Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pickles is in a Pickle

Last month we sold our house and the timing of the subject removal coincided with the four month anniversary week of Annie passing away. Annie and I had spent her whole life together in that home, so it was a very emotional few days for me. Needless to say, there was lots of walking around mournfully and listening to sad music while looking through Annie’s scrapbook. This also timed with my puppy-sitting my friend’s dog, Eddie, the inspiration for Moose in Never Knowing. After he went home the house felt profoundly silent and I realize how much I missed having a doggie companion.

We were in the middle of moving, so it wasn’t good time for us to be looking as we can’t adopt yet (nor am I ready as I swiftly realized), but I started checking out some rescue sites.  It continually shocks and saddens me the things humans do to innocent animals (people as well, but for the purpose of this blog, we’re talking about animals).  And I had to stop reading the sites with their sad stories as I was becoming very depressed. But I was also touched by all the selfless people who are out there doing everything they can to help all the unwanted, abused, and neglected animals. That’s not an easy task.

I try to help when I can, donating to the SPCA and other animal organizations, but I have to be careful to shield myself from seeing anything too harsh, images or stories, as I can’t get the information out of my head and become very upset. So I have a lot of respect for those who are out there in the trenches, working at the shelters, investigating cruelty cases, forming rescue groups, transporting animals, and fostering and rehabbing animals, so they have a better chance of finding a forever home.

When I was in my “torture myself by looking at dogs online” phase, I came across Pickles, an adorable puppy, and fell instantly in love with her crazy ears and cute-as-can be face. In August she’d been abandoned by her owners and was hit by a car. She was still recovering at a foster home, with more surgery and rehab in her future. Her goofy little smile kind of reminds me of Annie, but there’s also just something about her puppy optimism and fun-loving nature, despite what she’s endured, that reminds me of why I love animals so much. They’re so forgiving, so loving, so in the NOW.

There’s a great lesson in that.

I sent Pickles some presents (photos are on her blog) and I think I got more pleasure looking at those photos than she did opening them. Another aspect of Pickle’s story that touched me was that even though she’d been abandoned by her original owners, who could’ve just taken her to a shelter, showing the worst of humanity, many people have rallied to help her. Shelter staff, Bully Buddies (a rescue group), her vet clinic, others have donated towards her surgery and rehab, and she’s also got a fantastic foster mom who started a blog for her (Pickles can really work a keyboard, let me tell you).

That’s another thing that amazed me, the dedication of foster moms. They invest enormous amounts of time, energy, and love into an animal that they will one day see off to another home (though, many end up staying at their foster homes).I know how challenging it was nursing Annie after multiple surgeries, so I found it heart warming to know that there are people out there willing to do that for a dog who wasn’t even their own. I also wanted to know more about fostering, wondering if it’s something I would be able to do in the future, and became e-pen pals with Simone, who’s Pickles’ foster mom.  She kindly agreed to let me interrogate, I mean interview, her for my blog.

You can read out interview below, and if you’d like to learn more about Pickles (trust me, her blog is so freaking sweet it will make your teeth hurt), or make a donation to her rehab (someone has some swimming in her future), you can click on this link.


When did you start fostering? And what drew you to that process?


I started fostering almost 10 years ago. I was sitting at the vet with my newly-adopted puppy, Charlie, and spotted a poster saying that they were looking for foster homes for rabbits. I’ve had pet rabbits my whole life but wasn’t in a position to add another permanent one to my family. I figured it would be something fun and rewarding to do. I sent an email and 2 days later Fluffy moved in. Since then we had over 1000 animals come through our doors. Some just stayed a few days, others for several years.


What do you find the most rewarding part of opening up your home to a foster animal, and what is the most difficult? Personally, I’d have a hard time letting go, I think. 


Most of our foster animals were literally one step away from death due to no fault of their own. They get a second chance simply by us giving them a safe, temporary place to stay.  
It is especially rewarding when you foster an animal like Pickles who is in such rough shape and then you see her take little baby steps every day until she is fully recovered.

