Forever Homes Aren’t Temporary

[AACCC note:  Karen Pearson is a wonderful volunteer here at the shelter, who has signed on to help with our blog!  Her first contribution, below, is about her own experiences fostering dogs for AACCC.  This is a great example of the large amount of patience it takes to bring a new animal into your home, especially if you already have pets.  Please consider the time and effort that will be required to bring a new furry friend into your home and thank you to Karen for sharing her trials, tribulations, and the wonderful rewards she received for overcoming them!]

I’ve been a volunteer at Anchorage Animal Care and Control for about two years now. I love coming in to play with, walk and train the shelter dogs, but probably my favorite things is helping a dog find its forever home. Unfortunately, too many dogs are adopted only to be returned a day or two later due to “behavioral” issues or because the newly adopted dog doesn’t get along with another dog or pet who is already established in the home. Often times, I can’t help but think that it’s not the dog, but the owner, who is really the problem.

Last summer I added to my volunteer duties by signing up to be a dog foster parent. I interact with so many adorable dogs, some of whom have medical conditions that need a little extra attention, that I figured I have enough room in my house and enough love in my heart to take care of a dog who needs me for a couple of weeks or months. My first stint as a foster mom involved Heidi, a German Shepherd/Husky mix, and her three puppies.

Heidi's pups

I went to the shelter a few days before I was supposed to pick up my foster family because I wanted to meet momma and let her get familiar with me before I brought her and her puppies home. When I went to pick up Heidi and her puppies three days later, she seemed to recognize me and was relatively comfortable with me handling her dogs. With that, the shelter vet packed the three puppies into a tiny carrying crate, and I loaded Heidi and her pups into my car. Once I got home, I introduced Heidi and her three-week old pups (all boys) to their temporary home. As much as I wanted to play with and get to know these sweet, adorable little boys, I knew that my first task was to introduce Heidi to my two dogs, Nova and Titan, so I left the puppies all snuggled up in their new bed and got myself prepared.

Heidi

Before I would let Heidi come into the house, I decided I needed to walk her with my dogs. It’s recommended that you introduce dogs on neutral ground so there isn’t any reason for either dog to be territorial. A couple of friends came over to help me handle the dogs since I now had three big dogs to deal with. I started off walking Heidi while my friend held onto my other two dogs. As we started walking through the neighborhood, everything seemed to be going OK, and I had my friend trade leashes with me so I could have various combinations of my three dogs walking together. Halfway through the walk, things were going so well that I decided I would take all three leashes and walk all the dogs together. Heidi and Nova hadn’t had a good chance to really sniff each other and feel one another out, and I can’t say exactly how it happened, but suddenly, Heidi and Nova’s first fight broke out. My friend and I were able to pull them apart very quickly, so no harm was done, but it was a little scary to think my dogs may not get along with the new addition. When I got back to the house Heidi immediately ran to the garage door, knowing her puppies were just on the other side. It was probably the longest she’d been away from them, which made her a little nervous, I’m sure. I decided that was enough of trying to establish our pack for one day, so Heidi just hung out in the garage with her babies for the rest of the night.

Every day for the next week I went into the garage, put Heidi on a leash and I walked her through the house to the back door so she could go outside to the bathroom. Every day, Heidi snarled and made advances at my dogs. She DID NOT want my dogs going near the garage or her puppies. Every day, I corrected her and, carefully, made it so that my dogs had a chance to come up and sniff her and try to get to know her. As I noticed that Heidi was responding to me and starting to trust me more and more, I decided to bring her in the house more often just to hang out. I wanted her to be OK with my dogs and I wanted her to have a break from her puppies (what mom doesn’t need a break from her babies every once in a while). At first Heidi would just guard the garage door; she still wanted nothing to do with my dogs and she didn’t want them near her puppies. A couple fights broke out over that garage door, one of them scarier than I’d like to admit, but it was really important to me that Heidi get along with my dogs.

Titan with another set of foster pups

By the middle of the second week, things at my house weren’t much better. I was frustrated and thinking maybe I should just give up on Heidi getting along with my dogs. After all, she was going back to the shelter once her babies were old enough to be adopted; someone else could train her and deal with her issues with other dogs. She seemed pretty comfortable in the garage with her puppies and I spent plenty of time with them in there, so I wasn’t worried that she wasn’t getting enough attention.

