A few people have asked how we possibly let puppies go at the end of the foster period.
Besides the obvious impracticality of raising 6 (or 7, 8, 9 or 10) puppies to adulthood and the impact that would have on our ability to foster future homeless mamas and puppies (and, you know, do anything else), fostering puppies is also a ton of work. Saying goodbye to the wonderful parts is also saying hello to a reprieve.
I know, I know. Puppies are the best, the cutest, the most lovable. I feel like a dose of honesty is required here…
Every morning for over a month (and much longer when the mamas aren’t housetrained like Beans), I have woken to poop. Not just a little poop, but poop everywhere. I groggily step into the puppy pen and clean up before my mind is fully awake enough to process the fact that my foot is wet with something (mental note: take off sock before going back upstairs). The puppies, not receiving adequate attention while I try to scoop up the waste before they step in it, are biting at my legs, my pants, my hands. They do step in it and then place their sweet, poopy paws on me (mental note: stick pajamas in the wash asap). Wearing paper towels as makeshift socks to transport my poopy feet to the shower is my morning standard.
The struggle doesn’t end as the day wears on. 6 puppies times 8-10 poops a day each, endless pees, toy and puppy pad shredding teeth (but just to be clear, in the midst of this one pup rolls over for a tummy rub and my grimace immediately melts into a smile).
Every day, I use a roll of paper towels cleaning in the puppy pen and everywhere else that the puppies play.
I break out the steam cleaner every few days.
I go through a bottle of natural, non toxic cleaner about once each week. I buy hand soap and hand sanitizer in bulk.
We fill a trash bag with empty puppy food cans, soiled puppy pads, and used paper towels each day.
I disinfect the puppies’ food and water dishes four times each day and also bring them to the sink for a good hot water and soap wash at least twice a day.
My hands, and the hands of my children, look like we were thrown into the middle of a briar patch and left to glovelessly work our ways out. (Thankfully, the puppy biting is slowing down this week, a critical reason to keep puppies with their siblings to learn bite inhibition until at least 8 weeks of age) Though last night, Dane got a chomp on the ear amidst lots of face kisses. He’s sporting the “home attempt at ear piercing gone wrong” look today.
Dane: Ow, ow, ow.
Andrew: Oooohh, no biting my inner thigh. Mom, I need another puppy toy, quick!
Dane: We just want to cuddle you guys. Stop biting.
Me: That ship sailed a couple weeks ago. Now these guys just want to play. If we indulge them for about an hour, they will cuddle (maybe). Meanwhile I am effectively, and smugly, managing the two puppies in my lap with toys and belly scratches.
Me 2 minutes later (now with 3 puppies on me): Help! Help! Ow! Grab someone please!
I need to consider what I am wearing, what the children are wearing, each time we visit puppies, which is usually 6-8 times each day. Athletic, windbreaker material cannot stand up to puppy teeth. Neither can a down jacket. If sweaters survive one puppy visit, they do not usually survive another. Since I am laying down the honesty, I have many times taken off my pants (anything but jeans) before heading down to clean to save them from certain destruction and to keep them clean if I am about to head off somewhere. Probably TMI!
The other day, Andrew was wearing a new sweatshirt as he sat down to do the arduous work of puppy snuggling.
“Your sweatshirt. Do you want to change?” Ryan asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Andrew replied, a relieved look on his face at having caught this problem before there was a rip. He returned with his soccer training jacket, the one he will have to wear in warm up for two years.
“Isn’t that your soccer warm up jacket?” Ryan asked incredulously.
“Yep, but I don’t love it as much as my new sweatshirt.” (Ryan and I look at each other and shrug.)
The training jacket lives on, miraculously, but many other bits of apparel have perished at the teeth of these piranhas…I mean precious puppies.
The laundry. Throughout the day, I pick up obviously soiled blankets and towels, and change everything out once each day. A few days each week, I give my washer and dryer the workout of a lifetime all day long. The laundry detergent… The many times my washer can’t spin properly due to the bulky items and I drag them out to drip dry over the basketball hoop and soccer goals and then back in to the dryer. The smell that permeates my house on puppy laundry day (I often give an embarrassed disclaimer to guests on these days). The need to clean the washer and dryer before sticking our clothes into them. The frequent need to vacuum out the dryer vent. The fact that there is no end: as the last load finishes, the day has produced a couple more.
“Do you think there’s a washer/dryer hookup in the basement?” Ryan asked last week. “No reason, just wondering…”
Then, the last thing I do before bed is clean poop. And feed. And collect soiled linens.
I can’t be sure the puppies will sleep through the night. There were many times Beans did not. I am a light sleeper and often can’t fall back asleep until I check that all is well, everyone is settled. That’s on me. But if a puppy whimpers, I can’t rest until I know they are safe and happy.
I spend hours of the day with the puppies or doing things for them. Sometimes this is in the awesome company of my children or friends. Most often, I am alone in this work.
Ryan: What do you have planned for today?
Me: Grocery store, laundry, oil change, volunteering at the school (proceeds to spend 4 hours with puppies and a couple more doing things related to them).
Let’s not forget to discuss the mental, emotional load. I am the responsible party for these 6 (and just a few days ago, 7) lives. It is up to me to prevent or notice any illness, injury, or failure to thrive. These puppies have blissfully been healthy, but often we have faced respiratory illnesses, slow milk production and therefore the need to bottle feed, and other conditions. Regardless, I am constantly thinking about how to improve our set up and our procedures to best serve the fosters we have. Each one is different and requires something different of me.
The work of fostering is not negligible.
Author and animal advocate Cara Sue Achterberg (author of Another Good Dog among several other titles), summed up the work of puppy fostering in her extremely relatable blog postings It’s the Cuteness that Saves Them and A Day in the Life of a Puppy Foster. Cara is a fellow serial foster and is also doing the important work of publishing and advocating for marginalized homeless animals.
Knowing that we have to say goodbye, especially as the day draws nearer, is what gives us the stamina to accept these minor inconveniences and messes. The puppy kisses and the absolute joy of watching them grow can counter most of the work, but knowing that it’s temporary, really so fleeting, pushes us the rest of the way there.
Many feel sympathy for our family as we approach the day to say goodbye to these cuties. It will be sad, trust me. There will be a heartache and a touch of emptiness, for sure, but we know we have given them the very best start in life and are sending them all into loving homes.
The experience of fostering these puppies, and all the paws we welcome into our home, is beautiful and important enough to counter all the mess and all the sadness of the goodbyes.
If you are interested in fostering, please don’t let this post turn you away. There is a foster need to suit every lifestyle at your local shelter or rescue. Love puppies and don’t mind the mess? Go for it! But if you have an small abode or are gone most of the day, you could foster an adult cat who just hates shelter life. There are housebroken adult dogs needing a quiet place to recover from illnesses or injuries. There are young, exuberant dogs needing a place to learn basic manners. There are kittens with their mamas or kittens who just need to grow for a week or two before being available for adoption. There are as many types of animals needing a loving foster home as there are types of people who love animals and want to help.
Learn more about fostering for the Humane Society of Huron Valley if you’re local.
If you’re not local, but interested in fostering, contact your local animal shelter or rescue.
The opportunities and need are endless. You won’t regret it (well, except during the occasional early morning poop on the foot scenario!).