Monday, April 13, 2015

Foster Based Rescue - How to find a great family dog

 Moonpie and Jake

Looking in old photo albums there is usually a family dog who belonged to our grandparents.  The intelligence of these dogs, their kindness and humor, is legendary.  My grandfather's dog was named Tex.  Tex was wise, funny, and always kind despite his huge size and un-neutered condition.

He spent his first weeks in a box in the kitchen with his mother and siblings.  Before he left this home he was picked up, hugged by children, scolded by a cat, and ate a little bit of dirt and a few sticks. People dropped things around him, children ran in and out shouting and let the door slam  My grandfather purchased him for less than the price of a Starbucks coffee.  Tex never had a leash.  He followed his family when they were around and entertained himself when they were not.  He never bit anyone, did not eliminate in the house, and knew a few tricks.  By the standards of the 1920's he was a complete success.

Things have changed a lot for people and dogs in the last 100 years.

In 1915 cars were a rarity, 30% of the labor force worked in agriculture, and the American Kennel Club was only 31 years old.

Time was a lot less structured.  Dogs went to work with Dad or stayed home with Mom.  Leash laws were only found in the largest of cities.  It was completely acceptable to let your dog run down to the school at 3:00 to meet the kids or entertain itself outdoors when you were busy.

During its unsupervised rambles a dog would learn about people, other dogs, and large and small livestock.  Animals that were friendly and had some natural impluse control grew up and produced the next generation of friendly, behaviorally sound dogs.  Animals that killed cats and chickens, growled at strangers and fought with other dogs tended not to last long enough to pass along their DNA.

Today, the world grows more crowded and animal isolation increases with leash laws, fenced in yards, and households where no one but the dog is home during the day.  Solid family pets of no particular breeding are spayed and neutered.  Puppies are produced via 'arranged marriages". The candidates are selected on the basis of conformation or specialized skills.  Rarely are amiability and a calm disposition the most important trait for breeders.

"She's a little snarky, but look at that head!" And so the look of the dog takes precedence over temperament.

So how does someone find that sweet dog who has learned to live with humans, enjoys other dogs and can maybe even co-exist with cats?

I have two of them looking for homes right now.  They are not my dogs, they belong to a local foster-based rescue.

What is a foster based rescue?  

Animal shelters in many parts of the country are terribly over crowded.  In these shelters sweet and adoptable dogs are regularly euthanized because there is not enough space.  Foster based rescues maintain close contact with animal control officials and rescue wonderful dogs who have run out of time.  These dogs are housed with volunteers, living in their homes with their children and pets.  The volunteers watch the dogs closely.  They learn their habits, work on their training and socialization, and when the dog is ready for its new home, have a hand in the placement of the dog.

The adopter gets a dog who has lived with people in a home.  The dog has received a health check-up, inoculations, and is spayed or neutered and micro-chipped.  The adoption fee rarely covers the health care the dog has received.

A great foster dog is a bargain and a treasure, and is placed carefully.  Potential adoptive homes should be prepared to submit references which will be checked.  They should expect a volunteer to visit their home and ask questions about where the dog will sleep, where it will spend it's days, how the dog will be trained, etc.  Your existing pets will get to meet the potential new pet before the adoption is approved.   If you pass muster, chances are you are a committed adoptor and the dog has found a happy, secure home.

If things don't work out a good foster organization will insist the dog is returned to them.

Does this mean you will get a 'perfect dog' from a foster?  No, each and every dog, like each and every person, carries a certain amount of baggage.  What is important is that your dog's quirks, and yours, mesh.

So what about my current foster dogs?

They have lived with me for about three weeks each and by now, like any good foster dog parent, I have a handle on their quirks.  And, as a member of a reptutable foster group, I will be honest about these quirks.

The smaller dog appears to be a chihuahua.  He is well housetrained in my home, but will need close supervision for the first few days in his new home.  He loves to cuddle and burrow in blankets.  He does well with the dogs in my house and is wonderful with our cat.  He is great in the car, and would be a fine little travel companion for an adult only home.  This dog will not do well with children under 12.  He barks at other dogs when he is on leash.  If you carry high value treats you can keep his focus on you and off of other things, or you can just pick him up and walk away, he's that small.  His backstory?  He was struck by a car and ran into a yard where three larger dogs attacked him.  A lot of people spent a lot of time and money to put this little fellow in the safe place he is today.  He will go to an excellent home.

The larger foster dog appears to be a border collie who came from a more rural area of Georgia.  He is extremely gentle but seems to be a little afraid and will flinch or leave the room if we accidently frighten him.  He would love a home with children who will be able to play with him and help him uncover the happy dog he was meant to be.  He is perfect with my dogs and elderly cat and one of the gentlest souls I've met.  He needs to be trained with treats and kindness.  He desperately needs socialization.  He needs to meet people and learn to love the car.  He is starting to play, that's a huge step forward.

Am I tempted to keep them?  Yes.  But then I can't rescue any others.  If you want a great dog call your local foster based rescue group and tell them not what breed you want, but what sort of friend you want.  They can help you find the right dog.

Claudia Black-Kalinsky, CPDT-Ka
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