Then one day I asked my mom if she wanted to come over and walk the dogs with me. I had my mom walk my dogs and I decided Heidi should be at my side. I told my mom to walk ahead of me so that my dogs would be leading the walk. I have no idea if any of this pack mentality stuff works, but that’s what I decided to do. Heidi really wanted to catch up to my mom and the two other dogs, but I made her stay behind with me. Eventually I got to the dog park where I usually let my dogs run free. When Heidi and I entered the park, my dogs were already running around having a grand old time. I think Heidi was a little jealous! As Heidi walked through the park on her leash, my dogs would run away for a while then run back to check in, then run away for a while, then run back to check in. One of the times Nova ran back to check in, I noticed that Heidi got down on her elbows in what I recognized as an invitation to play. I gave her a little more leeway on the leash, and sure enough, she and Nova started playing; they bounced around and wrestled and were really having fun with one another. I was so happy to see them interacting like this, my heart just soared! But I knew that Heidi’s attitude may not be the same once we got home where she needed to protect her puppies. Even so, when we got home I decided to let Heidi hang out with us in the living room for a while before putting her back with her puppies. She did great with my dogs! They all explored my house together and eventually all laid on the living room floor together; it was awesome.

Nova

I’m not going to say everything was perfect after that. Heidi was still protective of her puppies and that garage door, I also found out she had some issues with food guarding, but I worked with her every day and walked her with my dogs every day and little by little, she started trusting my dogs as much as she trusted me… so much so, that I was able to let my dogs in the garage to meet her puppies.

All told, the process of Heidi comfortably getting along with my dogs, comfortably meaning to the point where I no longer felt I had to supervise their interactions, took about four weeks. I didn’t have to make Heidi get along with my dogs, after all, she was just a foster dog and would only be staying at my house for a few weeks, but I wanted to be a good foster mom and I wanted her to be happy and I wanted to set her up for success.

Unfortunately, too many people come into the shelter looking for a dog they plan to take home that day, a dog they expect will magically and instantaneously become a part of their family, whether it’s full of kids or other animals. The thing people forget is that these dogs are coming from a very unnatural and stressful environment and we often don’t know what their circumstances were before that. People forget that love and trust takes time, and we need to spend the time getting to know our new pet and letting them get to know us and our family. As new dog owners, it’s our responsibility to introduce our new dog to our family members and other pets in a responsible way; it’s our job to be patient and to research or experiment with different ways of making our new dog (and our established pets) comfortable with the changes that are happening in the house. It is our job to not get frustrated and to understand that these things take time, but that in the end, it’s worth the effort when everyone is getting along and we can call ourselves one big happy family.

My experiences with Heidi might be a little extreme; she was a momma dog with brand new puppies, and it’s a momma dog’s instinct to protect her puppies. But maybe the dog you bring home will protect his food or his toys or you! Maybe the dog you already have will protect her food or her toys or you! Like any parent, it’s your responsibility to set ground rules and let your children know what is expected of them. It’s your job to help your kids find resolutions to their arguments… so it’s your job to figure out how to make your dogs get along.

So please, if you are thinking about adopting a dog, think about whether you’re willing to be patient with the new addition and whether you’re willing to take the time to make things work. Think about whether you’re willing to break up a couple of fights, knowing that if you handle things correctly, with the right combination of discipline and love, you can create harmony in your home.

By the way, Heidi did find her forever home–Titan and Nova and I fell in love with her, so I adopted her and she’s officially part of our family.

For more information on introducing pets, please download the handout Introducing Your New Dog to Your Resident Dog and/or Introducing Your New Cat to Other Pets.

Check out our post on becoming a foster volunteer or download our AACCC Volunteer Application to get involved at the shelter today!

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2 Responses to “Forever Homes Aren’t Temporary”


  1. 1 Victoria March 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

    very, very good.

  2. 2 Kathy March 8, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Nice job, Karen! We’re so happy you chose to foster Heidi’s pups because we’d never have found Arlo otherwise. He’s such a sweet, loving puppy and I’m sure that’s because he got such a great start at life with you, Nova and Titan.


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