Sometimes I envision it as a worm, crawling into my ear. A mutated Pac-Man, eating every little circle known as common sense, reason and understanding. The worm devours everything that everyone else understands and leaves me with nothing but the giant puppy dog eyes of my foster dog staring at me, asking for love. The worm eats everything that I believe others see as normal – I am not concerned with a perfect house, clothes without dog hair, or children to pass on my name. All I am left with is peace. A calm, knowing that today, I did what I could for this one. It is far from enough to calm the tyrant beast that lives inside my soul – the one that exists just to remind me that there are many I did not save. But today, it must be enough. It will be enough. It is all there is.
When the stork is generous, she is very generous.
Emma was surrendered by her owner to the shelter when he no longer wanted her. The shelter staff soon recognized that her growing belly wasn’t just from over eating and knew they had to find a safe place for her to have puppies. As long as we were making room for one mom, we decided to take her in as well. Emma and Macy came from the same shelter on the same day.
Emma is a small Dachshund/Beagle mix, around 20 pounds. She is young, likely around one year in age. Birth is always a scary thing, but with a small dog and no idea how big her mate was, it can be even scarier. So, we took her in for an ultrasound. While it was difficult to say for certain, the vet felt okay about her delivering her puppies safely.
October 17 was an average Thursday morning. I rushed around, making sure all of the dogs were let outside, everyone was fed and given a good scratch behind the ears before heading upstairs to prepare for work. A short time later, I returned for a final check on everyone. Emma was acting unusual. She was nesting, shuffling blankets all around, asking for an excessive amount of attention. So, I sat with her a bit. She quickly curled up in my lap and let me stroke her long, soft ears. A small amount of fluid started to drip from her back end and I grabbed my phone to call in late for work. A very short time later, Emma let out a wicked cry and started to flail around, attempting to reach her back end where the definite form of a puppy was emerging. After a complete exit, Emma’s body relaxed and she quickly went to work eating the sack surrounding the puppy, licking him clean. Before she was finished puppy number two arrived with much less difficulty, a red little girl. Puppy three was a tan and white little boy, followed by three more right in a row. In the end, she delivered six little babies, three girls and three boys. (Names are TBD.)
The puppies are just over two weeks old now and starting to open their eyes. So far, this is their largest accomplishment. Walking is still a skill in the learning process.
Emma stole my heart the minute I met her. She is extremely affectionate and actually cries if she gets close to me and I am not quick enough to pet her. She waits at the top of the stairs for me to come and spend time with her when I leave her. She loves to cuddle, is very well behaved and just adores everyone she meets. Once she has safely seen her puppies into new homes, it will be a wonderful day when a family gives her the forever home she deserves.
The doors in my house are stained with smears of red mud, each one the width of a large dog paw. It will not come off. Not with bleach or soap or elbow grease. The frame around the newest one has been chewed nearly in half, resembling a beaver’s mid-day snack. Someday they will be fixed, but not when there is more to come.
I keep a “pet roller” around and use it regularly to remove dog hair from my couch. But, even on the slick surface of pleather, hair manages to find its way back. I don’t expect that problem will ever go away.
Carpet… perhaps the worst invention for pet owners… ever. Mine is ripped near the door, started during a small dog’s fit of anxiety and advanced by each one after. It features at least one accident from nearly every dog visitor I have had. Certainly, this adds to an already obvious “doggie smell” in my house that I have become accustomed to. One day, when the funds have been saved, it too will be replaced.
This weekend, we are expecting visitors. Family members are traveling over 2,000 miles in order to stay in our home for a week. Normally, I would be panicking, scrubbing even harder than normal. Every turn would cause my frustration to mount, as I recognize the overwhelming amount of work to be done and face the fact that some of it simply cannot be fixed right now. Not this time.
A few months ago, I reached an agreement with myself. I will keep a clean house to the best of my ability and I will stop apologizing that it is not perfect. No longer will I see the damage, stains and fur as a source of embarrassment, but instead as a source of pride. Every ding and dent is a battle scar, earned through sacrifice, hard work and dedication.
I don’t expect that other people will understand it, much less accept it. They don’t have to. Only I do.
My cupboards have scratches on them, my yard is full of holes. My windows are smeared, floors in a constant state of needing sweeping. Baby gates, spilled food and kennels make the house a constant maze. There are permanent stains on the concrete floors and that is okay. Because if they didn’t, these dogs and so many others would not be alive.
