We fell in love with Oscar so completely and immediately, that it wasn’t long before we started talking about adding another member to our family. We knew without question that it would be another pittie, and that it would be a rescue. Several events transpired that led us gradually from the thought to adopt towards the path of fostering. The first was in the spring of 2011.
To err is human, to forgive, canine. ~Anonymous
Almost a year to the day after we adopted Oscar, Animal Rescue Corps raided a puppy mill in Warren County, about an hour and a half outside Nashville. Working off of a tip they received from a customer who reported suspicious conditions at the home of a breeder they purchased a puppy from, they rescued over 120 dogs, found in conditions typical of a puppy mill. Multiple dogs living in small, rusted wire cages, the floors covered in feces – even several dogs in cages with the bodies of dead dogs. Ammonia from their urine stained their fur, and burned their eyes and pads of their feet. They were severely matted, emaciated, dehydrated, and terrified.
The dogs were then brought to an emergency shelter, set up at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds – which happens to be right around the corner from my house. There, they were given emergency medical care, bathed, and for the first time in their lives, shown human affection.
When I heard this story, with the pleas for donations in the form of towels, blankets, puppy pads and food, I rounded up everything I could and carted it down there. I’ve never seen anything like it – you could practically smell the fear in the room. I signed up on the spot to volunteer. I spent the next day sorting donations, scooping poop, cleaning out dog cages and, maybe most importantly, giving attention and love to dogs who had never had it before. I snuggled each one close, and whispered in their ears, “The worst is over, sweetie…it’s all up hill from here.”
The owner of the property was stripped of custody of the animals, and has since been found guilty of animal cruelty charges. The dogs were then assigned to various local rescue groups, and the majority of them have since been adopted. Even so, the entire incident stayed with me and haunted me so much – why were these dogs forced to live this existence? What could be done to help stop the puppy mill problem? The answer, obviously – is to promote adoption through rescue groups or shelters. What could I, personally, do to help? I could sign up to offer what rescue groups are in the most need of every day: a foster home for a dog in need.
To be followed home by a stray dog is a sign of impending wealth. ~ Chinese Proverb
The second occurrence that made us realize that fostering could be an option for us happened right before 4th of July, 2011. I was on my way to the gym one morning and saw a dog running down the road. Of course, never one to a) look the other way when a dog is in need or b) bypass an excuse to skip a workout, I pulled over. After I stopped my car and got out, and he ran over to me and climbed in my lap, licking my face and wagging his tail so hard I swore it would fly off. No collar, no tag, but so friendly and comfortable around people I figured he must have a family.
He wasn’t typical Nashville stray – he was young, tri-colored and scruffy, he looked like an English Shepard mix, or another type of dog that people (unfortunately) pay money for. I took him to our vet, and they found no microchip. We posted him as “FOUND” on Craigslist, Petfinder, Facebook, local vets offices, and papered the entire area with fliers. We got no hits. Eventually, it became clear that “Barney” didn’t have a family after all and we’d have to figure out what to do with him. Our friends all said we should keep him. “He’s just so cute!” “He gets along so well with Oscar!” At one point, I heard words come out of my mouth that I hadn’t even consciously thought before I said them, “You’re right, he’s a great dog. He’s so great and so easily ‘adoptable’ that he deserves an amazing family of his own. If Dave and I get another dog, it’ll be a dog that really needs us, who might not have a chance otherwise.”
I realized that any number of people would love to adopt a dog like Barney. I thought about how selfish it would be to keep him for myself, when there are so many other dogs who might not get a second look in the shelter or on Petfinder, but if they were taken into a home environment and given the chance to shine would have the opportunity to find their way into an AMAZING home! I eventually got a Facebook message from my neighbors. They had been thinking about getting another dog and fell in love with Barney’s picture. They wanted to meet him and introduce him to their yellow lab Bella…Well it was love at first sight and the four of them are very happy together. After they drove away, Dave looked at me and said, “We just fostered our first dog.”
I had always thought we could never foster because we would get too attached and wouldn’t be able to say good-bye. Barney showed me that we are in fact strong enough to do just that. Of course, we all still miss him terribly, but we are so filled with joy thinking about how happy he is with his new fur-ever family. It just made us want to do it again.