I’m currently on my fourth stint fostering dogs. It’s a task filled with highs and lows. It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. It can also be very sad.

My first attempt was a complete failure. Well, not a complete failure… A coworker found a Rottie in her neighborhood. Through some of the neighborhood kids, she got the whole story. A backyard breeder had her. The dog had 10 puppies (she, herself was quite young), and all but one died. Apparently, this made the guy mad, so he let the Rottie out on the streets. My coworker, a kind animal lover, took her in. This mama Rottie and her other rescue dogs didn’t hit it off at all. Mama Rottie got a big bite on the nose. I told her I’d take her and foster her through a breed-specific rescue group. She kept the lone puppy, Butch, who was later stolen from her yard. Ugh.

Mama Rottie, who I named Scout, had so little life experience. She didn’t know how to play, how to walk on a leash, or even how to ride in a car. Everything was new to her.  She really bonded with my rescued Golden, so I kept her. She’s my “foster failure,” though she’s happy and healthy and spoiled.

Foster #2 was an Aussie mix I called Laika, named after the first dog in space. I found her curled up in a ball in a neighbor’s yard on a cold morning. I put out signs and no one claimed her. I signed up to foster her through HOPE. Part of fostering through HOPE is taking the dog to a local Petco for adoption days. My first Petco experience wasn’t great. No one wanted to look at adult dogs; only puppies.  Luckily, Laika caught the eye of a nice young woman who had really done her homework regarding dog ownership. You could NOT have asked for a better owner. After she adopted Laika, she would send me photos that her mom took of her “grand doggie.” It was really quite sweet. I was happy because I knew Laika was happy.

The there was Riley. Poor sweet Riley. I found him on the sidewalk in front of a church on Memorial Day. He was a Pitt Bull/American Staffordshire Terrier or maybe a mix; a gorgeous boy with a brindle and white coat. It took almost an entire bag of treats to coax him onto a leash. But after that, he wouldn’t leave my side. He was a positively wonderful dog. He was very heartworm positive, but he got treatment for that. I also neutered him, vaccinated him, and fattened him up. He was a quick study. We went to several adoption days, but no one really gave him the time of day–I think due to the whole Pitt Bull thing. That was really unfair to him–he was nice, obedient, got along well with other dogs. Stereotypes really hurt his chances. This is Riley.

Sweet Boy Riley

The entire time I had Riley, he battled diarrhea. Many different doctors saw him, but no one diagnosed him correctly. It wasn’t until he coughed up blood one day that I found out everything that was going on with this guy. I ran him over to my regular vet clinic, but saw a doc I wasn’t used to seeing. Dr. Dodge took X-rays and immediately saw there was something wrong. Later that night, Riley and I ended up in the doggie emergency room where he was further diagnosed with “something big and ugly.” We made the trek to the Texas A&M Vet School. Riley’s abdomen was riddled with lymphoma. His right kidney was completely destroyed. He had a mass on his intestines that was causing an intusucception which could be the source of his diarrhea. Lymphoma was likely what was in his lungs, too.

The doctor explained they’re the kind of lymphoma that’s highly treatable and then there’s the kind Riley has. That’s not to say no treatment was available; I could have tried surgery, chemo, radiation. But given the state of the disease, the variety of places in his body where it lived, and his enlarged heart (due to the heartworms), it was unlikely he would make it through the treatment. If  he did, his life would only be an additional 6-8 months long.

He’d been in a oxygen cage all day because he was having such a difficult time breathing. They released him to me that afternoon after putting him on a light sedative to make the drive back to Houston as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, he gasped and panted and hacked the entire way.

After a brief visit to the park to sit in the grass and watch some birds,  Riley and I went over to Montrose Veterinary Clinic where Riley was given a yummy frosted cookie and a lot of love from Dr. Dodge and all of the techs. He wagged his tail right up until he fell asleep in my lap. I will never forget that dog. I will never forget that day.

After that, I wasn’t sure if I could foster again.

Sometimes, you have to let time pass–maybe it’s to heal wounds, maybe it’s so you forget how difficult it is. I guess the right amount of time went by for me. Now I’m fostering two puppies. I’m happy to report they are eligible for adoption and will have their debut at Petco this weekend.

I wonder how long it will take me until I do this again?!

It seems that at BARC, it’s the volunteers’ responsibility to get dogs moved from the “hold” area to the “adopt” area. Apparently, if left up to BARC staff, this really wouldn’t happen and all dogs would be euthanized. To add insult to injury, getting from hold to adopt is a painful process that involves less than willing staff that don’t share the same priorities as the volunteers.

Of the four adoptable wards at the shelter, two are almost empty. This is not good. This means a lot of dogs aren’t being given a chance. The volunteer coordinator asked if I wanted to help get dogs moved over to adoption or if I wanted to walk dogs. Honestly, I wanted to stay in my sheltered little world of walking dogs. They’re happy, I’m happy, life is good. Something beyond my control made me tell her I’d move dogs.

I don’t like being involved in making the choice of which dogs are considered adoptable and which ones should die. But I followed the volunteer coordinator’s husband, Randy, into the North Ward. The entire walk, I had to convince myself I could do this. It’s about the dogs and not about my fear or trepidation and that I wasn’t going to cry.

