This is a long one, so I’ve broken it into two parts.
Those of us in rescue know – there is always that one dog that opens your eyes and shows you exactly what you’ve been missing. They may appear early on in our rescue days, or they may not surface until we “think” we’re veteran rescue sages, just to show us that we really don’t know as much as we think we do.
To say I’ve fostered a lot of dogs is rather the understatement. I mean, I can’t even remember all the dogs I’ve fostered. That’s most because, as the “boss”, I’ve always felt it was my job to take most of the rescue burden. I also have never felt completely comfortable asking others to foster dogs that I haven’t met and evaluated myself. Anyways – lots of dogs, which means lots of lessons. Each dog is a lesson of their own, as each dog has a different personality and set of needs.
One dog, though, was a step above the rest when it came to being a professor of the fostering art. She was a scrawny little blue merle female Aussie, found stray in Oconee County, South Carolina (better known as Upstate BFE). This little dog weighed 28 pounds, and I could fit my hand around her waist and probably pick her up by her spine if I wanted to. At that point in my rescue career, she was the worst case I had ever seen. She was 9-10 years old, had very obviously been pregnant recently, and had heartworms and every type of intestinal bacteria you could imagine. Her teeth were all broken and/or worn down to nothingness, her legs bowed, and she smelled like a music festival port-a-potty. I named her Tala, which meant “wolf” in Sioux.
Getting Tala home was the easy part. Being Tala’s foster mom, not so much. She was nervous indoors and paced constantly. Wire crates were out of the question, but she tolerated a plastic one well enough unless she knew she was being ignored. She was a trash-dog and counter-surfed, terrorized my cats if they didn’t stand up for themselves, and was rather overly enthusiastic with puppy managing. Somewhere in the archives I have a video that basically consists of me saying, “Tala, stop tackling the puppy,” over and over again. That being said, she got along fine with my older dogs and fosters.
Tala was sick – probably the sickest dog I’ve ever fostered, even now (with the exception of parvo puppies). I mentioned her bacterial infections; it is because of Tala that I learned what giardia and coccidia smell like. All over the living room. I’ve never been a weak-stomached person, but I literally had to hold my breath, run in and wipe up a spot, then run back out to breathe or I would have vomited. Tala’s heartworms were also severe, and it took almost eight months to put the four pounds on her little frame that the vet requested before starting the immiticide treatment.
While Tala’s condition taught me a lot about foster care (she was my first senior and my first heartworm dog), it was her attitude that taught me the most. You see, Tala was not always a very nice dog. In fact, she was quite the nasty bitch when she wanted to be. About a month or two into fostering her, I hated her. I absolutely despised that dog. She was cunning and manipulative, and she was not afraid to use scare tactics to get what she wanted. Her favorite thing to do was to slip out the door between my legs and take off down the street through the neighborhood. I would chase her, and when I finally got close enough she would flop on the ground, belly up in “okay, I submit” position. Naturally, my first reaction was to reach down and grab her by the collar to pull her up and walk her back home. NOPE. That little shit would bite the crap out of me the minute I touched her collar. She waited, goading me into making a mistake. Fortunately, she had no teeth so I was never hurt, but still – nobody likes to be bitten. So, this turned into me standing over her nudging her with my foot when she would belly up, and she would just lay there, four legs stretched out in the air, not moving a damn muscle. I would eventually get a leash around her neck and she would pop up, happy as a lark with herself for playing such a great game of, “Who’s really the boss?” One day, I got so fed up with her I just walked back home and told her to figure her own shit out. Of course, the game was over then, and she rose from the ground and followed me on home with no problem. That was the end of her running off, if I wasn’t going to chase her, then it wasn’t worth it and she needed to find a new game.
As quick as it is to explain, it really took months for Tala and I to reach our understandings. Meanwhile, I was begging my rescue representative (I was nothing more than a young, green foster at this point) to move her to another foster. I would take anything if someone else would take Tala. I was fed up with her, we didn’t get along, and nobody was happy. My rep said no, however, and told me I needed to stick it through. Old dogs are different, she said, and we just needed time to figure each other out. Tala had been through a lot and needed to learn to trust me. I very reluctantly complied, and kept trucking on with this bat-shit crazy little bitch dog.
Stay tuned for part two…