October 8, 2015

When Fostering Doesn't Work Out

Keemo went to a new foster home last weekend, after making the difficult determination that he was not a good fit - even temporarily - when prioritizing the resident animals. I'm a huge advocate for fostering, adoption and rescue, but first and foremost an advocate for my own pets. So many shelters around the world are overwhelmed and so many rescues could not operate without a network of phenomenal foster homes. I frequently implore people to foster through social media by posting dogs in need. I have now fostered four dogs over the last ten years. It's not a lot - it's nothing like those admirable career fosters that have a constant stream of rescue dogs through their home. That was actually my intention before "foster failing" with Boca. I know how rewarding it is to see a foster dog through to their perfect home, and I'm disappointed that I won't be doing so for Keemo.

As the days went by with Keemo, Boca exhibited some pretty severe resource guarding - something she doesn't do with Ruby. She will grumble once in a while when she has settled down with a toy, but at both dog and human mealtimes she was charging vehemently at our visitor on the other side of the dog gate. This in itself was manageable, but as I saw Ruby becoming more and more shut-down, nervous about Boca's blustering, refusing to eat even in another room, hiding under the dining room table, and cowering when Keemo was near, I knew that I couldn't risk her hard-won confidence being shaken any more in her own home. It was no fault of Keemo's - he just needed a playmate his own size and a lot more space to play in. Keeping all of the dogs separated long-term was not tenable, either. My 19 year old cat was also expressing her displeasure with the situation - another surprise since she's lived boldly with dogs for most of her life. It was impossible to ignore the signs of stress in every member of the household.

Fostering is a hard job, and each personality involved complicates it that much more. Sometimes I think the ideal foster home has no pets of their own, but that's unlikely since we foster because we love animals. Neither of my dogs reacted as I expected to our house guest, and I saw previously unrealized sides of them and learned more about myself, for better or for worse. These past few years have been a time of self-reflection for me as I navigated some of the most difficult changes of my life. I think part of being an adult is knowing what you want and don't want, what you can and can't handle. I'm an anxious person. Lao Tzu said "If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future." I am a well-versed worrier - it runs in the family. I am perpetually nervous about what could happen or what might happen. This isn't the greatest state of mind for managing new dog introductions and disruption in routine, and for that reason if I do foster again, it would be short term/relief fostering and smaller/older dogs.

I spent one whole afternoon with Keemo, taking him to my vet's office to refill my cat's medications, a big box pet store to get him some chew things, a crate mat and a harness, and Kriser's for some raw goat's milk. He was absolutely charming everywhere we went - obviously overwhelmed at the wonderland of sights of smells, bins of dehydrated delicacies within muzzle's reach. He approached strangers soliciting affection and wagging his tail, and I told the story of his journey and extolled the virtues of the potcake. In just a few days' time I was able to teach him "sit" and "down" with clicker training, and he was especially lovely to walk by himself. My dad was instrumental in being able to keep him as long as we did - there's no way I could have done it on my own with a full time job. I think it even brought my dad and I closer together and I know he was sad to see Keemo go as well. It didn't take long to become attached to his big silly face, and I felt heartsick as I drove him across town and handed him off to someone else. 

Even though I know I made the right decision, I still feel awful about letting Keemo and the rescue down. I thought about how confused he must have felt being shuffled from one house to another, and hope he is successful in his new foster home and matched with that special someone soon. I know he will be an awesome dog with nothing but love to give. I am a fiercely loyal person who honors her commitments so this felt like a different kind of foster failure. I was looking forward to attending adoption events and becoming more involved with this rescue group. I dream of having a ranch someday with a conscientiously designed foster dog suite, and of having the time to devote to such a passion. In the meantime I will continue volunteering where I can, but more likely in a capacity other than fostering. I have a renewed appreciation for the tireless work of rescue, and for my own perfectly imperfect incredible dogs.


  1. I can feel your pain, through your words. You have prioritized well; Ruby is a dog that would do poorly in a foster situation and you have saved her from that. If Boca is protective of things she's never had before, I understand that.

    This is the kindest thing I can say; Keemo doesn't feel the same way about this. He thinks he is on a grand adventure. His general positive gooniness means that he isn't lingering in regret, and that is a plus. One more step in evreyone's journey.

    Thank you for all that you do for dogs, you have a huge commitment that is bigger and broader than most. Thank you for your eloquence on this bittersweet time.