On “death row,” there are three wards, each with about 20-30 dogs. I took a deep breath and walked into the first ward. I was taken aback by how dark it was. I don’t know if that was on purpose to keep the dogs calm or because some sick tortured soul designed it that way. It was damp. Each kennel was maybe 3′ x 4′ with an orange metal grate for the floor and a small shelf where smaller dogs could jump up and sit. Most of the kennels had chewed up plastic water bowls. I thought I saw a rat run by.

The first dog I saw was a big ole Rottweiler. This was painful because one of my own dogs is a Rottie and I have a soft spot for all Rotties. I went down one side of the ward and up the other. Kennels were full of pits and pit mixes (another type of dog I have an affinity for). Most were shy, some growled, some were covered with scars.

We pulled four dogs out of that ward. I waited in line at the vet tech’s office while Randy checked out the other wards. He identified two more candidates. So the process began. Dogs were weighed, heartworm tested, vaccinated, and wormed. I wish the process had been just that fast, but it wasn’t. I’ve had speedier service at the DMV.

As each dog was cleared, I transported it to the adoptable side of the shelter. Me and each one of the pardoned dogs took a nice trot out in the sun before I assigned them to their new kennel, a palace compared to where they’d been. Two of the dogs made a particular impression on me. One was a fat mama who was maybe a Bull Terrier mix. She’s a sweetheart with silky soft fur. The other was described as a Golden Retriever mix. I don’t know where that game from. She’s hard to describe–mid-sized, reddish, super sweet. I’ll be keeping an eye on these two.

I volunteer on Sundays. I never sleep well on Sunday nights. I do manage to go to sleep around 11:00 p.m., but always wake up at about 3:00 a.m. and stay awake for the  rest of the night. Weird thing is that so far, I’ve never considered *not* volunteering–even though I know it’s the reason for my sleepless nights.

I didn’t sign up for this when I volunteered at BARC. However, after a couple of visits, I realized my measly four or five hours per week of volunteer time is really needed. I feel like it’s making some kind of difference, even if that different is only saving 6 dogs out of 70. That’s better than zero dogs out of 70.

It may drive me crazy. It may drive my husband crazy. I’ll keep going there. I plan to spend my lunch hour there tomorrow.

I came across this article. It could not more closely match my feelings about breeding, spaying, and neutering pets.

Growing up in Midland, Texas, I had a neighbor who let their cat get pregnant so the neighborhood kids could experience the “miracle or birth.” Not long after, the kittens disappeared. I think I recall the neighbor telling all of us that all of the kitties had been taken to a good home. Years later, my Mom told the a-hole dumped those kittens out in the country. I always wondered why my parents didn’t care for those neighbors. Now I know.

Spaying and neutering pets is just as much a part of responsible pet ownership as feeding grooming, sheltering, and loving that pet.  The cost of the procedure is not an excuse. Here in Houston, as I’m sure there are in most larger cities, there are many inexpensive spay and neuter options. If you can’t afford to do this for your pet, you should consider not having a pet.

I hear people say how much they’d like to see area shelters be no kill. Me, too. But guess what?! It’s not possible when more and more unwanted animals are constantly being born to irresponsible owners. Many of these animals end up dying of disease or starvation or animal attacks or by human hands before they even end up in shelters. If they do end up in shelters, they have maybe a 20% chance of getting adopted. The rest are euthanized.

The cold hard truth. Puts a whole new twist on that whole witnessing the miracle of birth thing.

I’d forgotten how much fun but also how much work puppies can be.

Teeth. Baby puppy teeth. I’ve got the rope toys and puppy Nylabones and stuffed toys. Somehow, I end up spending a lot of time saying “NO” to electrical cords, my hair, dog food bowls, my pant legs.  They also aggressively bark at my Rottweiler, which freaks her out. I need to work on that.

Wrigley and Astro–that’s what I’ve named them. The boys of summer. I’ve had these two brothers for a couple of weeks now.  They are silly little monsters. Their Mom was a yellow Lab. These two guys are black with white chests and paws. One looks like a Lab. The other one has short ears and a curly tail. I won’t judge Mom on her indiscretions.

I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning up pee-soaked newspaper. I don’t get the newspaper and haven’t for years. I read news online. However, online news doesn’t help with the puppy situation. I’ve resorted to newspaper grubbing.  I pick up as many of those free newspapers (like the Houston Press, The Greensheet, etc.) as possible. I took a trip last weekend and picked up discarded newspaper in the airport and stuffed it in my suitcase. I felt like a bag lady. But that’s OK. Puppy butts needed it.

Puppy ButtsSpeaking of puppy butts–I’ve been trying to photograph these guys for the HOPE web site. The problem is, they’re wiggle worms and impossible to take picture of.

I hope they can be neutered in a couple of weeks. That means they can go up for adoption. It’s not that I want to get rid of them, but hey, people love puppies! They ‘re cute and fun and a good age. They have their whole lives ahead of them and I hope they get wonderful families who want to shower them with love and spoil them with attention.

I’m glad HOPE has a very thorough screening process–one that I don’t have to be involved in! I rarely think anyone’s worthy of my fosters. 🙂