Author: Mark Flejtuch
As I began to approach retirement, I knew that there was more to do with my life than enjoying the freedom that retiring would bring. This was a time in my life when I needed to do more and start giving back. I knew I wanted to volunteer but wasn't sure which direction to go. I had a co-worker that happened to volunteer for a dog rescue and we started a casual conversation. I hadn't had a dog as a pet for over 30 years however I always had a place in my heart for all animals, especially dogs. After a few discussions with my co-worker, she convinced me that I didn't have to wait until retirement and as a foster volunteer, I would determine how often I wanted to foster and even the size of the dog that I wanted to take in.
What clinched it for me was reading stories of dogs that would be euthanized as shelters were overcrowded with abandoned dogs. By no fault of their own, their lives were being cut short and it just didn't seem fair. When you foster a dog, you are actually saving two dog's lives. First is the dog that you are fostering, second is the room that you made in the shelter for another abandoned dog.
As you begin fostering, you become that dog's lifeline. These dogs may have never lived inside, never had any affection nor any social interaction. To me, what is amazing is watching your foster dog's personality develop and watch them "come to life". Most of the dogs that I have fostered began bonding with me in days. I was the person providing them with shelter, food, attention, and love they so deserved. My first foster dog had never walked on grass. He started by "army crawling" on the grass and within a day's time, he was walking and following all of the wonderful scents that his keen nose could detect. Other dogs that I have fostered had never lived inside but after some training and patience, they would begin to feel secure and explore. Sure, you may have an item that gets chewed or the occasional mess in the house, but it's quite rewarding to see how quickly you can train a dog to go outside, using treats and positive reinforcement. It also makes me feel good that I am being a positive influence on the dog and preparing them for their forever home.
The question that I always receive is "How can you foster a dog, become attached to them, and then give them up? I could never do that as I would want to keep every one". It's true, you quickly bond with your foster dog and it does become emotional when you give them up. What makes it worthwhile is seeing the dog going into a loving home. You get to meet the family that has been pre-approved to adopt and you ultimately get to make the final decision as to whether it's a good match. It's heartwarming to see that the dog you have saved is going to have a wonderful life. In many instances, I remain in contact with the dog's new owners and receive photos and text updates that just confirm that my fostering job has paid off and the dog is fitting in with their family.
Fostering has also resulted in making new friends with other fosters and volunteers of all ages that put so much effort into saving these dogs' lives. We all share a common bond of saving these animals and placing them with wonderful families. For all the effort we put in, we are rewarded tenfold with the joy of watching these dogs develop and come out of their shell, giving us love for the short time we have them and finally finding their forever homes. It's so much worth it and more.
In closing, when I had my eighth foster "Chance", I had a meet and greet with a wonderful family that was looking for a playmate for their dog. We met at a dog park and introduced the dogs. Things initially went well and I went to my car to fill a water dish for my foster dog. He looked back at me as if to say "where are you going?". When I returned, the family's normally gentle dog became quite aggressive with my foster. We broke them up and tried once more, but again their dog attacked my foster. We knew it wasn't the right match and I walked "Chance" back thinking "this wasn't your day". I was totally wrong as I decided to take a chance on "Chance" and he is now my new best friend. He'll also be an excellent role model and ambassador for all the future dogs that I foster.