Jack is a one year old lab mix, who had spent his life tied to a tree. Turned in to rescue, he was nearly unadoptable due to his fear of people. When he first came into Karlene’s K-9 Academy with his foster mom, he was very scared. He ignored people, refused to make eye contact and kept his tail tucked. On graduation day, Jack came in head up and tail wagging, greeting both human and canine classmates happily and confidently. A few days after graduation, he went to his forever home. What made the difference? Foster care.

When you foster a dog, you agree to take it into your home until a forever home can be found. You provide love, food, love, training, love, basic care and love. The benefits for the dog are many.  The foremost benefit for a shelter dog is that he is no longer in danger of euthanasia. The fostered dog, whether from a shelter or rescue, has the opportunity to live in a family situation, rather than in a kennel or crate. He has the opportunity to learn basic skills that will make him more adoptable, such as sitting on command and not jumping. He also has the chance to learn about things he might never have experienced, such as the sound of vacuum cleaners and televisions, or how people sound when they’re excited.

When a foster dog comes into our home during hockey season, for example, they have to learn not to be frightened as my husband yells at the TV. Dogs that initially hunker down and leave the room soon learn that the shouting isn’t directed at them, and learn to wag along to celebrate goals.

Foster dogs also learn about new things. Some dogs have never known the joy of playing with a bone or stuffed animal, or have never been fed a treat. Some have never seen another animal, or have no experience with children. By carefully and gently introducing the foster dog to new experiences, his horizons are expanded, and he becomes much more adoptable.

Fostering dogs is not without its challenges. While some dogs move happily into your home like they’ve lived there forever, others come in with baggage. Dogs may be frightened and withdrawn, or so eager to embrace life that they leap all over you. Housetraining may be an issue as well, and existing pets may initially resent the presence of the new dog.

Letting go can also be difficult. When you pour yourself into a dog and watch them begin to blossom and grow, seeing them move on can be painful. This is a big reason why people choose not to foster. I’ve had many folks tell me, “It would be too hard to give them up.”

I admit to shedding more than a few tears as I’ve watched dogs I’ve come to love go to their new homes, but I think the reward is worth it. I know that because I’ve cared for that dog, it was saved from death. I imagine the pleasure he’s giving his new family, and the joy they’re taking in him. This allows me to heal, and be ready to save another.

In the fall of 2010, I was contacted about a very shy, very insecure, chocolate Lab.  She had been kept in a pen her whole life, and was unhousebroken, unsocialized and heartworm positive. She was considered unadoptable. I took her in through my rescue group. I had her heartworms treated, and her foster home began the process of loving and caring for her. In May of last year, a couple from out of town came to Auburn for a biking event. They took a wrong turn, and ended up at an adoption day. I had just arrived with the lab. Months of foster care and love had given her confidence, and she greeted them happily. She went home with them that day. This week, I received a message from her adoptive mom.

She said, “We talk about how lucky we were to get lost on that bike route … She is so loved by everyone. She is honestly the sweetest dog I’ve ever met. She loves to hike with me, swim and chase squirrels … I just wanted you to know how healthy and happy she is . . . and how much happiness she brings to our family. We love her so much. She is so perfect.”

THAT is the joy of fostering!