The Joy of Adopting and Fostering Dogs
This article was originally published in issue 11 of the Procrastination Paper: Pets & Animals in November 2019. I'm posting it here in celebration of the Annual launching on Kickstarter.
If you know me, you will know that I love dogs! A couple of years ago we made the decision to start fostering - something I honestly never thought I'd be strong enough to do. I was sure I'd end up falling in love and keeping them all. I did of course fall in love, but seeing our foster dogs go to their new homes was so much more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Here is our fostering story...
It all started with George. He was Battersea Dogs & Cats Home's longest resident at their Brands Hatch branch at the time my boyfriend Kurtis and his Mum Lesley turned up to visit another dog in 2010. George didn't like life in the kennels too much, so spent most of his time with the people in the office and was brought out to meet Kurtis and his Mum that day too. I think the staff there were desperate to find him a new home after around a year of him being there (we think he had at least two previous homes too, but we're unsure of his history). Apparently Kurtis and Lesley were sat in a conference room when George was released like a whirlwind, running madly around the tables and chairs, barely stopping to breathe. Kurtis was smitten with this crazy beast (I think they had hyperactivity in common!) and so they decided it was George they had to take home, much to the delight of the staff. I'm so glad they did. I remember going round to meet George for the first time – we took him for a walk and watched as he took great delight from jumping in a big pile of autumn leaves in a neighbouring garden. His cheeky smile had me smitten too.
When I eventually moved in with Kurtis I got to experience George in all his glory... but it was when I started working from home that he became so much more to me – my colleague, my shadow, my reason to leave the house, the keeper of my sanity (and sometimes the cause of me losing it!). When we moved out, George lived between our house and Kurtis's Mum's, always surrounded by people, always attracting fans and admirers wherever he went. Over the years George had all sorts of weird health issues such as sensitive skin (shampooing his paws every day is an experience I'll never forget), and various lumps and bumps, including one on his ear that resulted in half of it being chopped off. But it was his legs that finally got the better of him. Eventually we had to admit that it wasn't fair on George to let him struggle any more and we booked him in to his final visit to the vets.
Saying goodbye to George was so, so hard. He wagged his way into the vets on 1st June 2017 and I felt like I was betraying him. In the weeks following George's death I was sure there would be a huge gap in my life forever and for a while I couldn't imagine getting another dog. How could I ever love them as much as I loved him? Eventually, I realised that it wasn't really about that. We had a home that we could offer a dog and an understanding landlord - how could we not give a dog a home knowing that there are thousands of dogs in kennels in the UK? Unsure of how long we'd be staying at our current rental property (which we shared with two friends) - and well aware of how hard it was to find a landlord who accepted pets - we decided adopting a dog permanently wasn't the most responsible thing to do. So we looked into fostering instead.
We filled in some forms and checked adoption sites every day, which eventually led us to Saffie, who we were told was struggling in the kennels. On 11th December 2017, six months and ten days after we said goodbye to George, we went to meet what turned out to be the final piece of our grieving process. As we approached All Dogs Matter in Essex in heavy snow, we weren't sure what to expect and we certainly weren't expecting to take a dog home that day. However, as soon as Saffie's cage was opened, everything changed. She jumped over to us and gave Kurtis a hug. A proper, arms (legs) around the neck hug. How could I ever have thought I might not love a dog?! We took her home there and then.
Saffie had been found as a stray, so we had no background information on her and she didn't really know her name. I wondered if I'd let myself in for too much work, but she turned out to be such a joy to have around. The bounciest dog I've ever met in my life, she had a whole dance routine at dinner times and her loving hugs healed our broken hearts. At first, I was worried that she'd remind me too much of George, but bar a few small similarities they were very different. It was so rewarding to see her come out of her shell with us, learn new things and relax into a home. Everyone who met her fell in love with her and when we took her to my Dad's in Somerset for Christmas him and my step-mum were seriously tempted to adopt her. Eventually though, on Easter Sunday 2018, almost six months after we'd picked her up in the snow, she went home with her new owners Tara and Simon. If I'm honest, I'd been dreading the day Saffie left, fearing it would bring back all of the sad feelings I had after George died, but it was so rewarding to see her trotting off with her new owners, knowing how happy she would make them. To me, it seemed like Saffie had been sent to us for a reason. We both needed each other at that particular moment in our lives and were able to help each other heal and move on.
