Dog Fostering

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Some of you may know that I've been fostering dogs for rescue for over a year now.

For some rescues, fostering is an 'overflow' system for their kennels - when they get too full they try to find spaces in people's homes, or for dogs that cannot cope in kennels. For others it's the only way they take in dogs, and some even see it as a last resort - preferring to home the dog directly from the original home.

It can be hard work - some dogs come as puppies, or as pets of the elderly who can't look after them anymore and so don't need a great deal of help past settling in. Others have been given up because of behavioural problems and it's these dogs who need the most help to enable them to find a 'forever home'. Ideally a foster home will be experienced with dogs, and with back-up from the rescue can help the dog to begin to overcome its problems so that it can be rehomed.

My first dog, Fred, I 'failed' at fostering, because after he was homed he bounced back due to his behaviour problems. Although we'd worked very hard with Fred, most of his problems are due to lack of trust in people and fear of what they will do to him, and so, moving him to a new home meant that he was back at square one with his behaviour and was rejected again.

He seemed so happy to be back with me that I decided to keep him. I'd lost my 13 year old dog while he was away, and I couldn't bear to lose Fred a second time, added to the loss of my beloved Buster. It took over a year before Fred's trust in people really came back, and I can see that he may never fully recover from the emotional abuse he suffered in his first year. He still doesn't like being handled too much, and I don't think he's ever going to learn that human skin is not like dog skin and that he should keep his teeth off it!

Other dogs I've had have included those with aggression towards other dogs, and aggression towards people. Now I can't 'cure' these dogs in the short time I have them - not only would it take so long that I'd hopelessly fall in love with them and end up keeping them, but the change of owner can undo all the work, as happened with Fred - for various reasons.

I assess the dogs to find out what their problems are, and what sort of family they need, create a training programme, and make a start on it. I don't get involved with finding homes, other then telling everyone I meet that the dog needs a family, but when families are introduced I have to assess them too. Not only to see if they meet the needs of the dog and will continue the work we've started, but also to see if they suit the dog's personality - for instance a dog that needs a firm hand wouldn't do will with quiet, timid owners. A sensitive dog won't do well with a noisy, busy family, and an active dog won't do well if the prospective owners want company on the sofa, rather than company on long walks! It's also the case that if a dog has aggression problems, we need a family that will understand that repairing the damage is something that may take some time and who can live with the problem in the meantime.

The plus side to fostering (apart from the feelgood factor) is that the dogs make me laugh. Some dogs 'click' into the family as if they've been here all their lives - when I had a Jack Russell, he used to love chasing tennis balls. Fred likes this too, so there were lots of races between them - often with Fred arriving first and missing (klutz!) and Jack happily getting the ball. If Jack got there first, Fred would be happy to dive in, rugby tackle him to the floor and then trot off with his prize. Seeing dogs playing tug of war is something I love too - they'll tug anything, sticks, tennis balls, rope toys, anything. I've got a puppy at the moment whose great delight is pouncing on leaves when the wind is blowing, and seeing him investigate the world is a lot of fun.

It is hard seeing the dogs go once they've been here a while, but most of the time it's a relief as well! It's so nice knowing the dogs are off to a better life, that things can get back to normal in the house and I have more time for my own dogs, and that there is now space for one more desperate dog.

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