Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Iris and Friends

Iris & Coal

Iris & Pearl

Iris & Tico

Iris & Scruff

Iris & Phoebe

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Fostering 101

As I receive adoption applications for Iris, the fact that she will soon be gone from our home is hitting me harder each day. We have fostered over a dozen dogs so saying goodbye to them when they are adopted is nothing new. It hurts my heart a little bit every time, the house seems quieter and lonelier, but for the most part the joy of knowing they have finally reached their ultimate destination of a loving home in the arms of a family of their own far outweighs any downside. It's a happy time for them, even if they don't realize it at first, and any sadness on my part is really nothing more than self-pity and a consideration of what I have lost rather than what they have gained. So I bear with it because it's such a small price to pay.

I always hear of people who have failed "Fostering 101," those that tried their hand at fostering and then fell so in love that they could not stand to part with their dog and therefore ended up adopting him/her. And then they don't foster anymore. Who couldn't understand that? If you have ever known the love of a dog, you know the spell they cast over you. But it has always made me a little sad every time I hear something like that. There are so many homeless dogs and other animals that still need a chance and just not enough people to help them.

I've vowed not to fail Fostering 101. Certainly we ended up adopting our first 2 fosters but we always intended to have 2 dogs of our own and that was pretty much a given. I decided from the start that the 3rd space would always be kept open for a foster. And that way, the process of saving lives continues. In a way, it's easier to fail Fostering 101 because that way you don't have to put your heart and trust and faith on the line. But at this point in my life, I couldn't forgive myself if I succumbed to that. Mostly in memory of my first dogs, Jasper and Samson, but also on behalf of all the dogs we have already helped, I don't think I could live very contentedly knowing I had turned my back on the as yet faceless dogs that still need our help.

I don't want to make it sound as if it's all selflessness on my part. Far from it. Fostering is probably the single most rewarding thing I have ever done and will ever do in my life. I don't think there's anything that I take more pleasure in than simply being with dogs. And when you think of all the love, laughter, and just the simple joy of being that dogs bring with them, it's not difficult to
understand why I want to surround myself with that. There was a time when I didn't feel that way, when I didn't even like dogs and that was before Jassy & Sammy came into my life. Since then however dogs have become my passion. And I have been extremely blessed that I am in a position where I can indulge in that passion. So while I am involved in rescuing and fostering for the dogs' sake, I also do it for my own sake.

But there is still that bit of heartache involved. I still remember quite clearly the first dog we adopted out. We named her Bella. She was scheduled for euthanasia at the always overcrowded Merced County Animal Shelter. Tyler and I were nervous about taking in a dog that we knew nothing about, especially at that time when we didn't have very much experience with dogs.
But we went for it and Bella turned out to be a fantastic dog. She had obviously belonged to someone that had taken good care of her, and I'm grateful that we were able to save her and help her find a new family.

We only had Bella for 4 days before she was adopted. I remember I was so xcited, our first adoption! It was something I had dreamed about doing for so long. And then an hour after her family had taken her to her new home, as I was sitting in the car with Tyler ready to go out to dinner, I shocked myself by bursting into uncontrollable tears. I did bond with Bella during the short time we had her (it's virtually impossible for me not to almost immediately bond with a dog), but I knew those tears were caused not so much by the loss of Bella from our lives but from the feelings of loss and grief over Jassy's death just 2 months earlier and Sammy's 6 months earlier that Bella's parting from our home had resurrected.

Saying goodbye to our fosters got easier after that. The happiness of knowing they were finally going "home" far surpassed the sadness of watching them leave. It's impossible not to miss each one, but the ache was not terrible. I do remember when Goldie left (she was a few dogs after Bella), I did cry. She was one of those dogs that have a shell around them but blossom before your eyes. Goldie was not extremely shy, just a little uncertain, probably due to the continual and drastic changes she found herself going through. She only stayed with us for 2 weeks but it was enough to fall in love with her, even more so because there was that special bond of watching her come to trust us over time. Looking back, I see that Goldie provided me with just a taste of what was to come with Iris. And I've been finding that letting go of our fosters is getting harder.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

To Love Them is to Let Them Go

The hardest thing about adopting out a shy dog is knowing they will go through a period of fear and uncertainty as they transition into their new life. Having helped them to get to the point where they felt safe in our home with us, it’s difficult to accept that they must once again know insecurity and wariness in order to get to the same point with their new family. But it is a necessary evil, one that will challenge and make them a better dog and that will forge the bonds with their new people. And I just have to let them go and have faith that they will once again come to trust and feel safe there as they did here.

Friday, May 4, 2007

"Why don't you keep her?"

Probably the question I am most often asked is, "Why don't you keep Iris yourself?"

The answer applies to every dog we've fostered. Adopting a 3rd dog would mean we wouldn't be able to foster anymore. When we first began to foster, about 2 years ago, my boyfriend and I decided that 3 dogs in the household would be the limit because any more than that and we didn't feel we would be able to devote the proper amount of care and time to each one. While there have been occassions in the past when we have had more than 3 dogs in the house, to do so on a continual basis, given our limitations, would not be fair to any of them.

We adopted Boomer, then Phoebe, our first 2 fosters. We could've easily adopted any one of the dogs that followed, but to do so would have meant an end to our ability to foster. And there were so many dogs out there, including Iris though of course we didn't know her at the time, that still needed our help. Adopting Iris, or any other dog, right now would mean we turn our backs on the other Irises of the world still waiting for their chance.

Aside from that though, to imply that Iris could not find happiness in another home, not only gives me way too much credit, but also does a huge injustice to Iris. Iris is full of heart. That she has come to trust me does not mean she is incapable of trusting another. She proved that to me last month when she stayed for 2 weeks with a very wonderful woman, her husband, and her family of 4-legged critters. In that short period, her fear at finding herself in a new place ebbed away and was replaced with the same comfort, happiness, and security I imagine she feels here with us. I am grateful for the opportunity that Iris had to bask in the love of somebody else other than myself. I want her to know as much love, from as many people, as possible.

It might be the easier thing to keep Iris permanently. Then I wouldn't have to take the responsibility of finding the right home for her, to trust that somebody else is taking good care of her, to worry and stress over how she might be doing, and I wouldn't have to experience the heartache that comes every time a foster is adopted. But fostering is about love, and love isn't always easy. There's always a shortage of foster homes, and there are too many dogs depending on us for me to take the easy way out. Iris has been through a long journey but it doesn't end with me. I'm just a guide that will hopefully help to lead her, as I have the dogs before her, to the happy ending she so richly deserves.