A perfect house would mean nothing to anyone else. My imperfect house means everything to each one of the fosters saved under this roof.
One look into their eyes eliminates my embarrassment and reminds me… I save lives here.
There is something so eerie about how it happened. Last Wednesday, Scott and I went to dinner. In an extremely rare event, Scott forgot his briefcase at the restaurant, causing us to retrace our path. About a mile down a very busy road, he slammed on the brakes, nearly giving me whiplash and pointed to a tiny furry spot that had not been there just minutes earlier. He watched for traffic as I dashed across and swept the tiny kitten up into my arms, bolting to the side, just as a truck barreled through. The three of us headed out on our way, she nestled into my arm and let me pick burrs from her long black hair as we drove. We would name her “Whiplash”.
On that day, she was a bit stronger, able to sit up on her own, perching herself like a parrot in the palm of my hand. At four or five weeks of age, she should not have been small enough to fit there. But, this is how she was emaciated, alone, eyes crusted shut, barely able to breath from an upper respiratory infection and covered in fleas. I wrestled with what to do for a kitten. A puppy I knew what to do with, but a kitten was a whole new ballgame. Clearly, however, she was meant for me and there was no going back.
Unsure that she would survive the night, I made her comfortable and hoped for the best. The next morning, her condition was the same and we headed to the vet. But, even after several trips and antibiotics she continued to decline. Attempts to get her to eat soft food, even trying to turn it into a little kitten game, were completely futile. Bottle feeding ended up in a chewed up nipple and days of feeding by syringe was completely wasted, as not enough nutrition reached her tummy. Recognizing her strength was fading and her illness failing to improve, I knew time was running out and desperate measures were needed.
On Sunday, I ran my fingers along her long, thin fur and I could feel every bone in her body. Her back bone protruded so sharply it felt like it would break through her skin and puncture my heart at any moment. I washed the crusty infection away from her little eyes, but she was too weak to keep them open. Her nose whistled when she breathed, still congested. Occasionally she opened her mouth to cry, but no sound was audible. Every few hours, I sat with her like this before slipping a long tube down her throat in order to fill her tiny belly up with kitten formula. The effort was extremely risky, a slight misplacement and her lung would be punctured. Additional fluids were injected just below the skin to help her fight dehydration. She needed around the clock care, far more attention than any vet could ever offer, even if funds were no object. That is where a foster mom comes in. Every feeding session felt like torture and I struggled with the dilemma of when the efforts have gone too far. But, I promised her that I would keep up the fight as long as she did.
Yesterday morning, she was weaker than ever. I whispered to her that it was okay to go, perhaps more as a note to myself. I knew she was leaving me. She fought so hard and for so long, but the infection was more than her weak body and medication could handle. Curled up in a little nest of blankets, on top of her heating pad, Whiplash’s suffering ended.
My heart aches and I wrestle with a million thoughts, excuses and self-condolences. I wanted a happy ending for Whiplash and it wasn’t meant to be.
Every day, I think about you… people that may stop by and check in (even if you are imaginary). I apologize to you that I have been so negligent in my writing. Between my full-time job, my new part-time job, remodeling a house to be doggie friendly, fostering five amazing canines (photography, adoption fairs, vet visits, fundraisers), and this annoying thing they call “sleep”. I continue to fall behind. But there are a million things I want to tell the world about – things I feel like “normal” people just can’t grasp. So I will continue.
This week a potential foster family (yay!) asked a great question… why? Why do you foster dogs? I have thought on this awhile.
For me… it is like this.
When the world is silent, even if only in my head, it wonders to only one place. That fuzzy gentle feeling of fur against my face, the warmth that encompasses my heart when I know they are safe for the first time or the look of joy in their eyes when they hear me call their name, that relief that I feel when I receive an update from an adoptive family, telling me that their dog has been the perfect fit for their family, it fills me up. I think back to picking him up at the shelter - shaking, confused, scared, only hours left to live and I know I made a difference. There is something about all of that. It makes me who I am. It creates my being and existance. My purpose. I prayed for years to find my purpose. Then a tree fell on my house. Coincidence?
Fostering is hard. I started to write difficult, but that would be a lie. It isn’t difficult, it is HARD AS HELL. A hard-core foster deals with constant disappointment in people, urination on the walls, shedding, dog fights, muddy paw prints, disease, worms, parasites, death, overpopulation, euthanasia and perhaps the worst of all – the reality that we cannot save them all. We may not even make a dent.
