MY LIFE AS A FOSTERER - TEARS, TANTRUMS & TEDDY BEARS
I've been fostering animals for Wings and Paws Rescue for a couple of years now, I do it because I love animals and I want to do whatever I can to help them... but lord above it's not easy! It takes a very special and dedicated type of person to foster and care for a poorly treated animal and I am honored to be considered as one of these people by Clare, our Wings and Paws Rescue CEO. As I type this I am sitting on the cold kitchen floor, with a very sad, broken, and abused Bulldog who, can I just say is lying next to me on a lovely heated dog bed, as I'm on the cold, tiled floor... Am I mad, oh of course I am, and all I can do at this point is give her my love and try to show her she's safe.
I thought I'd write a "warts and all" account of my time as a fosterer, as we are desperate for more fosterers and although the criteria for an emergency foster is so strict and those who fit the bill so rare.. this blog isn't designed to scare people away, but to let you see just what being a foster parent is all about and why we have such high standards.
Firstly let me be honest, I am NOT the type of foster home we are currently desperate for.. for a start off I have 3 dogs of my own, a rabbit, and at the time a Daughter who was just 16 years old. I work long hours too but fortunately, this is from home, so I stay with them throughout the day. So let me start from the very beginning.
Teagan - my first foster
As a follower on Facebook of Wings and Paws Rescue, I saw a post one afternoon begging for an emergency foster home for a lovely old lady, Teagan, the 14-year-old Rottweiler cross German Shepherd whose owner had tragically become homeless and needed to find her a home. Clare had been informed that Teagan was due to be put to sleep the following day if she didn't take her and a new home could not be found. I read the post to my Daughter, she was as horrified as me that this sweet old girl was to be euthanised simply because she was old and needed expensive medication daily. Without hesitation, I messaged the rescue and offered my home. Clare called me and was hesitant because trusting a stranger with one of her rescues is not easy... she needs to (rightly so) know that the person can be trusted, that they know what they are offering, and that they won't run for the hills at the first sign of trouble.
I must have been on the phone with Clare for over an hour, while we chatted about my dogs, my previous experience, my day-to-day life, etc... I finally convinced her that I would not let her down and that Teagan would be safe me with. Later that day she brought Teagan to my home and sat in the garden with me for a long time while we introduced her to my 3 dogs - All went well and Clare left her in my nervous but determined hands.
I fell in love with Teagan immediately, she was such a sweet soul and had clearly been loved dearly by her previous owner... he just didn't have the money to get her what she needed - Her fur and skin were in poor condition and she had awful arthritis meaning she struggled to walk far - but this could all be fixed with medication, time and high-quality food.
All was well - then suddenly it wasn't
As I say, I have 3 dogs of my own. One of them being a 78kg Great Dane... safe to say, I am pretty experienced in looking after big dogs, however, a few days after having her she managed to get into a bag of dog food I had stupidly left on the kitchen counter. It's important to remember here that while she'd been getting 3 square meals a day since she joined my family, she had spent years not knowing when she would next be fed.... her instincts kicked in, she ripped the bag apart and was almost deranged with the need to eat it all in one sitting!
I walked into the kitchen, she took one look at me about to move the food and she went for me... and she would have done a LOT of damage had she not been so slow and myself so quick it was definitely the only time I was thankful for her Arthritis! I grabbed my dog (who had followed me) scrambled back through the kitchen door, slammed it closed, and just stood there in utter shock. She had missed me by an inch and I have no doubt she would have badly bitten me (and my dog).
Now what? If I let her eat 15kgs of dry dog food in one go she was going to be very, very ill... but I couldn't get near her! But - what did Teagan love more than dry dog food...? Dog treats!!! And there are ALWAYS dog treats in my pocket... I opened the door.. threw a handful into the utility room and watched her scamper happily after them. With the utility door locked and Teagan now contained I could start cleaning up the mess.
After leaving her a couple of minutes to calm down, I made my way into the utility to see her, she was stuffed to bursting but back to her old self. In fact, she appeared to be very remorseful, she sheepishly came over to me and started licking my hands and legs. I sat down next to her and we had a cuddle. It was clear she was upset to have behaved like that and was saying sorry in her own little way.
I called Clare, I was devastated. I had put myself, my Daughter, and my own dogs in danger, and worse than that, I had let her down. What on earth made me think I could treat her like one of my own dogs, that I could leave food lying around and expect her not to steal? I truly felt I had failed her. Clare thought I wanted to give her back, which of course I did not. I explained I just wanted her to know what had happened, that I was sorry and that I would be more careful. I can't write on here what Clare called me 😂 but safe to say she did not blame me, she was actually laughing that I was so upset at MYSELF and told me that it happens to everyone at some point and to stop worrying - no one got hurt and I learned a very valuable lesson that day.
