Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Accidental Foster Parent.

We have been quiet for a very, very long time and much has happened since.

We fostered hounds twice, facilitated the transfer of another and had one overnight until reunited with his parent. As you might know, this house is already filled to the end of the couch with Bassets, so the fostering process was a bit strange and had this human slave feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Not one of these were planned ventures. I simply reacted to an emergency.

Our first encounter with a lost Basset brought to light a strange thing. The local community seems to think I am a collector of Bassets and will always need more, or, when one is found, it must be mine. A young couple dropped Napoleon off one afternoon, they had cats and could not keep him until his owner was found. He was still very young and definitely knew he lost his way home. He would not let me out of his sight. Anywhere I paused for a moment he would lie down with his head on my foot. Lesson one: a stray / lost dog is very insecure. Make them feel safe. Napoleon's story had a happy ending in that it was resolved quickly. Within a day his poster was up at every vet in the area and he could be reunited with his parents (who got an earful from me on Basset care).

We met David Copperfield. He was bewildered, frightened and cried a lot when he arrived. Also very insecure, he became my shadow. David Copperfield did not know what and who he was. He did not know how to be a dog, did not understand pack rules, he knew he wasn't human and he was not at ease with anyone other than me. It was clear that he grew up in an enclosed space, isolated from animal contact and that he only saw a human when he was fed. I had to speak softly to him and take care not to frighten him with behaviour that is quite normal in this house. The exited playtime barking of the others unnerved him for he could not read their body language in order to discern between aggression and playfulness. At night I had to literally tuck him in before he would settle down - he was unsure of where he was allowed to be and unaware that he had a choice.

First night.

David Copperfield became Butter's pet project. She taught him first, how to be a dog, second, the pack rules (which she made up on the fly), thirdly, that he was more than a dog (a Basset), and most importantly, that he could manipulate humans into submitting to the uber qualities of a Basset. She taught him how to play and when to back off when the situation warranted it. He eased up fairly quickly with the help of the other hounds. He was no longer afraid to own and be in his own space.

Butter's pet

It was my turn to take over the education and start applying rules and establish guidelines before he became too cocky and subsequently an undesirable pet. This phase took somewhat longer. I had but to speak in a stern voice to make him understand when I was not happy with his behaviour. Butter made it difficult for me to be serious and stern of voice in these moments by body blocking me from David Copperfield when she felt 'he was just being a kid and didn't mean to...' (Take food of the counter, play on your bed, mark the couch, and so forth). Rewarding him when he did the right thing meant that everyone queued up for a snack or a cuddle. No one was denied anything. It was as like having to retrain everyone.

And if I don't listen you'll do what exactly?

David was with us for a couple of months before he was adopted. He now lives in a house with other brothers and sisters and is adored by his parents. It was difficult to let him go. If not for the guidance and advice of a friend experienced in adoption and fostering, I would not have known who to trust with his future.

7 Lessons learned:

1. As a place and state of transition, a foster house is invaluable to an animal before adoption. It is a (hopefully) safe place and a space where trust and confidence can be built and manners taught. This minimizes adoption failures since people almost always expect an animal to be so grateful that it will automatically behave exactly as they want it to, whether or not it knows what is expected of it or even how to do it without help.

2. Animals in transition are traumatized. Accept this. Be supportive, research, use your brain to solve problems. They do not have the resources you have access to.

3. It helps to have one or more stable hounds in the house. Dogs are quick learners and will take cues from their peers faster than they do from you. There is no language barrier.

4. Feed the foster child in another room, keep the door closed until everyone is done. You cannot possibly know what issues there might be concerning food. Manage it. It might be necessary for you to stay with him/her until they are finished with their food. Walking out and closing the door behind you might trigger abandonment issues.

5. The kid needs it's own bed where all the other beds are. She/he might not be ready to or yet know how to be part of a group.

6. Patience.

7. Let go when the time comes.

Next post, another foster experience, another happy ending with a surprise twist.

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