Hardly a week goes by without someone telling me that they could never do what I do. By the awe and admiration in their voice you’d think that I have some stressful, high-pressure job as a neurosurgeon or maybe air traffic controller. In reality, what I do that people apparently can’t do is be a foster parent. Not for children, but rather for homeless and displaced Siberian Huskies.
When I mention that I foster for husky rescue, the first thing people say is, “Rescue? Oh like the greyhounds, right?” It seems like everyone has heard how racing greyhounds are euthanized once they can no longer race and that greyhound rescue tries to find homes for these dogs as an alternative to death. What the general public doesn’t seem to know is that breed rescue has been around as long as there have been purebred dogs. And until there is better education, breed rescue will continue. Since becoming involved with rescue, I’ve learned that reading, writing, and ‘rthimatic aren’t the only three “R’s.” These days the three “R’s” I practice are: Rescue, Rehabilitate and Rehome.
Dogs come into rescue from a variety of sources and for a variety of reasons. The majority of dogs come from animal shelters; rescued from death row sometimes mere hours before being euthanized. But dogs may also end up in rescue after being picked up as strays, surrendered by owners being deployed by the military, or rescued from neglectful situations.
Recently, I had the pleasure of fostering Hannah, a young husky kept chained up in a backyard by her elderly owner. The woman’s family would check in on her and occasionally throw some food out to Hannah, but that was the extent of the attention Hannah ever received. A caring neighbor couldn’t bear to witness this day after day and asked if she could find Hannah a loving home. Upon being rescued, Hannah was taken to the vet for perhaps the first check-up in her life. Her ears were raw and bleeding from fly bites, she was emaciated and infested with fleas, roundworms and heart worms. After several weeks of intensive medical care, Hannah was released from the vet and arrived at my home to be fostered until a forever home could be found for her.
The life’s blood of rescue is the foster home. Often foster parents are the first kind person the dogs have ever had contact with. As a foster parent, it’s my job to teach a dog that she is worthy and also teach her how to behave properly in a home. First step is to teach the dog that not all humans are neglectful. The canine reaction I receive when I come home from work never ceases to amaze me. My own dogs, who have been loved and cared for since they were young, are so blasÃ?Â© they don’t even bat an eye. They are secure in knowing I’ll always come back to them. But the foster dogs always act surprised to see me. It’s like they can’t believe that I came back, and will feed them, just like the day before. Often this stability is all that is needed to rehabilitate a dog.
When Hannah was brought to me as a foster, she was as starved for human contact as she had been for food. The first week she was with me, she crawled into my lap every time I sat down. As time went by, she managed to move to sitting next to me and finally to the floor at my feet. Even then she always maintained physical contact at all times. It didn’t take long for me to determine that this “love sponge” would benefit in a home with plenty of attention; ideally a retired couple who was home often or a family with children that could shower her with attention.
Much as I’d like to keep every dog that comes my way, I know that isn’t possible. If I did, I wouldn’t have room to foster another dog in need. So I put my own feelings aside for the good of the dogs that still need a safe haven. Once I’ve taken a foster dog in and gotten to know its personality, I can visualize the home I’d like to see it go to. For Hannah, I had already determined she needed a home with lots of love and attention.
After two months in foster care, a family of six came out to meet Hannah. With four children in the house, I knew Hannah wouldn’t lack for attention. When I learned that the children were home schooled, and the attention wouldn’t disappear at the end of the summer, I felt like Hannah had hit the jackpot. It was a Cinderella story, going from neglect to being the center of attention every day. Sure it was hard for me to see Hannah go, but she is now receiving more attention than I could ever give her. Her family brings her by to visit and sends me updates regularly. And by letting Hannah go, my foster spot then opened up for Bandit, a little dog who was found as a stray. After living on his own for months, Bandit is now learning how to live in a house and become a valued family member. Soon he will be able to go to his forever home, allowing room in my house and heart for another dog in need.
After telling me that they could never do what I do, most people follow up with a question, “How can you bring home a dog and love it knowing that you’re just going to give it up?” I know it’s not polite to answer questions with questions, but my response is always the same, “Knowing what the alternative may be for that dog, how can I not? You’ve already said you couldn’t do it. If I don’t do it, who will?”