Foster failure? Nope. Let me tell you why.

I recently read an article called An Open Letter to People Who Tell Me to Adopt My Foster Dogs. It echoed many of my own thoughts, but not exactly. The writer indicated that it's hurtful to her when people suggest that she adopt her foster dogs. I don't find it hurtful, but I do find it frustrating. I wanted to share my own thoughts on the topic.

It's common for foster families to adopt at least one of their foster animals over time. It's sometimes referred to as a "foster failure." There is nothing wrong with it. Sometimes you develop a bond and, particularly for new foster volunteers, it can be unbearably hard to sever that connection.

A few reasons why I don't adopt my foster dogs:
  • There is a two-dog limit in my city and I already have two dogs. Sure, I could apply for a variance but I don't want to.
  • I don't have a terribly large house. It's big enough to accommodate a third dog on a fostering basis, but not permanently.
  • The yard is fenced but small. It's all I can do to get any grass to grow - it gets peed to death as fast as I plant it. With a small yard, it's not possible to disperse the dogs' output over a larger area. 
  • A third dog would increase our veterinary care budget, boarding budget. etc. 
  • I simply enjoy having two dogs and, to be honest, I don't really owe any sort of explanation beyond that. 
  • My foster animals are guests in my home. Our home is a part of their journey - not their final destination.  
  • Sometimes, my dogs don't particularly care for our foster dogs. Just like all humans don't love all other humans, we shouldn't expect dogs to become besties with every single dog they meet. 
  • I am the primary caretaker. I would love to say that my family members pitch in, but um . . .
If I had kept my first foster dog nearly 20 years ago, imagine all the dogs I wouldn't have been able to help beyond that.  I wish I had kept track of the numbers. I'm confident that I've fostered well over a hundred dogs. Is it easy to give them up? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If a dog is young and healthy, there is no reason to keep him/her in foster care any longer than necessary. A family is out there waiting and I think it's best to get that match moving as soon as the vet care and behavioral assessments are done.

If a dog has medical issues and requires rehabilitation, or is elderly, I do shed a few tears when they get adopted - or in some cases die prior to adoption. Those cases are definitely much, much harder. The more of an investment I have to make (physically and emotionally), the harder it is to let them go. I still feel sad when I think about Duncan, a sweet Boxer who came into rescue with one leg in paralysis. Before long, the other three legs became paralyzed (likely the result of a spinal injury) and I had to let him go. Did that dog ever pull on my heartstrings. I can still see his face. I remember Fritz, who waited a solid year to get a home. He was 11 years old when an adopter finally came forward. Oh, how she spoiled him. Fritz-a-Million, I called him. Or sometimes, Fritty-Cent. What a character. Could I have kept him? Sure, but I felt strongly that he deserved 100% of someone's attention in a home of his own. I remember Arlo, who had some pretty severe temperament issues. I had him evaluated by a professional behaviorist. Ultimately, I had to have him euthanized. He died on my birthday and I still remember the feeling of his face in my hands.

I could go on and on. Many furry friends have passed through my home and many left an indelible mark (sometimes literally - there are teeth marks in my dining room chairs). My role, as I see it, is to prepare them for the next phase in their lives. It is an honor to be part of that journey. Fostering can be emotionally challenging, of course. Why do I do it? It's simple: because there is a need. If not me . . . who? I know a lot of people say, "I could never . . ." Well, maybe you're not in a position to foster. Maybe you live in an apartment that does not allow animals. Believe me, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities even for those who cannot foster. Any rescue or shelter would be happy to have your help.

When you see a photo of a foster animal posted on social media, please think twice about saying, "He wants to live with you forever." Foster families are already doing their part - please don't inject guilt into the situation. I know you mean well but just . . . don't. Please. :-)

My current foster dog is as cute as a bug's ear. He was surrendered to rescue when his owners got a divorce and moved into separate apartments. My own Boxers are not white but I've always had a soft spot for white Boxers. Avalon's little white eyelashes make me swoon. He loves to cuddle. The tips of his ears turn pink when he gets tired.

As fond as I am of Avalon (and I would be a lot fonder of him if he were housebroken), he is still a guest in our home and not a permanent resident. My job is to get his medical needs (like routine vaccinations) taken care of, to train him to the best of my ability, to get to know him well enough to figure out what kind of adoptive home is best for him, to love him like crazy, and then to send him along when the time comes. It is an honor to play that role for this amazing creature.

Fostering isn't for everyone, but it sure as hell is rewarding. 


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