Fostering dogs has become a part of my life. About a year ago, March 24 2015, I came back from the airport crying. Crying a mixture of happy and ego tears. I have fostered many dogs, and loved them all as if they were mine, but if I had to choose the one that had the biggest impact on me, that would be Billy – and that day I said my goodbyes at the airport, and let him go. It was my hardest farewell so far – not that any goodbye has ever been easy.
“Why don’t you keep the dog? He seems to have loved you so much” – I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that question. Too many I guess. Making rescue or training videos makes a huge impact, it helps the dogs get adopted but it also brings up that question. People see the relationship I develop with the dogs, and can’t help but wondering what kind of person could I possibly be to give up a dog that sees in me a savior. So I’ve had to answer the same question over and over again. Why didn’t I keep Billy, Alma, Bono, Sahara, Petra, Kallie and all the rest?
There isn’t really a right way to answer this question. Fostering is about letting go. It’s about preparing the dog for his forever home. It’s about training, healing, socializing and transforming that particular dog, from a hurt, broken, sick and confused animal to a perfect pet. A pet that is a result of patience, correct education and persistence. It might take a few weeks or a couple of months, but there comes a time when you are ready to shout out to the world: “here he is, he is house trained, socialized and healthy and he needs a home”.
Do I adore the dogs? Yes, I do. Do I imagine them living with me forever? Of course I do. Are the dogs becoming so attached to me that it will be hard on them to be rehomed? Never. That’s what’s amazing about them, and the main reason why adopting an adult dog is highly recommended –at least by me. Dogs have an amazing capacity to live in the present. This is what all trainers know, and all of us volunteering in animal welfare have experienced too many times. Yesterday they lived on the street, today they live in a shelter kennel, tomorrow they live in a foster home and the day after they live in their forever home. It takes just a few days for them to adjust and the new home becomes their past, present and future.
Have I ever kept a foster? Yes, of course. I kept my first one, Apollo. I just couldn’t let go. And he taught me a lot. He introduced me to the animal welfare world, and thanks to him, I was never the same. Fostering is not just about helping the dogs. It’s about helping some amazing people adopt the dog they always dreamed of. And this is awesome. I’ve given every single one of my fosters knowing pretty much everything they’d do or feel during the first weeks. I got to train them and know them that well that I’m pretty confident about any advice I give to the future families. And this is a precious feeling for all three parties, the dog, the family and me.
Billy was one very hard goodbye. Within three months I watched a frightened bag of bones turn into a healthy, gorgeous dog. I witnessed a miracle and yes, I felt that he was mine – and in a way he was and always will be. But the thing is that the dog that lives in Switzerland today is not my Billy. My Billy was that tiny, scared and sick creature I fostered those first weeks. The dog I nurtured, and treated and trained. The dog that wagged his hairless tail for me on the fourth day. The dog whose dippers I changed and whose sheets I washed. The dog I couldn’t touch for three weeks without my gloves on. That was mine. And nobody can take that away. Of all the footage I have on him, I’ve only kept one photo in my pc, and it’s one of his first ones. Because back then, he was my dog.
The amazing animal I gave for adoption on March 24 wasn’t my Billy. It was Emma’s and Simon’s dog. Having photos send to me from his one year adoption celebration only makes me think of one thing: “How could I even consider depriving those amazing people from their dog? How did I even consider keeping their dog?”
If you have any doubts about fostering, just don’t. It is one amazing thing to do, and letting go isn’t really that hard. You let go of a dog that belongs to somebody else, but you can always keep the dog you fostered forever. Because the fearful, sick and confused dog you took in those first few day will always be yours, no matter what. Will you grow feelings for the animal? Of course you will. And you will let it go because it doesn’t need you anymore, but there are millions out there who need you a lot. All of us volunteers give our “Billies” away for all the other “Billies” to come. And they are a lot. They deserve a chance.
I know that there will come a time when I’ll be reading this blogpost and laugh. I know that eventually a dog will come that will be impossible for me to give up for adoption. I’ve even come up with a caption for it: “I did what I did before love came to town”. But until then, I have absolutely no regrets. All the dogs I fostered will always be mine in a way. I keep only one photo of every one of them, and it’s a photo from the first day they arrived. That day, they were mine. The day they left for their forever homes, they already belonged to somebody else.