Back to business - with a few changes
We carried on, I made changes to the kitchen so that food was never in sight (or smell) and I ensured Teagan was always fed separately well away from my own dogs, and that she was out of the room whenever we ate. We had an amazing 8 months loving Teagan, but in January 2021 we made the sad decision to put her to sleep after her Arthritis and doggy Alzheimers became too much for her. She could no longer control her bowels or bladder and was finding it more and more painful to walk. I and my daughter sat on the vet's consultation room floor, with her head on our laps and saw her peacefully cross over rainbow bridge - it was so sad, but also rewarding knowing she'd had 8 extra months of love, care, and TLC. Also truly grateful that she did not die alone, but was surrounded by our love - RIP Teagan.
That was just the beginning
We did it, we'd done our first foster and made the decision that we wanted to do it again... and again.. and again!!
Let's see... Teagan, Bunny, Trixie, Amber, Mr. Schnitzel, Squishy and now Pancake and Cola - these are all the dogs who have stepped through our front door. Plus more cats, budgies, and rabbits than I can count. Thankfully Teagan and a stray cat we named Gizmo are the only ones we've lost to the rainbow bridge. All the others have found loving homes, or are still here...
So let me introduce you to Scarface. This mini panther became a long-term foster of ours. He has FIV and Feline Corona, it will eventually kill him. It's also highly contagious to other cats - so I keep him isolated in my bedroom, where he is safe from the dogs (or more likely they are safe from him) and he gets 1:1 attention from me in the evenings.
He came to us as a feral cat who hated humans, so much so that even feeding him down at the cat pens proved difficult. By this point, my Daughter was volunteering at the farm every weekend and most school holidays and she was unaware of the ''scary cat'' she nonchalantly went into his pen to feed and clean it out one day. It was love at first sight from his point of view - this was HIS human and he liked her. Clare was astonished! My daughter calls me, begs me, pleads with me to take him home. Clare said that if I would agree, she'd have him his very own heated cat pen built in my garden and he would do so much better with dedicated care - for the record I'm not a cat person, but how could I say no? The pen got built, the electrics laid and Scarface moved into my garden. I was lucky enough that Scarface considered me ''his second human'' and allowed me to take care of him too - although definitely no touching!
A sucker for a sad face
Then one cold January night it snowed - it was freezing cold. Alex and I couldn't settle. There was a cat in the bottom of the garden, cold and alone. Look - I know he had a heater and a heat mat and he was used to being outside... but just because something is used to being outdoors, does not (in my opinion) mean they should stay that way. So scary feral cat (who was still a bit hissy at us) was tricked into a cat box and moved to a large dog cage in the bedroom for a few nights until the snow had gone.
Fast forward 12 months, he now sleeps on my pillow with me, we have cuddles every evening and his medical issues have shown no signs of getting worse (yet). We love that cat and despite the 5am meows for breakfast I regret nothing!
And now we have a spare cat pen in the garden (currently housing feral cat Kanye) where the sickest and neediest strays can receive the attention they need before finding their new homes - by the way, this pen is available to be sponsored!
And they keep on coming!
So why do we have such high criteria for emergency fosters?
We get told - ''that's unrealistic'', ''you'll never find anyone'', ''you're being too picky'' etc.
So let me explain a few things about the rescue dogs that come into our care.
When someone wants to rehome or ''get rid'' of their dog (or cat) they are usually desperate to do so. There is a reason they no longer want them, and to be honest - people lie! We're told they're great with other dogs/cats/children, they walk lovely on a lead, they have no medical conditions, the list is endless. We bring them into our homes and low and behold, they lied... they bite, they attack our animals, they have contagious or costly medical problems, they go ballistic when on a lead or near other people. Our current foster homes don't care... we only care about the dog's welfare, but we have to have the right kind of home... and how do we know until we get them!
How would you feel if we handed you a dog who was ''child friendly'' and they attacked and bit off a finger (or worse) from your child? What about your own dog - who through no fault of their own is attacked by this new dog simply because the previous owner lied and they are not dog-friendly?
