn’t been trained, and so his manners were also sorely lacking.

On the advice of the shelter, we kept Darwin in a kennel almost exclusively for about 2 weeks.  He hated it, and I hated doing it.

The idea is that the kennel would give him a chance to get used to the routine of our house, the smells, normal sights, sounds, and rhythms without actually needing to participate in them yet.  We let him out of the kennel as often as possible, but even then he was on a leash exclusively.  When he did start gaining freedom, he also started gaining a personality.  Darwin was a sweetheart who loved to be with his humans–whether it was playing, training, or snuggling.  There were problems, too–remember how I said he didn’t have manners yet?  He jumped on us constantly, and his nails dug into our skin and it hurt.  He also had a tendency to mark in the house, which was really rather irksome. Both of these behaviors simmered down after I took him to the vet to get ‘fixed.’

The great part of  fostering is that the shelter, at least in this experience, paid for all medical expenses for the dog.  they also provided the kennel, his first bed, a few toys, a few treats, and dog shampoo so that we could keep him presentable.  Of course, being animal lovers, we quickly spent over $200 on new beds, new toys, new treats, bones, antlers, and cleaning products.  We wanted to see him happy!  It was working.  He was a smart dog, took to training well, loved to play, and loved to snuggle.

The trouble came when I granted Darwin too much freedom, and also asked too many times about what to do about his less-than-desirable traits.  See, Darwin hated his crate, and we had been thinking about adopting him, so we were graduating him from his kennel to have more freedom in the house.  It started with the guest room, and he did fabulously and was a happy and less cabin-feverish dog.  Then I left him in the guest room and the living room and it was good again!  Until it wasn’t, and he knocked a baby gate down and tore the whole house apart.  Darwin also liked to do a lot of things that I don’t like dogs to do–Digging in my couch, jumping on me from a full-charge in the yard, nipping during play or trying to bite while being corrected–when I’d use his collar to tug his head out of the couch, for example.

Of course, it’s my fault that I didn’t follow the shelter’s directive to keep Darwin in the kennel during the day while we’re gone at work–I took full responsibility for that, and I was having a great discussion in the group about how to help him to enjoy the kennel more so that we could defeat pancake mode.  Then, there was a guy who came in guns blazing and was a real jerk about the whole thing.  I got snippy with him and challenged him to come up with a ‘positive only’ training method for the bad traits listed above, and to my surprise he actually did!  I had also sent an e-mail to the trainer about how to deal with the charging/jumping, and she had sent me recommendations for that too–including blowing bubbles, leaving the scene if he’s  too interested in jumping on me, etc.  I felt really empowered that we could go in the right direction with Darwin–especially since he’d be starting training on 1/25.

We had Darwin for 7 weeks before it was determined that he should be relocated to a different foster–one with experience raising responsible pit bulls, so that his bad manners could be tamed in a productive environment, and he was immediately removed from our care..  I don’t want to re-hash that drama, but suffice it to say that the way that they handled that scenario is why I am not endorsing them here.  What I do want to say, though, is that if you have a love for dogs, and room in your home and your heart to help one get started on a good path in life, I *highly* recommend fostering.  The benefits for all involve definitely outweigh any heartache that you might feel when it’s time to say goodbye.

Good things about fostering Darwin:

  1. The shelter provided everything we needed to care for his immediate needs — including basic training, treats, food, collar, leash, training collar, crate, mat, and toys.
  2. We were able to connect with other dog-lovers and start expanding our network of acquaintances*
  3. We were able to focus on the needs of Darwin instead of sulking in our own depression.  For me, at least, I loved having the opportunity to play tug-of-war with Darwin, or just chill with him.  Taking care of him made all of my problems seem a little smaller.
  4. We were forced to set a routine–meaning no more late nights at work.
  5. We will have stories to tell forever about the white pitty puppy that made us laugh and shook up our routine that one December in 2014.

Granted, it was also a big challenge.  Taking a powerful animal into your home who doesn’t have manners yet is quite a commitment, and it may test your patience and your virtues.  It’s not something that I would recommend blindly.  If you’re good with dogs, though, and looking to help one find a forever home, I’d recommend looking into shelters and fosters in your area to see how you can help.  The programs near me offer temp fostering, outright fostering, sponsorship, volunteering, and more.  There are ways you could get involved, even if you can’t bring a dog into your home right now.  *The network of acquaintances collapsed due to the poor end to our foster-care, but I am sure there are other, better networks available in different shelters.

Darwin is currently available for adoption.  You can find his online profile HERE.  It should be noted that, while the end of my foster experience was horrible, the adoption experience through this group has had nothing but positive reviews.

Do you have questions about our foster experience? Have you ever fostered? Leave a comment to start the discussion!

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