Lessons from the Foster Dog

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“We’re becoming foster parents,” I explained to the young woman I had just met.
“Oh! Like for dogs?!” She asked.
Dogs?! Are you freaking kidding me? 

That was 2 years ago.

It bothers me to no end that searching for “adoption” and “foster” yields as many listings about canines as human beings. I love dogs, but that love is worlds apart from my love and value for people.

The other day I was walking my loved cocker spaniel Lucy. We don’t usually walk far this time of year but it was the first sunny day we had had in a while and we both needed exercise so I decided to go around our whole block. Halfway, a cute shaggy little white dog ran across the street to us and started sniffing Lucy. They both seemed playful and unintimidated so I let them check each other out for a while thinking this little guy’s owner wouldn’t be far away.

After 5 minutes I decided we needed to start back home. Puppy followed us. I kept stopping and shooing him away. “Go back home, little dog!” I felt like I was luring him further and further from his home as I walked with Lucy but I wasn’t sure what to do.

When we finally got back to our house, little pup was still with us.

I left home with one and returned with two. The metaphor was not lost on me as a foster parent. My mom commented later, “He heard you take in strays.”

Jason and I discussed what to do and I decided I’d walk him alone all the way back where I found him and try to figure out where he lived.

When we got back, still no one was looking. The yard he came out of was actually a vacant home for sale. Shoot. I tried the house next door wondering if they recognized him. No answer. Meanwhile he’s running around in the street, almost getting hit by cars and I’m debating whether or not I care enough to do something about it. When he had gone a ways from me, I started back home. He chased after me at first but then saw a teenage boy across the street and ran to him instead. Then a couple walking their little white dog caught his attention. (This is a lesson in itself: he was desperate to follow someone. Anyone.)

I was free from this not-my-responsibility dog. I walked back home looking back every few minutes, half expecting to see a little white fluff ball following me. I went back inside relieved and tired from walking almost 2 miles and sat down to work.

Jason was still outside planting and digging in front of our house. An hour later I heard him shout from the garage for me to open the door. There he stood holding the little white pup in his arms. He had found his way back to our house.

I should back up and say that my husband just barely loves our dog Lucy. He’ll let her out, clip her nails when they get annoyingly loud and help me give her haircuts if I ask but I can’t remember the last time he’s pet her. But there he was holding this stinky, muddy little dog in his arms explaining that he picked her up for our next door neighbor to take a photo and the dog just settled into Jason’s arms.

Oh dear! How pitiful. 

I really don’t want another dog and this one not our problem or responsibility. Lucy looked at me longingly, reminding me that she doesn’t get as much attention as she craves and she really needs a haircut. I hardly have enough time for the dog we already have. I put some of Lucy’s food and water out in the garage for the little dog. He ate and drank a little and wandered back off to follow Jason around the yard. I went back inside because Ali was waking up from her nap.

Our neighbor posted the photo online somewhere…our community has several online forums, general and pet related. I’m not sure where she posted it, honestly.

While Ali had her snack, the little dog came up to the front door a few times, looked at Ali, Lucy and me and barked at us. Then he returned to Jason in the front yard.

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Lessons Learned from the Foster Dog:

Compassion is what made me stop. Compassion for the dog… sort of, but also for his owners who I was sure where looking for him. Compassion is what made Jason pick him up when he returned to our yard the second time.

Selfishness is what made me walk away and attempt to ditch him…twice. He’s not my responsibility! Find someone else to care! Why did you choose to follow ME?!

Pride is what made us explain to the people he jumped all over and the cars that he ran out in front of “Sorry, he’s not our dog!” We will not be held accountable for his unruly behavior.

Sympathy is what made us decide we’d keep him in our warm garage overnight, in Lucy’s crate with a soft blanket so he would not freeze or get run over outside.

Love is what drove us to give him snuggles and a bath and blow dry later that night. I realized this is how I would want someone else to care for my dog if she was lost. Also, we wanted him to be well presented if we did need to find a new owner for him. Love is why we started calling him Stuart instead of just “dog.”

Empathy is what made me look at stinky, tiredly little Stuart in my arms and ask, “Is someone missing you?” and wonder if he was asking himself the same question.

Hope is why I posted his picture and a description on Craigslist, attempting to locate his owners or at the very least line up new ones if we couldn’t find his within a few days.

Joy came when we got a message from our neighbor that she had found a listing from another neighbor, half a mile from us, listing that her neighbor boy across the street had been calling for his shaggy dog Whitey that evening. We believed we had a match. It was 10pm when Jason got ahold of the neighbor and he ended up taking Whitey to her house for the night. She said she’d take him back to the boy after school the next day.

It was a short lived foster experience—fostering a DOG—I can’t believe I’m even calling it that. But it was packed with metaphorical lessons. I’m thankful for how much God is speaking into my life right now and I’m very thankful this lesson was relatively painless. The Teacher is doing a lot of teaching and I know the test is coming soon.

Update: The next day the dog’s boy came by and thanked us for finding his dog. Apparently his grandma let him outside unchained and Whitey was long-gone when he got home from school.

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4 Responses to Lessons from the Foster Dog

  1. Mary says:

    I love your story and I can really relate to all the feelings you had. I wrote about my experience with a “stray” cat and if you have a minute maybe you might like to check it out.http://prytulka.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/sharing-my-smile-of-the-week-the-homeless-cat/
    Have a Great day and I am glad the dog found his home 🙂
    Mary

  2. Instant Mama says:

    Oh, I so hate it when I search for foster parent blogs and all these animals come up. Nothing against the animals, but certainly the terminology should somehow differentiate? Glad you found the dog’s home!

  3. Erin says:

    Honest question: why is using the words “foster” or “adopt” with respect to animals offensive to you (and Instant Mama), but you aren’t bothered at all when your mother says, “He heard you took in strays.” That was the one that floored me b/c the reference is to your foster parenting and, therefor, children and specifically your daughter. My jaw fell open when I read that line.

    If she was referring to your having previously taken in a lot of stray animals, then my mistake. But as written, it related directly to your foster parenting (discussed in the line before).

    • mahlbrandt says:

      My mom’s comment doesn’t offend me because I know she was joking and I know her heart. She cares very much about our daughter, our previous foster daughter and children in general. I would never question for a second that she was thinking an orphan is in some way equal to a dog.

      In general I try not to get offended when people use “wrong” adoption terms because its almost always an honest or ignorant mistake. For example, no one has every asked me about “Ali’s mom” or “real mom” (referring to her birth mom) maliciously or to try to undermine me as her mom. So it’s not that the terms adopt and foster offend me when applied to pets. What upsets me is that it seems the passion of Americans for homeless pets is equal or greater to their passion for orphaned children (based on search results) and in my opinion human beings are infinitely more important than animals.

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