Then there are the neglect and abuse cases, what if they are so scared they won't move. If you have to take them for a walk because you don't have your own garden... it's unthinkable.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I am sitting on the floor here with Cola a neglected, very poorly dog who is petrified (that's her in the photos above). She wee'd on the floor earlier - of course, she did, she's never been in a house before, how would she know any better? She cowered from me like I was going to beat her. It actually upset me so much to see her so scared. So what did we do? We sang ''cleaning up the wee'' in a happy sing-song voice and she saw that it wasn't a problem, I didn't mind, as she was safe with me, no need for anger. I got doggy kisses after that 😍 (But maybe that was the fish I just fed her). She won't go into the garden no matter how much I encourage her and when I picked up a lead she hid! That's just heartbreaking as we just don't know why she has such an awful connection with a lead. She's in my kitchen because we don't know what is wrong with her. Her horrific skin condition MIGHT be contagious, so for now she's quarantined until I know if my dogs are safe to be around her. This is still a risk, I may transfer it no matter how many times I wash my hands. But when Clare called me about her, and that she was only 1 year old and in this much of a mess, but we had no fosterers free - how could I say no? I told her to bring her to me immediately and I will make it work. I carried her from my car because she wouldn't move from fear. I knew she was likely to bite me, but I had no choice. Luckily, she did not. I sat with her on the kitchen floor for HOURS last night, she wouldn't eat, she wouldn't look at me, I cried and cried and cried all I could do was offer food, water, and a teddy bear. This morning she's a bit better, we've had cuddles, she's had her fishy breakfast, this is the best option if the skin condition is a food allergy. Taking that into account, fish and chicken are all I'll feed her till we've had the vet results, and she's taken her pain killers. She's looking at me now like I am the best thing to have ever happened to her (and I probably am). I am hopeful I can fix her and that with plenty of love, TLC, and in time she'll make someone a wonderful companion.
So here are the current requirements to be an emergency fosterer and the whys:
No other pets (because sometimes they are not friendly to other animals, or they have contagious medical problems which we don't want to spread to others).
No small children under 12 (because rescues are scared, and yes they bite!)
Have a driving license and a car (because you will be in and out of the vets more often than you have hot dinners).
Be able to have pets in your home (because not all landlords will allow it).
Have a secure, private garden (for the dogs who are scared of the world, have never walked on a lead, or are not dog friendly).
Have experience with dogs/cats (for obvious reasons, we need you to know what you are doing).
Be prepared for accidents (because they are usually not house trained, they wee, poo, and chew).
Have patience and compassion (because they are scared and only time and patience can fix that).
Ideally, someone who works from home (because they need 24/7 attention sometimes when they are sick).
We have four of these amazing foster homes already. Each has one dog (or cat) at a time for us and they give them the 100% attention they need. We have more than 4 dogs needing this care. Ideally, Cola would be in this kind of home, but we're full, so she's with me for now.
We also have the problem of fosterers falling in love with their fosters, they decide to keep them... this is AMAZING for the animal concerned, we are always so so so happy when this happens... but guess what? Now we have lost a foster home!
There's me, Clare, and our other main fosterers Faye and Ruth - we have many, many animals in our homes between us, and we take the majority of the rescues that come to us, come what may. But on that odd (but all too often) time when the dog/cat needs a pet-free home - we need the help of someone very very special!
I am lucky that despite it just being me and my daughter at home, I have a fantastic network that helps me. Firstly, my Daughter, she helps with feeding, walking, cleaning, etc, and loves animals just as much as me. Next up, my parents come to my home and look after the animals on days I have to go into the office. I have two wonderful friends who dog sit for me when I go away, and I have an amazing management team at work who support what I do. Then last, but definitely not least, a very lovely partner who thinks what I do is great! However, I know I'm putting a lot on them too - they didn't sign up for this, I did!
Bitten, Scratched, and sleep-deprived
In my time as a fosterer I have been bitten and scratched, canceled holiday plans, taken time off work, and lost more sleep than the mother of a newborn baby. They cost me an arm and a leg (ALL costs are covered by the rescue if you become a fosterer, I just choose not to claim it all back). I am exhausted most of the time. At this very moment, I have 6 dogs, 3 rabbits, and 2 cats in my care. All have their individual needs and different food requirements. I have another Bulldog who's due to arrive today/tomorrow making it 7 dogs in total. Am I crazy... oh god, definitely but I do it for the love of animals. For the record... we would NEVER put this much on any other foster home, I just know I can handle it, and so does Clare. Alongside fostering, I help manage the Social Media side of things, replying to emails and messages and vetting potential homes. It's ridiculously hard work but I LOVE it. I wouldn't change it for the world and I hope to continue to help as many animals as I can for as long as I can.