If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ll remember awhile back that I wrote a post about getting our first foster. Her name was Wendy, and we were going to foster her through All Shepherd Rescue (where Panzer came from).
Well, when Wendy came to meet us, it didn’t go so well. She was a sweet dog, but very shy and not all that socialized. Our dogs are both pretty high energy and have anxieties of their own, which everyone who reads this blog already knows.
While neither of my dogs snapped at her or acted aggressively toward her, she snapped at them, probably because she was anxious, afraid and didn’t like them invading her personal space to try and romp and sniff inappropriate places. After she snapped at Shelby the second time, and Shelby reacted to Wendy’s temporary foster mom, Joe and I met in a huddle.
I really wanted to foster, and I felt like I was letting the rescue down by saying no. I didn’t want to reinvent the meaning of “foster fail”. I bit the inside of my cheeks and looked from Shelby to Wendy to Panzer’s foster mom who was also visiting, to the house. Shelby has her issues, don’t get me wrong, but dog aggression is not one of them. I thought about how difficult it was going to be trying to manage the three of them, the crate rotation, the separate walks, the potential for dog fights, the carefully planned management, getting Wendy the socialization and special attention she needed. Could I do it? Yeah, I guess I probably could have, we could have, Joe would have most certainly pitched in, but was it the ideal situation for anyone involved?
Fortunately, the rescue and Wendy’s temporary foster mom were understanding. Panzer’s foster mom even told me she was proud of me for making the difficult decision. And, in the end, Wendy’s temporary foster became a more permanent one, and she went on to be adopted and find forever, but that doesn’t mean that the six months that she waited didn’t make me feel guilty as hell, especially considering Wendy’s foster mom had just lost her heart dog and wasn’t intending on becoming a permanent situation for her.
I felt like I had let everyone down.
But the itch to foster didn’t really go away. I gave myself a lot of time to think through it more clearly and to work more on Shelby and Panzer’s issues, work on their energy level and figure out how to get them to calm down around other dogs (granted, their hyper-ness around other dogs is from excitement and desire to play, but for a shy dog, it all comes across as quite scary and threatening, even if we, the people at the other end of the leash know it’s not).
Then came Lizzy. I love Lizzy. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear, featuring her on every blog I can finagle her into and submitting her photo to contests and websites all over the place. Despite the fact that she’s been shared about a gazillion times by a dozen different sites on Facebook, no one has been at the shelter to look at her. Day in and day out, she sits there, waiting.
The reasons I love Lizzy are hard to put my finger on. Well, some of them aren’t. Obviously, she’s gorgeous. She loves to play ball, which I love, because it reminds me of Panzer. She’s really people-friendly, which I love, because it is different from the dogs I currently have. She’s very smart, which is always a plus, and she’s eager to please and food motivated. She’s also relatively calm when she’s been exercised properly.
There are some reasons why Lizzy isn’t the perfect pet for any family, and as it turns out, that includes mine. She is going to have the potential for separation anxiety, she howls when you put her back in her kennel at the shelter. The shelter is not the best place for her, so she’s becoming increasingly anxious and her energy is building up, so it’s exploding all over the place when you take her out. And she’s not super thrilled with other dogs.
Over the past several months Shelby has become sort of bomb proof when it comes to other dogs. She’s calmed down a lot, with dogs and people (though people is still an every day challenge). She’s learned not to charge for a full frontal assault and has learned to solicit play politely and slowly, especially with strange dogs (this does not apply to Panzer, obviously, Panzer she will still tackle without warning). I’ve worked very hard with her to help her become this way and will continue to work with her as we confront her people phobia. One thing I am not willing to sacrifice though, is the mental well being of my resident dogs or the progress I’ve made with them.
So we did a meet and greet with my favoritest shelter dog Lizzy. I was up half the night before, fretting, and felt like I was going to throw up on the drive over. One of the volunteers at the shelter offered to come in extra early and exercise Lizzy to get some of her kennel stress out. I ran my own dogs as well, making sure they got all their pent up energy from the night out. I drilled Shelby in basic obedience and cleaned all the toys up off the floor in the house. Panzer has long conquered his resource guarding issues, but I didn’t want to chance them resurfacing with another ball crazy dog in the house.
When we got to the shelter, Joe kept Panzer and Shelby in the Jeep, and I went in and arranged for a female kennel tech to get Lizzy (again, trying to set Panzer up for success since he has lingering issues with strange men).
But sometimes…no matter how much you prepare, success is not in the stars. I brought Shelby around the side so she wouldn’t meet Lizzy face to face. Shelby reacted splendidly, moving slowly, and politely averting her gaze. Lizzy, however, bared her teeth and growled. Shelby did not react except to sniff the ground and amble back toward me. And yes, she got a cookie for that!
Determined not to fail at this foster thing yet again, I asked the tech if she would walk Lizzy in an enclosed run. The set up at the SPCA is that there are three separate but parallel runs. The dogs can touch nose to nose if they want, but there is a safety measure in the form of fence between them. The plan was to walk Lizzy up and down one while I walked Shelby up and down the other, giving lots of slack and allowing the dogs to move at their own pace.
Shelby trotted along the fence (a behavior she’s used to and very comfortable doing, thank you Carolyn!), minding her own business. For her part, Lizzy remained non-reactive until she got right up next to Shelby. Then the growling began again. Again, Shelby moved away, telling Lizzy there was no threat here. But Lizzy didn’t believe Shelby’s displays and continued her posturing, no matter how far away from her bubble Shelby and I moved.
Alas, this too, was not meant to be.
I truly believe that Lizzy is a good dog who will eventually be great with other dogs. I myself saw her run up and down that fence line many times, playing and romping with other dogs, but the kennel stress is getting to her. Day in and day out, she hears dogs barking, she’s frustrated, separated from them but still able to hear and smell and see them. It would take a toll on the most solid and sturdy of minds. She needs out, but she will also need some training, training that I feel confident I could do, but I’m sure I don’t have the time or the space to do so without risking serious harm to the mental well-being of my resident dogs.
It hit me hard, of course, but I still believe I’m making the right decision here. I want to set my dogs up for success, and they’ve worked hard, and I’ve worked hard to be comfortable with other dogs, despite their pasts and their own anxieties. In the meantime, I’m still looking for a perfect first foster. The itch hasn’t gone away, so stay tuned, I’m sure the stars will align eventually! And if any of you out there have fostering tips, or stories or want to help me, please do! I could use it!