Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why I Hate Fostering (and Why I Continue to Do It Anyway)

A question I get from my friends and family is “How can you give a dog to another family after having them for so long? Don’t you miss them?!?”

My response is usually a short, canned comment. “Yes, it is hard but it is nice to see them get their forever home.”
It is hard to explain fostering to people who don’t do it.  Those that don’t foster look at fostering as a purely wonderful opportunity. They believe that you simply give your heart and home to a dog temporarily. You love and care for the dog and then send him on to the life he had been waiting for so patiently. The dog gets his happily ever after and you get to live happily with the knowledge that you made a difference.
There is truth in this view, but it is an oversimplified truth.
The real truth is far more complicated. Yes, the dog lives happily ever after, but the foster home doesn’t fair nearly as well.  The foster home is left empty handed and broken hearted. Every. Single. Time.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that this is the happiest moment in animal rescue. And yes, I understand that giving this dog a chance at a permanently happy life is the greatest thing you can do for him. Finding a dog his forever home is the ultimate goal, and we have to find homes so that we can rescue more.
I understand all of that…but rationalization doesn’t make it hurt any less.  
So, my answer to the original question is yes, I miss them terribly. And although I am over the moon happy for the dog, I am unbelievably miserable for myself. I loved that dog when nobody else did. I took care of that dog when nobody else would. That dog sat in my lap, slept in my bed, and gave purpose to my mundane existence. And now I am missing a piece of my soul...a part of my heart went to that new home.

I love my fosters. I love watching them transform from quiet and reserved to outgoing and confident. I love their energy and mischief. I love when they greet me at the door after a long day. I even love the trail of destruction they leave in my house.
But, I hate goodbyes. I hate the feeling that I am abandoning someone I love. I hate coming home and having to pack up their things and get my house back to “normal.” I hate having to watch my dogs wander the house looking for their friend. And I hate the emptiness and the finality of it all.

Yes, I get happy follow up stories and pictures, but at that point the dog has moved on to life with his new family. I am no longer an active participant. I have become a spectator.
So the honest to God, behind the scenes, truth is this: I cry. I cry all the way home. I cry for days. There are times when I don’t believe I have the strength to go through it all again. But I keep going...mainly because I know it is the right thing to do, but also because a small misguided part of me hopes that it will fill the emptiness left behind by the previous dog.
So the next time you are adopting a dog and are forced to stand there uncomfortably while his foster mom says her teary goodbye, remember this confession and don’t judge her too much.   

My former foster babies


  1. That just proves what a wonderful person you are to do this. Look at all those sweet babies you helped find new homes! And you do the difficult part, helping them to be well adjusted dogs before they move on. The fact that you can get through the pain and do it again is admirable. Have you ever been a foster failure....did any of your current pets start as fosters? I'm sure a lot of people don't realize just how difficult it is to let these dogs move on....bless you! Oh, and I'd say you deserve those few days of crying....at the least!

    1. Jan, thank you so much for the encouragement! I really appreciate it!

      And yes, I am a two time foster failure. Harrison and Layla were both supposed to be temporary, but I just couldn't let them go!!

  2. I am sitting here crying - but you explained it well. Thank you.

  3. Wonderful post. I just love the wedding picture of Ellie, and the quote is perfect. Jack and I look forward to your posts every day.

  4. I hear you. i have been fostering for 3 years and my most asked question is don't u get attached to the dogs. of course i do! i volunteer for a pit mix rescue so they are in my home for long periods. i love that they get a forever home. and hopefully it is forever. recently found one of the rescue's dog in the shelter that had been adopted a long time ago. somehow the shelter found it was once part of this rescue and called. i don't understand some folks. i guess u never really know. luckily he was saved again! fostering is heartbreaking, rewarding, frustrating, loving and a roller coaster of a ride. and that's why i still do it. :)

  5. What a wonderful post! This is one of the reasons the head peep can't foster. She cries reading about fosters going to new homes. Nurturing a little one and then letting them go would be too hard. We have nothing but the deepest respect and gratitude for you for fostering. Thank you.

  6. Damn, I just wrote a long comment and then clicked the 'sign out' button instead of the publish button :(

    Great post. This afternoon I took my 5th foster Greyhound, Mambo, back to the kennels as he's getting picked up by his new people tomorrow morning. I'm missing him, Frankie is sulking because his 'toy' isn't here and Beryl is pleased to have the huge duvet on the lounge room floor all to herself. Fostering can suck at times but the reward of knowing what you've done for a dog and his new owners is worth the pain of letting them go. We'll go get another foster on Saturday and Frankie and I will be happy. Beryl will roll her eyes and say 'here we go again, sigh'.

    In a way I'm quite proud of myself as I was convinced I'd never be able to give a foster dog up. I figure as long as I can do that I haven't found our perfect dog and will keep fostering til that happens.

  7. We understand. My Momma took in a foster chihuahua last Saturday. After she had been with a family for 5 years, the family gave her up because she did not do well with their new baby. Very sad indeed. We found another home for her with a couple who had another chihuahua (we made sure it was male) - but unbeknownst to us she has a problem with cats. Yes, cats. The previous owner said she loved cats, turns out - not so much. She attacks cats. We were stumped, but did not want her to go to a shelter. And we agreed to foster her so she would not go to a shelter. We now foster a chihuahua who we've since learned has not been spayed, has ear mites, rotten teeth, separation anxiety, fear agression, cannot be with other dogs (unless they are non-confrontational - like me, she gets along with me) and cannot be in a home with kids. This is a tall order. Clearly, she will be difficult to place in a home with older adults (with no plans for children), no children, no cats, no female dogs/other dogs, and someone who understands that she will have fear agression for the first day or so. Then she is a total cuddler who just follows one around. On Monday we are paying out of pocket to get her spayed, clear the mites, clip her hoop-earring nails, clean her teeth, just so we can turn around and rehome her. My daddy has been getting very close and last night told my momma that he had become 'emotionally attached.' This is a first. He said he felt so sad for her to be suddenly torn from a home she has had for over 5 years, then finding another home and being given up yet again. He is not sure he could give her up. Momma is more determined - the little one needs a home where she is the only dog. We have done a good job keeping her away from my sister Daisy, Monkey and Weasel - but we can't keep that up for long. Once she is ready, we plan to seek the perfect home for her. It will be a difficult road, but a good road for her. We know we will cry, and feel the emptyness that comes with having them leave. And once again we will promise ourselves "no more fosters!" (my brother Monkey is a failed foster). Let's see where this road leads...