Recently, we asked our friend Rennie if she would like to write a guest post about fostering for Bully Project. This is the result.
I’ve been a short-term foster mom for three of Bully Project‘s adoptables, and each of the dogs couldn’t have been more different from one another.
First came Hunny, who I’m sure was part bulldog. She loved nothing more that long, loud naps on the floor. This dog could snore!
Then I had Ethel, easily the snuggliest dog I’ve ever met. Between her love of snoozing on me and her penchant for playing fetch in my one-bedroom apartment (not an easy feat), I’m convinced that she was part Chocolate Lab.
Finally, I housed Baci, who is clearly part cat. And I mean that in the best way – I’m not talking about the aloof quality of a feline … far from it. Case in point: this dog actually followed me into the bathroom once and sat at my feet while I did my business, with her back turned to me for privacy. Baci is nothing if not polite.
She also taught me a whole lot about what it means to foster a dog, for any amount of time. The first two, Hunny and Ethel, were exceptionally adaptable. Both made themselves at home in my apartment literally within minutes, plopping down for a nap and a cuddle.
Baci was a slightly different story.
Full of pep and puppy energy, she had lots to do the first night that Josh dropped her off. She rubbed her body across each piece of furniture in my living room, paced between the dining area and the kitchen, and sniffed every corner of my rug. After devouring a 12-inch braided Bully Stick in the short time before Josh left, I didn’t have much left at my disposal to calm her down.
A quick run-through of her behaviors (Baci was great at “sit” and “shake” and was working on her “down”) resulted in nothing but excitement.
Oh my gosh, we’re SITTING! Now we’re throwing ourselves DOWN on the floor. Ooh, and speak. I can SPEAK! Josh doesn’t like it when I speak but I can show you, new foster person. Listen to me SPEAK!
Maybe this wasn’t the best time to go through Baci’s tricks. I tried giving her a belly rub, always a favorite of the other two fosters, but that, too, was incredibly exciting for this one. Baci wiggled her way across my floor, rubbing her head (and probably her irritated eyes, poor girl) across my legs, rolling around like a nut.
After a somewhat relaxing chew on her antler to settle things down, I put Baci to bed in her crate. When all else fails, go to sleep, right?
The next morning I had a slightly more chilled-out dog on my hands. We went on an early morning walk and Baci was polite and sweet, checking in on me often and eagerly sitting at my feet for a training treat every couple of blocks. When an unexpected shower hit, she gave me that look.
Um, new foster person? It’s raining. Why are we outside?
I hurried us back to my walk-up, dried Baci off with a towel (no surprise: she loved it) and fed her breakfast while I ate my own.
As the next two days wore on, I saw quite a change in Baci: I watched her settle in. There was really no process like this with the last two dogs, and it was interesting to watch Baci relax and enjoy her downtime. I figured out a couple of tricks, too: petting Baci’s head made her much calmer than the belly rubs. Rubbing Baci’s floppy ears put her into a practically trance-like state, and then we could move on to a nice massage/belly-rub, with me whispering “shhh” to make it a calm activity, not an exciting one.
Worked like a charm.
Soon, I had a snoozing dog at my feet, and one who was eager for mini training sessions without getting overly excited. I discovered that she was confused about the difference between “shake” and “down.” Ever-willing to present her paw in greeting (see? Such a polite girl!), it took several repetitions for her to get that she didn’t need to shake before moving down to the floor. Her own particular version of “down” is perfectly Baci. It’s a swift drop to the floor, followed by a wiggly Army crawl. But she got it. I showered her with praise for that, and for everything she did that I liked, such as the naps and the sitting quietly with me at home!
Whenever I went into my bedroom and closed the French door behind me, Baci would wait patiently on the other side, her face (framed by a soft cone to protect her healing eyes) smushed against the glass. She sat like a statue waiting for me, happily greeting me upon my return just a couple minutes later.
When I had to bring Baci back to Josh after just a few days, I felt the familiar pang of sadness. Giving up a foster dog feels like losing a friend, no matter how happy you are that they’re moving on to a good place and a famiy to call their own
I loaded her into a cab and she tried to do her usual trick of crawling underneath my legs (again—such a cat) to rub her back. When the cabbie gave us a sideways glance, I made Baci sit and had to correct her several more times to keep her from rubbing her head and eyes on me.
Finally, with a contented sigh, she rested that sweet, pretty head on my knees and sat quietly for the rest of the ride. I rubbed her ears and she closed her eyes.
And in that moment, I wasn’t sad at all. Quite the opposite, actually: I felt like I’d done my job as a foster mom. After being in two other foster homes before me, I helped teach Baci that new situations are OK. And laying quietly on the floor and taking a snooze is, too. I don’t know how a dog’s brain works any more than the next guy, but I’m pretty sure that’s a lesson that sweet Baci would take with her.
Not that she needed it—she was lucky enough to be adopted just days later. But I’ll never forget what Baci taught me about fostering a dog. As sad as it can be to say goodbye, giving an abandoned or unwanted dog a stable, happy, supportive place to live, for any length of time, is the best thing that you can do to help them.
Knowing that Hunny, Ethel (who I still miss the most!) and Baci will have warm, happy holidays in their forever homes is truly a gift.
And I have that sweet, goofy, thinks-she’s-a-cat pittie to thank for it.
Rennie Dyball is a People.com editor and co-author of three books. She is a currently dog-less New Yorker who has been known to hang out in the occasional dog park anyway, just to make four legged friends. (That’s not weird, is it?) Follow her on Twitter: @renniedyball and check out her blog at renniedyball.com.