  2. I understand how you feel having experienced the same regret when we had to return a foster. Similar reasons, but it was the foster who was exerting pressure on our two well-adjusted dogs. He was becoming bossy and aggressive and since they lived in such harmony, it was totally confusing to them. My priority was them of course.

  3. I'm sorry it didn't work out. But don't beat yourself up over it - it happens to the best of us! I had a similar situation with Blueberry that I shared with you before. She's pretty tolerant of dogs we meet on the trail, etc - but anyone that is on her turf is a threat. I didn't even last as long as you did in that situation because I was on my own and working full time. I think that foster stayed about a day and a half. I felt like a huge failure at the time - but in the end, that dog ended up in a great situation and ended up being adopted so for him, it worked out. Thankfully, dogs live in the moment and with a dog like Keemo, you just know he'll roll with it. It's not like he's being sent back to the streets!

    Now you can concentrate on your two girls and find other ways to help out. I'd say it is a win-win for everyone involved. :)

  4. It's an incredibly difficult experience. We had that happen with a Great Dane foster before Atka joined us. The dane lunged at her (over-excitement really) at their first meeting and she refused to let it go - and she normally gets along with every dog. After a week of trying to maintain peace, we had to give him to a new foster. Mauja started exhibiting weird behaviors and had horrible diarrhea. She was so stressed. Ultimately, he ended up with a wonderful foster :)

  5. I'm sorry your foster didn't work out, I totally understand differing personalities - sometimes just like with people a dog won't like a certain dog. Too bad your house was turned upside down through the ordeal...being on our 3rd foster I can totally relate to that feeling of chaos at least in the beginning. I'm looking forward to Jack going to his new home in a couple weeks and being a two dog family again for a little while, I think we're going to keep fostering but i'd personally like a break.
    We were lucky Jack blended so perfectly, he really had no where else to go except the human society and we just couldn't do that to him.
    On a good note this gives you more time to work with your girls and their quirks! :-)

  6. I'm sorry it didn't work out! Don't beat yourself up though - you can't get along with everyone in life, and that goes for people and dogs. Sometimes it's just a bad match, and no one's at fault.

  7. Do not doubt yourself! Your decision was incredibly responsible. Working and volunteering in animal rescue you see far too many people pull animals without thinking of the impact it may have on their resident animals; they are desperate to help. Though their hearts may be in the right place, sometimes an additional animal is just not a right fit and can cause more harm than good behaviorally and on the balance within the home. Sure, you may feel as if you let Keemo down, now, but when you hear stories of how he flourished in a foster home where he was the primary focus and you take in another dog that fits in well with your pack, you'll know for certain that you dd the right thing!

  8. The important thing is everyone is okay. I think that being able to say "this isn't working" is a gift for everyone involved. You didn't let anyone down, you simply did what is best for your family and ultimately Keemo. Perhaps the next foster dog will be a better match!

  9. It's a shame your foster didn't work out but you did the right thing. First of all, you tried. You saw the good in Keemo, but your permanent residents have to come first. You did what was right for everyone, even Keemo, as he must have felt uncomfortable to be so keen on resource guarding as he was. You are brave and special for fostering, and I commend you and all those who do.

    --Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats

  10. It sounds to me like you did everything you could. I have such admiration for anyone who is helping love dogs and find them their forever homes. I don't know if I could foster because I am not sure I can emotionally handle it. I don't know. The thing is, your heart sounds big and full of love and you are making a difference and that is something to be really happy about!!

  11. You are "fiercely loyal" to Ruby and Boca. You made the right decision, and Keemo is in a better home for him as well as you. I applaud you for trying as hard as you did, and I hope Keemo finds a home soon. I'd do the same thing in an instant for Shyla - with dogs like her and Ruby, confidence is so hard-won that you can't risk it.

  12. I know this had to be so hard to write, and even harder to actually follow through with - but it was definitely the right decision. I'm glad that you're so dedicated to your own dogs that you put their well being first - I think that's one of the major responsibilities of being a good pet guardian. Even if you're not fostering Keemo anymore think about how amazing it is that you were part of him getting over here and getting a second chance - he's in good hands and he'll soon have a wonderful loving home - and you were part of it.

  13. I know this post is from years ago but I really needed to this today. I found our home overwhelmed by my first foster, and I feel incredibly guilty that I have left the dog and the rescue down by saying "this is too much for our family"

    1. I am glad you were able to find some solidarity in this post! Your own well-being and that of your existing animals and household should come first! Fostering is a wonderful gift but it isn't always a fit. I hope you'll try again in the future - I plan to as well :)


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