While any job within an animal rescue is important, fostering is one necessity that limits the number of dogs or cats a rescue can take in. Many people think they couldn’t foster because giving up the dog would be too hard after taking care of it for days/weeks/months. The end is hard, I won’t lie, but knowing the dog is in a good, safe home is comforting, and knowing the life of another dog can be saved by coming into your home makes it worthwhile.
For me, fostering began with my first dog. We always had dogs while I was growing up, but when I was out on my own I didn’t think the time was right for me to have a dog. After all, I didn’t have a house, a fence, or time, and I already had two cats who had never been around dogs before. Eventually, I could wait no longer and adopted a 7 year old yellow lab named Dallas. He was great dog; he didn’t give a hoot about the cats and the feeling was mutual. Once Dallas was settled in, I started thinking about another pet, but I wasn’t sure about the commitment of having two dogs. So I decided to look into fostering.
Great Lakes Lab Rescue took me and sent me my first foster, a young chocolate lab named Rusty. He was with me for 5 weeks before a family became interested in him. My heart stopped. Rusty was already part of my family! He fit in perfectly with Dallas, the cats, and our schedule. I reminded myself: this is why you made the commitment to foster, for Rusty to find a family. Knowing someone was coming to meet him made for a rough day. When I did meet his family and saw that it was love at first sight, I had to put away my feelings and know this was the perfect ending for Rusty. I happened to meet Rusty’s mom again 7 years later, completely by chance, and she told me he was the best dog ever from day one, how much they loved him and how great he was with her kids. It was truly a validating moment.
So, 10 years later, nearly 100 dogs and 6 failures (i.e., I never let them leave) and we are still fostering with no end in sight. We have fostered dogs for Great Lakes Lab Rescue, Midwest Lab Rescue, Illinois Bird Dog Rescue and Midwest Beagle Education & Welfare. I say “we” because my husband entered the picture during those years, and he knew right away that he might as well join in or be left behind!
Every single time a dog leaves, I get emotional. I try to save my tears for when the family has already left, but that doesn’t always work. I don’t like to watch the dogs leave, because I don’t want them looking back at me. I always wonder What if we kept just this one?, or What if the dog is scared and looking for me?, or Was it really the perfect family? There is so much that goes through my head the day of an adoption. The next day, if I haven’t already heard from the family, I will check in to see how the first night went. Almost every situation is perfect for that dog, and knowing how happy the dog is makes my heart light again and re-enforces for me that we did the right thing. I just remind myself, without foster homes, dogs don’t get saved. When one dog finds its forever home, someone else is waiting in the wings.