|My first foster dog - Bjorn the Norwegian Elkhound, aka Bjorngenstern the Destroyer - in 2005|
My fourth foster dog, Keemo the Potcake, will arrive from The Bahamas on Sunday evening, part of a desperately needed puppylift of twenty-seven other potcakes who would otherwise face a sad fate as the island shelter struggles with lack of funding and insurmountable challenges. Volunteers from Pilots N Paws fly the dogs off the island, they will stay overnight in Florida to obtain their U.S. health certificates, and the Colorado-bound dogs will fly Delta commercial the rest of the way. It takes an unbelievable amount of last-minute coordination between the shelter, the pilots, the sponsoring rescue and all the volunteers along the way. As a planner and a bit of a control freak, I'm glad I've been through it once before with Boca and am doing my best to not worry, be happy and go with the flow with my chill island girl as my shining example. I've learned a lot since my first foster dog, and along with The Ginger Sisters am ready to welcome this new boy into our home. Here are five things I will be focusing on as we prepare for Keemo's arrival:
Plan the Introduction
This one is extremely important and also particularly challenging with a reactive dog like Ruby. Her introduction to Boca was five minutes of pure chaos. I wasn't sure how to manage them both by myself and Boca was ready to get back on the plane as Ruby barked madly from behind the gate. Thankfully, Boca demonstrated her incredibly tolerant nature and after a brisk parallel walk in the dark they quickly settled into life-long friendship. Employ the help of another dog-savvy person if possible and know what will work best for your dog. Neutral territory is usually a good idea and there is something about walking side by side that can make dogs fast friends. Now that I know meeting through the dog gate doesn't work for Ruby (barrier frustration) and since I will have my dad's help, my plan is to alert him to our arrival from the airport and have him bring Ruby outside for an immediate walk with Keemo, then allow Boca and Keemo to meet on the fenced patio when we get back. I am still expecting some chaos, and hoping for Keemo to have the same mellow non-reaction that Boca did to my nutty terrier. Since Boca met about fifty different dogs face to face last weekend at the farmer's market, I have faith that one more potcake will not phase her in the slightest.
Assume the Foster Dog is Not Housetrained
In Keemo's case this is almost certainly true. He was found as a stray trying to get in to the shelter and has possibly never lived in a home. Even if a foster dog was previously house-trained, if they've spent time in a shelter they will very likely need a refresher course. Be patient, take frequent potty breaks, expect a few accidents, breeze through clean-ups as if they are no big deal with no scolding or shaming, and throw enormous praise and treat parties when the foster dog goes where it is supposed to. This worked wonders with both Ruby and Boca, neither of whom were house-trained when I got them. It didn't take long at all for them to figure things out reliably. I recently won a pet-safe cleaning supply giveaway over at It's Dog or Nothing which could not have come at a better time. I'm sure I will put the prize to good use as we may have a few messes to contend with.
Create Safe Spaces and Secure Boundaries
I wasn't much of a believer in crate training until I started fostering dogs. Used appropriately, crates create a safe space for an uncertain dog, and reduce accidents and destruction. It's generally not hard to help dogs form a positive association with the crate by starting slowly and providing them with comfort (in the form of soft blankets and pillowy mats), enrichment (safe chew toys or stuffed Kongs) and deliciousness (treats delivered liberally) inside. The dogs from The Humane Society of Grand Bahama sleep in portable kennels at night, so if Keemo is anything like Boca he will feel at home in one. I like to give the new and existing animals, especially my rickety old senior kitty, lots of down-time and options for their own space. I have several dog gates in my house which make it easy to give everyone separate areas. As I get to know Keemo I will decide what arrangement works best when we leave the house and overnight. It's also imperative that fences are checked and not relied upon for foster dogs - they may be frightened or disoriented and shouldn't be left unsupervised outside. Along those same lines, extra caution should be taken with leashes and collars - slip leads or martingale collars are good safety measures to prevent accidental escape.
Pick Up Food & Toys and Closely Supervise Interactions
The well-being of my existing animals is always my first priority when fostering a dog, and I take steps to set everyone up for success as we all adjust to a new resident. Resource guarding is a common issue and one that may crop up temporarily in an unfamiliar environment. Boca growled in her crate over the first antler she had probably ever seen, which alarmed me at the time but was not a continuing problem. Management is the best strategy for things that might be coveted, and I'll be putting away the free access toys and chews until I'm able to assess how the three dogs interact. Meal times will be closely monitored with crates and gated areas utilized as needed. I also won't be leaving them alone together until or unless I'm confident there will not be any conflicts.
Prepare to Fall in Love and Prepare to Let Go
I've loved all my foster dogs, and obviously loved Boca too much to let her go (though that decision was largely based on how beautifully she and Ruby bonded). Just like now, I already had two dogs the first times I fostered and there was little danger of "foster failing" then because I would have been overwhelmed with three dogs of my own. I very closely budget for high quality food, pet insurance, and of course way too many treats and toys and the truth is - a third dog is not really an option. My house will be a stop along the way to Keemo's forever. I knew that previous fosters were going to the very best homes, and the experience was so rewarding that I knew I would want to do it again. I have no doubt there will be moments of stress and doubt as my dad and I manage a three-dog household, but I also know that every dog I meet expands my heart in ways I didn't expect. I'm so excited to meet and learn from this potcake boy.