Friday, December 11, 2009

Challenges of Fostering

Okay, by popular demand, here are my top ten challenges of being a dog foster mom:

10. Damage. Such as a chewed up cell phone, half-eaten cowboy boots, damaged drywall and baseboards, de-stuffed pillows and comforters, countless torn socks, leaky chewed-on ink pens, spilled water vases, scratched up walls, and missing (and presumably eaten) loaves of bread, bags of chips, and occasionally hamburgers. This is mostly preventable with good supervision, but accidents do happen, and sometimes one of the foster pets (or Noelle) gets away with something while I'm not looking. And with a constant stream of new dogs and cats - many of whom are not familiar with good house manners - it's a constant challenge.

9. Compassion Fatigue. Compassion is not only having a feeling of sympathy and sorrow, but also having a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. But after seeing the need, day after day, and year after year, most people get burned out and just lose that desire. I've only been doing this for two years, and already it doesn't bother me as much to turn away a dog as it used to. I have to stay focused on the dogs that I can help, which can be a challenge in the midst of the many requests I receive that I am not able to help.

8. Cost. Pets are expensive. I'm sure most of you reading this have pets, and you already know that. Fortunately rescue groups are able to cover the big expenses - vet bills. Many rescue groups also provide dog and cat food. Which is great because I couldn't afford to foster so many pets otherwise - food is also expensive!! But there are many other expenses that come along with fostering. There are the crates, and the dog and cat beds... the dog toys and cat scratching posts and dog chew bones and cat litter. I could do without some of these (not the cat litter), and other things are donated, which is GREATLY appreciated. But it's amazing how much money I still manage to spend on my foster pets. Fortunately I have a good job and no social life, so I don't have a problem spoiling my fosters.  Or buying toys for them to get their heads stuck in.

7. Politics. When I first got into rescue I questioned why there were so many separate groups, and why they didn't all work together. I was naive, and had no idea how many differing opinions people had about a wide variety of subjects related to animal rescue. While I've been fortunate to work with two very good rescue groups, I've met many different people from many different rescues. And in the past two years I've been told more than once that I'm doing certain things wrong. And I've heard a lot of complaints about other rescue people and how they do things. I've even heard people say that people are doing rescue for the wrong reason. I still haven't figured out what the wrong reason would be. I can't imagine anyone going through all the challenges of rescue and still rescuing, for any reason other than they want to help save lives. Sometimes the politics of small organizations full of highly committed, emotional people can be a real challenge.

6. Unwanted Foster. Many times I offer to take a dog or a cat without ever meeting them, or even seeing a picture of them. This is always scary, because I don't know what I will end up with. A pet with long-term health issues? A foster that I just don't feel a connection with? It happens occasionally, as much as I hate to admit it. And when that same dog or cat is not very adoptable, I'm stuck with them. For months, or longer. Again, I've been fortunate to work with groups who are great about helping out in that situation. But there are never any easy answers for pets like that. So it's one more challenge to fostering.  And by the way, this photo is of Noelle, our long-term foster who we loved so much we finally adopted.

5. Mud and Worse. I bought a new carpet cleaner yesterday. My last one lasted less than a year. It got a lot of use because of my foster pets. I've learned that dog vomit has some amazing adhesive properties, and that if I could identify them, I could probably invent a new type of glue and make a ton of money.  Until then, it just adheres to my carpet and gives me a lot of opportunity to use my carpet cleaner.  Many dogs have a reaction to the anesthetic used during spay and neuter surgeries and they end up vomiting after the surgery.   So I see more dog vomit than most people.  I also clean up accidents from un-housetrained dogs on a regular basis.  And of course there's the occasional cat who forgets to use the litterbox.  All in all, I spend a lot of my time just cleaning up after my pets.  Which is the excuse I use on a regular basis to justify to my husband why I don't have time to cook dinner for him. 

4.  People.  People can be on the best and worst list of fostering challenges.  Because as much as we do this to save animals, this is truly a people-oriented job.  We can't save more animals until we adopt them out, which requires good people skills.  We can't function without donations, which come from people.  And we wouldn't be needed at all if people would care for their pets properly.  If we could teach everyone to spay/neuter their pets to prevent unwanted litters, and to make a lifelong committment to their pets, we would put ourselves out of a job - which is what every true rescue person wants.  But if we only save animals and don't want to deal with "the public", we hurt our own cause.  Still, dealing with people is one of the biggest challenges for many rescue people.  And its totally understandable when we hear things like "come get this dog today or i'm gonna shoot him".  And "my cat has kittens, can you take them again? Yes its her fourth litter, and we got the voucher for her spay surgery you sent us last time, but we haven't had time to get her spayed yet."  Many people still see animals as throw-away possessions, not living beings.  So we have to continue working to change that. 

3.  Saying Good-bye.  Did you expect that to be the number one challenge?  It's definitely one of the hardest parts of fostering.  My most recent temporary foster - the Min-Pin/Pug puppy - was adopted tonight.  And I miss her.  But I know she's in a wonderful home - one of those homes that I feel really good about - and I'm happy about that.  I take in each new foster knowing that I can't keep them, so that makes giving them up a bit easier.  But still it is never easy.

2. Returns.  Everyone who adopts from me signs an adoption agreement that requires them to return the pet to me if they ever can't keep it.  When I take in a foster pet, I am committed to that pet for life, and I always want them back if their adoptive family can't keep them.  But returns are also a challenge because they are one more pet that you weren't expecting right then.  They also sometimes come back due to a problem - perhaps the dog snapped at a child, or the cat stopped using the litterbox.  So that's one more thing to have to resolve in order to be able to place that pet up for adoption again.  Some returns are understandable, and I wouldn't hesitate to adopt to the same person again if their situation changed.  But others are very frustrating because the new owners didn't take the time to try to resolve an issue, or simply decided the pet was inconvenient and wanted to give it back. 

1.  Losing a Pet.  This doesn't mean losing them like they run away - although I worry that will happen!  But when you do rescue, you will eventually face this challenge.  I have not faced this with any of my own fosters yet, and I dread the day I do.  But I have faced this with a dog that another rescue volunteer fostered.  The dog was taken in as a puppy, and as he grew he showed more and more behavior issues.  At her request, I also evaluated the dog and agreed with her that he was unadoptable, and together, along with the vet's recommendation, we made the decision to have him euthanized.  And I still think of him often.  Because that is never a decision that is made lightly, and it is an awful decision to have to make.  I think for me its the greatest challenge of fostering. 

Wow - that was depressing.  So okay, I'm getting to work on the flip side - the top ten joys of fostering - coming tomorrow!

1 comment:

JulieB said...

WOW! You pretty much covered what I would have called my top 10 reasons too. Thanks for sharing! I think that it's important to educate the public about what fostering is and isn't. Sometimes people think that all we get to do is play with cute little puppies and kittens. If only that were true! I also sometimes feel guilty that I don't get to spend as much quality time with my own pets because of fostering, but in the end I think my fur-kids would understand if it means saving another life. The hardest part for me is not being able to help every pet that needs it. I've been doing this for over 3 years and it hasn't gotten any easier for me to say no. That's why I can't pull from shelters... those faces haunt me for a long time. I commend you on this post Laurie - excellent job!