We decided to wait a while before moving on to our next foster dog. I was pleased to have some temporary freedom to go on holiday and we had our doggy fix through Kurtis's Mum, who was also fostering dogs (mainly Tara, a deaf staffy who we all grew to love and who spent Christmas 2018 with us). Eventually, our need for a four-legged friend grew stronger and we registered with another charity called ProDogs Direct, who soon after our home check called me about a seven year old pooch named Scooty. They had re-homed her as a puppy but due to a change in her owner's circumstances needed a new place to stay.
We literally picked Scooty up from the side of the road in Essex, where her owner was waiting with a bin bag full of her belongings. She smelt like she was in need of a good bath and she needed to shed a few pounds, but was clearly a friendly soul, jumping into the back of our car without hesitation. We had great fun getting to know Scooty and discovering her quirks. She was super chilled out and - as I discovered while doing yoga one day - liked to lie on people. Anther of Scooty's hobbies was burying her bones - something I thought only dogs in cartoons did. During our time with Scooty we got to take her on a little holiday an hour down the road from us where we climbed hills, met alpacas and chilled out by the fire. She reminded me how much I'd missed having a dog around. Of course, our time with Scooty had to come to an end, and three and a half months down the line, she too found her forever home - with a family in North London.
After Scooty, we decided to have another break from fostering as we planned to move house later in the year and had several trips coming up. One of those was to an Airbnb in the Spanish mountains, which we may or may not have booked because of the three resident dogs (one of which was the size of a small horse).
In a strange twist of fate (Thank you Sharon), we managed to find a new place to live that allowed pets, right next to the biggest park in south east London. It would have been criminal not to get a dog really. My go-to procrastination activity changed from flat-hunting to dog-searching… our main criteria being a dog who got on well with other dogs, something that was hard to guarantee through fostering... but we kept our options open.
Then one day, as Kurtis was working in a cafe in Kennington (incidentally on a film about cats!), in walked a woman with a dog. Known then as 'Beauty', it was easy to see how this dog caught Kurtis's eye. His ears pricked up when he heard this dogs's companion ask if she could leave a flyer, as Beauty (who it turned out she had rescued from Morocco) needed to find a new home, before her own dogs eventually flew over to live with her.
Kurtis of course butted straight in, showed his interest, and sent me a photo of Beauty, with the caption 'I love her', followed by 'Could you get to Kennington today, or is that madness?'. When I did go to meet her the following week, her beauty and calm nature trumped the fact she was the slowest dog I'd ever walked and a total independent woman who had her human companion wrapped around her little finger. We arranged for her to come and visit us once we'd moved into the new flat. And that was it... following a successful test walk at our local park, we had found OUR dog. I never could have predicted we'd end up with a rather overweight, zenned out, stunning, stubborn Moroccan street dog. But we have. She's now called Noushi and we have a lot to teach her about how to be a pet dog, but just one week in she's already made such a huge difference to our lives. Each of our foster dogs needed time and patience to learn new things, but each taught us something too.
I'm so excited at the prospect of seeing Noushi come out of her shell more and enjoy life in the UK. It feels a bit like I've gone full circle - the park we've moved next to is the one in which I hold the most memories of walking our border collie Reethi, when I was a child. I feel so lucky to be able to walk my own dog there every day now. In the future, when we've moved to a bigger place, and if Noushi allows it, I'd love to foster again. It was hard at times, but I've truly never done something so fulfilling. It blows my mind to think of the amazing people who foster children.
If you are able, please consider fostering - all sorts of pets are in need and it's as simple as starting with a Google search or a call to your local animal shelter. You can be specific about the kind of pet you are looking for and different shelters and charities will have different processes and ways of working. The ones we worked with were All Dogs Matter and ProDogs Direct. If you have any questions about fostering, do swing them my way!