There are thousands of homeless animals in shelters across this great country waiting for someone, anyone, to rescue them. On FaceBook I see countless posts showcasing dogs living in shelters who are literally running out of time. Many people post and cross post hoping someone will pull an animal on death row from a shelter. Death row? Isn't that where murderers who have committed such heinous crimes wait to be executed?
Today death rows are in our shelters where many dogs and cats are executed every day, not because they did anything wrong, but because there isn't enough room for them to live. More than 4 million innocents are euthanized every year. This is wrong on so many levels.
What can we do?
We can each find our own way to help, our own little niche if you will. Donate food, necessities, and toys to local shelters. Help establish rescue shelters with no kill policies. Volunteer to help at shelters and rescues. Drive transports to take the dogs and cats from one location to another where people are waiting to adopt. Volunteer at adoption events. Foster in your home.
I wanted to help at the local shelter for a long time but I never did. The reason? They euthanize to make room for new ones. I couldn't handle the idea of dogs and cats I became fond of being euthanized because more room was needed for newer dogs and cats. A vicious cycle I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle on an emotional level.
Then I discovered the Homeward Bound Project and my life changed. Mississippi is overwhelmed with homeless dogs and cats so this program was established to foster and prepare these animals for adoption in the Northern states. What sold me was the fact that each trip north only transports foster dogs who have already been adopted. Their pictures and bios are displayed on PetFinder and local websites. Anyone wanting to adopt a particular dog fills out an application and pays a deposit. Any fosters not yet adopted stay with their foster family until they are adopted! Eagerly I signed up. Then I went home and became overwhelmed.
Reasons why I couldn't possibly foster a dog
First, I work 40 hours a week with a thirty minute drive each way which meant my foster would have to stay in a kennel while I am gone. Kirby has been doing this since I brought him home at six weeks old so is it really an issue? He knows he is loved and gets plenty of attention and interaction every night and the weekends. I began leaving him loose during the day once he was house trained and I felt confident he wouldn’t get into something that could hurt him. Regardless of that freedom he has convinced me he much prefers to stay in his kennel. Every morning when I leave for work he still jumps into his kennel. I leave the door open yet when I return home he is waiting in there. I don't know if he wanders the house while I'm gone since I can't find any evidence but I believe he feels safer in his kennel. So a lesson I have learned is that dogs adjust to their environment and, just like children, they want and expect rules. Any foster will adjust to their new environment. Not to mention they would sit in a cage all day and all night at a shelter.
Second, I didn't have a fenced back yard. That meant purchasing a tie off for Kirby which is basically a very long leash with clips at each end. One clip to hook to his collar and one clip to hook to something stationary. It can be aggravating since he inevitably gets tangled up. However, we have adjusted. He barks, I untangle. I have to go outside with him every time because I'm afraid a larger dog or animal might attack him or he could get loose and wander into the street. I hate that he can't run but he still gets exercise. It may not be the best situation but it works. I bought a second tie off for my fosters. (We do now have a lovely fenced back yard.)
Finally, how would I ever be able to say goodbye to a dog who has become part of my family? A dog who has learned to trust me for everything? I've learned to roll with the punches. I cry. Kirby is sad for a while. We just keep moving forward knowing another needy dog will soon be living with us.
Because I Took a Leap of Faith
In the end the dogs who needed our help overcame every obstacle. I realized life isn't perfect. It's what it is, sometimes messy, sometimes difficult, but always filled with joys that replace the heartaches. Kirby and I made the choice to foster one dog at a time. It's turned out to be a win-win situation. We save a dog which opens a space to save another dog. Truth be told it's really Kirby and I who are the ones being saved because our lives are changing for the better one dog at a time.
Kirby has easily stepped into the role of therapy dog. He teaches them how to play again and the proper behaviors they need to learn. They watch him picking up on his cues and reactions. Kirby has a balanced demeanor which means he reacts well to change taking everything in stride and is virtually fearless. His positive attitude gives them a positive attitude. Kirby is a lover not a fighter. He gives up his toys and even food and treats to our fosters. That seems unfair but I've watched these dogs take on a kinder demeanor because of his gentleness.
There is an added plus for Kirby. We can't go to the dog park during the week because of the distance and my job so Kirby has the distinct advantage of having play dates every night and weekend. The best part for him is when a foster chases him around the house because Kirby so enjoys that game.
Is It Time To Think Again?
If you think you're too busy, or think you don't have what it takes to foster, then it's time to think again. A foster dog will never judge you. A foster dog will never complain or feel deprived. What a foster dog will do is fill your heart with their unconditional love. All you have to do is open your heart.
The hard part comes when they leave for their waiting forever families. You will cry. You will wonder about their new lives with their adoptive families. You will wonder if they have forgotten you. What you will remember is they have many wonderful years ahead because you were there when they needed someone the most. So please consider fostering! I promise that next foster dog will replace the heartache and you will know you're doing the right thing.
Kirby and I will always hold a special place in our hearts for our fosters...and the fosters we have yet to meet. Just like the song, this is My Temporary Home for one dog at a time, one heart at a time. Maybe it's time to open your heart and home to a lonely, frightened dog who just wants a chance to live.