But when someone feels it… really feels it, they cannot ignore it. The feeling starts at the bottom of my toes and eases through my body one nerve at a time. I push it aside, rationalize why I cannot help the one I just read about on email, knowing that I am at my limit. Eventually the stimulation reaches my brain and I can no longer ignore it. It is like a drug, impossible to live without. Withdrawal starts shortly after adopting someone to their new family (sometimes before)… I have an empty space and need to fill it. Sometimes there is no empty space, I just need to save someone, period. Fortunately, there is never a shortage. Unfortunately, I think a drug addiction may cost less! Bringing a new one in is my temporary high. Knowing that I somehow improved the life of another, someone that would have faced devastation, fills me up and pushes me through – overlooking the wretched stench that fills the air, the matted hair that will consume hours of grooming or the midnight feedings that bottle babies will require. None of it matters, I have my fill, I can be at peace for awhile.
Yes, I am an addict. I am a dog-rescue addict. I have told myself I can live without it – tried many times. Sometimes life changes force you to give things up for awhile – but even that didn’t work. Dogs make life changes really difficult and there have been many in mine. But even living in a rented 800 square foot house, with a small fenced yard, in the middle of town, I still found space for five foster dogs (plus my three dogs). Space may have meant that they lived on top of me, but it was there just the same.
I have fought it, told myself I can live without it. But, why? Why fight what I am certain I was put here to do? Not to mention that I always fail when I try to pretend it isn’t who I am. Nothing fills me up and pushes me forward like this.
Sometimes, I get jealous. I hear co-workers at the Bank talk about new furniture. I have had new furniture - for a week. After that, the dogs claim it, make it their own, take over, and I regret spending the money. They don’t care if it is new, matches or from a garage sale! Sometimes, friends talk about trips they take. Finding a pet sitter for eight or more dogs isn’t easy. Possible, yes. Stressful, oh yeah! So, I like to avoid those. People show up for work in pristine suits and shoes, no teeth marks, no fur… just like they came off the rack. All of my money goes towards heartworm treatments and paper towel, there is no off the rack for me. But I am not complaining, just asking for understanding. Secretly, I know something they don’t – the feeling of knowing a soul that is full, if even for just moment. That is something not many people get to experience.
I hope the new foster family doesn’t read this and find discouragement in it. Just the opposite. I hope they understand that fostering is not easy, but it is worth every sacrifice. It will change who you are, maybe even create an identity you never knew before, show you value where there was none. It can open your eyes to a world other people cannot see. It has amazing power. Personally, I have seen it have the power to create a successful new rescue group, develop impenetrable friendships with every kind of person there is, save dozens or more lives and even fuel human souls.
Even if all they become is a ”normal” foster and not find this crazy addiction, they will make a HUGE difference to that one or two or three! The numbers never matter (or they shouldn’t), it is the kindness that matters. It is opening one’s heart to the unknown. Scary and limitless. Just as the saying goes, we may not be able to save the the world, but we can save one from the world.
Okay, so I am a bit behind in writing – as usual. I am ready to roll again! So, here goes:
Since I last posted, many things have happened. We had a HUGE Saturday awhile back. Max, Gator and Allie all found their forever homes, so I went from four fosters to one in just one day!
Max’s new best friend is a 10-year-old boy who created a “Welcome Home Max” poster for his home visit. It melted my heart and it was completely obvious that he had found his perfect match. We recently received an update that he has made himself right at home and that he couldn’t be a better match for them. Of course, that left me in tears of joy!
Allie and Gator were equally fortunate to find amazing homes. Gator now has a new mom and dad, both teachers. We recently heard that he has upgraded to a “big dog bed” and was enrolled in doggie training school.
Allie has an adorable human sister and a recent photo that they sent in suggests that she is being spoiled, just like a dog should.
Ever since that big weekend, we have been enjoying Major as our only foster. Of course, there has been lots of babysitting going on. But, Major has definitely been enjoying being spoiled! (Sorry for the poor photo quality, I am in the process of transitioning cameras and my phone is the best one I have for now.)
Outside of spoiling Major, we have been busy, busy with fundraisers, parades, social events and everything else you can think of that rescue demands!
And that ladies and gentlemen is the quickest update ever!