Letting go is hard, no question about that. The longer you have them with you, the more attached you get. I often warn adopters that I’ll be crying like a baby but that I’ll be just fine. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time.

The groups I foster for, screen the homes very carefully and let me have a say too so I know that they are going to a good home where they will be safe and much loved. That makes letting go a lot easier. I often get updates from previous fosters and some adopters have become very close friends.

Letting go means that it opens up a spot for another one who is just one step away from death. If I adopted, it means I couldn’t help as many animals.Each one of them is so different and you can learn a lot about training, behavior, medical issues etc.


What kind of animals have you fostered over the years? Any fun experiences you want to share? Elephants in the living room? Penguins in the pantry?


We fostered rabbits, pet rats, chinchillas, hamsters, pet mice, cats and dogs over the years. I even had a tarantula here temporarily before she was picked up by her regular foster home. Given that I have arachnophobia it was pretty nerve-wracking.

Animals in general are a lot of fun but there are always fun experiences with fosters:

-          Did you know rats give kisses like little dogs? Did you know you can teach them tricks? I didn’t know until I started fostering them.

-          We raised a few litters of bunnies. There’s nothing cuter than baby bunnies!

-          Rats are illegal in Alberta but the rescue I’m involved with managed to get a few out alive. One of them ended up going viral. One minute I got an email from the shelter in Alberta, next thing I knew I had CTV, Global, Metro, CBC all call and email. Google “Matilda the rat”

-          We were fostering a pair of rabbits who had been starved. Needless to say food became a very crucial thing in their lives. During meal times they were so excited that they would literally hop into the fridge and start munching on the veggies.

-          We had a foster cat named Piggy Fluffbutt who was just about the most mellow cat ever. We would dress him up and he happily complied.

-          Amber our previous foster dog managed to steal a toy right out of Charlie’s mouth. In the almost 10 years that we had him, no dog ever dared to do that. The look on his face was priceless.

-          Waking up to Pickles’ giant mess after she de-fluffed her dog bed and a few toys was pretty darn hilarious! Her zoomies and play bows are also out of this world and make us laugh all the time.


Do you have any advice for someone considering becoming a foster parent?


Think about what kind of animal you would like to foster – Small animals, dogs, cats, exotics? Is there a certain breed of dog that you like?

The key is to find a reputable rescue – Make sure they screen homes well, spay/neuter prior do adoption, provide vet care, provide support to you the foster family, are willing to pay for obedience classes or behaviorist etc.  There are a lot of rescues out there for just about any animal but unfortunately there are black sheep among rescues too so make sure you do a bit of research beforehand.

Have an open discussion with the rescue about your level of experience and the type of animal you can handle. At the same time there might be issues that you cannot handle. If you foster for a reputable rescue, they are more than willing to find a good match for you and your family. I for example cannot foster intact male dogs as my own dog doesn’t like them. I also cannot foster dogs who bark a lot because I live in a condo. On the other hand I’m very comfortable doing after surgery care, giving meds, don’t mind housebreaking or training.

Expect to be screened by the rescue as if you were going to adopt from them. Good rescues care immensely about their animals and want to make sure they are in good hands.
Fostering certainly is a commitment. It is a bit of work and it can be time consuming so make sure that you are up for it!

Other than that, just dive into it. Make them part of your family. Have fun. Love them. Spoil them. Teach them. Prepare them for their forever home.

It is ok to “fail” fostering! We all had one or more we just couldn’t let go. The ultimate goal is to find them a forever home and sometimes that just happens to be with you.

There are many other ways to volunteer if you are not in a position to foster. Often help is needed with transport, fundraising, representing the rescue at an event, website, paperwork etc. – Just get in touch with your local rescues or shelters!

Chevy: Thanks for coming by, Simone! I look forward to reading more of Pickle’s antics on her blog.