How to Be a Foster Parent

by Lynda Adame

It was Winter of 1995 and Coeur d’Alene, a dog track in Idaho, was closing its doors forever. Hundreds of ex-racers needed immediate placement into adoption groups. Our local chapter of Greyhound Pets of America had committed to taking some of these dogs and was in desperate need of foster homes. My husband and I discussed the issue and decided that, since we had previously adopted an ex-racing greyhound, in this one desperate case we would try our hands at fostering. We had no intention of making this a habit of taking in a new dog every month; we simply wanted to help these poor dogs.

Making the Decision

I decided that this foster should be a petite brindle female, figuring she’d take up less space in the house and car and provide a nice color change from our own black greyhound. I could barely contain my disappointment when the foster director pointed to a fuzzy, emaciated, black male greyhound. “That’s your dog over there,” she said with a smile. I stared at this strange dog, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. My stomach was churning. “Look at that silly dog,” Matt whispered to me. I stopped panicking long enough to take a good look at Cody — past all of the fuzz, the ribs and the oversized head. This dog’s tail never stopped wagging as he made the rounds of all the seated volunteers. Cody walked up to them, sighed, flopped his head into their laps, looked deep into their eyes and begged for a pet. Once the petting was over, he moved to the next volunteer and started over again. His antics left a smile on everyone’s face, and my stomach stopped churning.

We loaded this big black dog into the car, brought him to the first real home he may have ever had, and taught him the ropes. When the inevitable time came to give him up to a new home, my husband looked me dead in the eye and said “They are not taking my dog.” Thus, we failed our initial attempt at fostering.

I am happy to report that we have continued to foster greyhounds over the years and these dogs have enriched our lives more than we ever thought possible. Each dog brings with it its own unique personality, quirks, likes and dislikes. Some of them are dominant, some submissive. Others are mischievous or perhaps painfully shy. Young or old, they come in many colors and sizes. Each of them leaves with a special piece of our hearts.

Seeing the Humor

One of my favorite foster stories centers around a thin male foster whose name was Socks. Socks was painfully shy and, although he tolerated us, he rarely approached us for attention. The drive home after his neuter surgery was awful. Traffic was backed up for miles and there was a light drizzle. As we inched along, Socks stood up in the back of the car to look around. I chatted with him a bit, then realized that he had maneuvered around so his head was hanging over the front seat. He was very close to me and I held my breath. I didn’t want to startle him or pay too much attention to him lest he get nervous and move away. This was it, the moment I’d been waiting for. He dropped his head onto my right shoulder. Finally, we were bonding, really bonding! A huge smile spread across my face as I reached up to scratch his ears. At the same moment he lurched, he urped, he groaned, and promptly barfed in my lap. It was a long drive home. If you can see the humor in that particular story then you are ready to become a foster parent.

The Crucial First Forty-eight Hours

Over time we have learned some things about fostering greyhounds. In our experience, the first forty-eight hours are the most crucial and you should expect them to be the most stressful. It’s during this time frame that you will have to introduce the foster to your own dogs and home, teach it basic manners, housebreak it, and decide if it will need crating. After the initial forty-eight hour of stress, the household will settle down as the routine is set and the new dog follows your own dogs’ lead.

Introductions

We introduce the dogs in neutral territory, such as a neighbor’s yard. Each dog is muzzled and individually led out to meet the foster. We bring out our most dominant dog first, as this will be the key relationship to keeping the peace and order during the following weeks. The dogs are allowed to sniff and get to know one another. Perform this routine enough times and you will learn to tell, within the first two minutes, if there will be future problems between the two dogs. Bad signs include tails held straight in the air, wagging quickly back and forth. Fur standing up on the ridge of either dog’s back is another bad sign as is prolonged growling, snarling or snapping. The majority of times one dog will posture and the other will immediately submit without any further problems. We continue the introduction process until each of the dogs has met and their interaction assessed. If the initial meeting with the most dominant dog did not go well we will bring this dog back out and reassess.

Integrating or Separating

If the situation has not improved, we have to decide whether we will return the foster for another or keep these dogs separated when we are not home. Separate them by crating, muzzling, or blocking doorways with baby gates or expandable wire pens. Separation can be a temporary solution, as we work to establish safe relations between the dogs, or permanent if we decide that this is an unsafe combination of dogs. Safety is foremost in our minds when we foster — both the safety of the foster dog and the safety of our own dogs.

If introductions go well, and the large majority of them do, we keep all dogs muzzled and leashed and move into the backyard. In the best of situations the foster dog will relieve itself at this point, and we will begin to praise it as it does so. We use a high pitched voice, telling the dog “Good Potty” over and over again. It’s important that the foster learn, right away, where it is appropriate to potty. If the dog does not go at this time, we will continue taking it outside every twenty minutes until it does.

The Tour

Once the dog has been given the chance to eliminate in the backyard, we take the foster dog on its first tour of our home, keeping the dog muzzled and on-leash. After the initial tour, we block access to other rooms of the house and allow the dogs to mingle under our direct supervision. Wherever the foster dog goes, one of us will follow, prepared to verbally correct it as it explores. Most greyhounds respond well to verbal cues and will usually abandon any activity at the first no. If the dogs are getting along well at this point, we will remove the muzzles and continue to supervise them.

What Is Normal?

Who, us? We’re allowed on the bed but foster dogs should probably not be on the bed like we are, according to Cullen, Sparkle, and Tucker Herman.

Most fosters will be nervous the first few days, and panting and pacing is very normal behavior. It’s important to remember that their entire lives have turned upside down and it will take some time before they feel secure. We croon to them, pet them, and reassure them at this point but allow them to relax and adjust at their own pace. We do our best to transition them to fit into any household. It’s easier to introduce a dog to something new than it is to train it not to do something it’s used to doing. To this end we do not allow the dogs on the furniture, nor do we allow them to sleep in our bed with us. We train them to wait before eating and not to beg at the dinner table. A well-behaved foster dog is less apt to bounce from its new home, and we take our job as teachers seriously. Our goal is to have this dog graduate to its new home, well prepared to make someone a wonderful, well-behaved pet.

Letting Go

Letting go of the foster dog, after you’ve shared your home with it and invested time in adjusting it to home life, is always difficult. Expect tears from the humans and a few days of moping from the dogs. In time, all of you will bounce back, and you may be surprised to find your house is a little too quiet without a foster dog around.

CG SP 98

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This article and any photos or artwork contained within may not be reproduced or reprinted without express written permission from the author, artists, and/or photographers. 


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