By Kathi Graham, Foster Parent and Adopter
About a year ago, Brother Wolf was in desperate need of foster homes for many of the 140 dogs rescued from a hoarding situation. It had been several months since we had had a foster, but I was going to be working mostly from home for the next 3 weeks, so it was a good time to welcome a foster dog into our home.
I went to the Adoption Center and came home with Poppy, a 5-year old chihuahua/feist mix. The poor guy was thin, with a painful, bulging eyeball. By the time I picked him up, he had already been scheduled for being neutered and having his infected eye removed (not at the same time). On my end, I was to help him become socialized so he could move on to his forever home. I had no doubt that we could do it in just a few weeks, like we had in the past.
Initially, he never moved from where you put him and never made a sound. But one day on our way to the vet, he found his voice and SCREAMED all the way there. It was a horrible, demonic sound like I had never heard from a dog! On the way home he was quiet.
The next visit to the vet was a repeat. As soon as the car pulled out of the driveway, the screaming began. And as soon as we pulled out of the office parking lot, he was eerily quiet. Was he screaming because he thought he was being taken away from his new home and calm because he knew he was returning? That was a crazy thought — or was it?
He is a very anxious dog. In the beginning, he didn’t want to be touched, much less held, and he didn’t follow any commands. He wouldn’t tolerate a harness or leash. And he was scared of EVERYTHING. Even in his undernourished state, his fear overrode any desire for food, so working with treats was not a option. He would only eat at night, once he was alone in his room.
He’d obviously never had a toy, and he ran and hid under the table when presented with one. When he finally decided to give it a try, the toy squeaked and terrified him. Several weeks into his stay, we were in the yard, when I took a break from the leaves I was raking. He carefully crept up, sniffed my gardening glove, grabbed it, shook it off my hand, and ran. I was so happy to see that he was finally showing that maybe, just maybe, one day he could be a healthy, playful dog. A year later, that old gardening glove is still his favorite toy!
Poppy’s eye was not his only health problem. He had a bad limp in his front leg, a horrible cough when excited, and he continued to be terribly fearful of everything– which caused him to bark at anything that moved.
The weeks turned into months. He healed from a series of surgeries, which included having 5 teeth removed. He continued to increase his trust in me (but only me) and always had his eye (that one eye) on me. He continued to pace and hide when my spouse was in the room, and would bark frantically if anyone else dared to enter.
He began to love sitting beside me, or even on my shoulder, and started to enjoy being petted. The joy he shows when I come through the door, whether after 5 minutes or 5 days, is wonderful!
We did get a few inquiries from potential adopters, but when I provided information about him, there was never a follow up call or a request to meet. It wasn’t surprising, but it was still heartbreaking that nobody else would take the chance to see what a sweet creature he was once he learned to trust.
Brother Wolf sent a behaviorist to visit us twice. She was helpful and informative. She told me he was one of the most fearful dogs she had ever worked with. Great. Just great. This was not what we planned.
We had dealt with all kinds of fosters in the past, most with medical needs — everything from bottle babies to bladder stones to a dog with a gunshot wound. But this had been the most challenging foster yet. The emotional/mental wounds were much harder to deal with than the medical ones.
Around the 8th month of our 3-week foster, the conversation turned from “how will we find the appropriate home for him” to “how could we let him go to another home?” We knew how to manage his needs and had helped him become less feral.
During the years we have fostered, we have had an agreement that there would be no foster failures. As heart-breaking as it can be to let them go, we understand we are to assist each foster to heal, and work to find them their best home. As the months went on, this situation started to look like that failure we said we’d never have. We already had two small dogs, each with their own quirks. They are individuals who are clear about wanting their own space. Adding a third just didn’t seem feasible.
We always said our next dog would be a rescue, like those you read about in those heartfelt, tear-jerking stories. One who loves everyone, and brings a neighborhood together or becomes a therapy dog to brighten the lives of hospitalized children or elders. Or maybe she (because of course it would be a female) would save us from a house fire by bravely notifying us of the danger. It certainly would not be a one-eyed, gap-toothed, one-ear-up-one-ear-down, anxious little ragamuffin!
Now that his one-year anniversary of living with us is here, it’s obvious that our plan for that cuddly, sweet dog who licks everyone’s face is being rewritten. The new plan includes this jumpy, fearful, non-stop barker, who loves me — on his terms. He is now beginning to think my spouse might be okay. He spends his days observing the world from his perch in the bay window, making sure no one invades his home.
He is not an easy dog. In fact, he has been the greatest challenge we’ve faced in fostering. It’s possible he’ll always be very fearful of everyone but us. He may continue to run any time there is a noise in the house, and jump when I turn the page of the newspaper or set down my glass. But he’s part of this family now, officially.
And he has brought changes in us too. As he is slowly learning to trust us, we have learned a new level of patience. We understand even more the difference we can make in another’s life, a life that was clearly one of mistreatment and neglect.
We completed his adoption recently, and last night (for the first time) he stayed calmly in place as my spouse sat beside him! Maybe he saw the adoption paperwork with that one eye of his, and he knows he’s here to stay.
Our fostering will be on hold for quite awhile, as these three strange little dogs are enough for now, but we don’t consider Poppy a foster failure. He is an adoption success! He has found his best family, and we have completed ours.
HERE ARE 3 EASY WAYS TO HELP ANIMALS LIKE POPPY:
DONATE – Monthly donors help keep us best prepared year-round for animal rescue. With your help, we can continue to save and care for the animals who need us most. Recurring donations provide a consistent, reliable revenue stream, allowing us to focus more resources on our lifesaving programs, and less on fundraising. For our 10 year anniversary, help us grow our circle of compassion by welcoming 1,000 new members! Click here to join the Compassionate Circle today!
VOLUNTEER or FOSTER – Volunteers and fosters are Brother Wolf’s backbone. Do you have an hour to walk dogs or fold laundry? Do you want to learn to trap feral cats with our Community Cat Program? Are you a social butterfly who can help at one of our weekly adoption events? Do you have space in your home and heart for a temporary foster animal? Click here to learn more about volunteering and fostering!
SHARE – Share this story with your friends and family on social media to help spread Brother Wolf’s message of Uncompromised Compassion.