Fostering dogs is unpredictable and sometimes heartbreaking

I’m writing this post with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.

I had my 14th foster dog for exactly three weeks.

She was described by a volunteer at the shelter as scared but loving tummy rubs.

She arrived here without a collar, and having spent the night at another foster carer’s house, hiding from her other dogs.

So I did what I usually do in these situations: I sat on the ground near her, and allowed her to come to me. She did – straight onto my lap. The shelter volunteer was right: she loved lying on you and having her tummy rubbed.

When she first came to me, I had her separated from my other dogs, because she had kennel cough. When that was gone, I introduced her to my other foster dog. This was a bit tricky, because I didn’t have anyone to help me introduce them. Tara, the new dog, was a bit blustery to start with (I introduced them through the fence), but settled down when I told her to. I took Foster 13, Tylah, into the pen with Tara, and they hit it off immediately. Within seconds, they were playing.

But over the next week, they had a few inconsequential spats, which quickly stopped when I yelled at them.

Then one night at 10:30 pm, when I was about to go to bed, I heard an unholy ruckus – the two foster dogs were having a real fight. I ran outside, clapping my hands and yelling, and they stopped. Investigation showed that Tara had a wound next to her eye. I separated them, and called the Rescue Lady the next day. I needed one of the fosters to be removed, because it was not physically possible to keep them separated (there’s more to the story, but I won’t bore you here with it – it has to do with the health of one of my own dogs). Rescue Lady said she would see what she could do.

Now, at this stage, I didn’t know who was starting the fights. I suspected it was Tara, but I never saw the beginning of a fight. A few days later I discovered that Tara had received another wound from the fight, this time to the top of her head, but it was minor and her black fur had camouflaged it.

A week later, Rescue Lady told me (didn’t ask me, told me) that she would come and get BOTH dogs the next day. Now it just so happened that was the day I was going out – the first time in literally months that I would be out all day. I told Rescue Lady that, but she was coming regardless.

I returned home, expecting to see only three dogs – mine. To my surprise, there was another tail wagging at me. It was Tara. No sign of Tylah.

I logged onto Facebook, which is how Rescue Lady and I communicate, and sure enough, there was a message from her, saying that she couldn’t take Tara because she was acting as a guard dog in my absence, and had bitten Rescue Lady twice when she attempted to put a collar and lead on her. She also said that she would come back today while I was home.

I was really surprised at this. For three weeks, Tara has been nothing but a snugglebum with me. She was just learning to play with me, and every time I went to her, she would lie on her back and ask for her tummy to be rubbed. I had many magical moments with her lying on me, and batting my face gently with her paws as I rubbed her tummy and we looked deep into each other’s eyes. The behaviour Rescue Lady was describing was totally unexpected.

So this morning, Rescue Lady arrived for another try at taking Tara away. She took one look at Tara, and said, in a very nasty tone, “Hello, bitch!” Charming. When Rescue Lady went towards the pen, Tara started to bark at her, and wouldn’t stop. Rescue Lady asked me to put the lead on her, which I did, giving her a rub at the same time, and she was fine. But the moment she stepped out of the pen, she lunged towards Rescue Lady and ripped a strip off her pants. Rescue Lady was not happy. I was dumbfounded.

I had to put Tara in the car, and pleaded uselessly with Rescue Lady not to put her down. I get that Rescue Lady can’t take Tara to a meet-and-greet and risk her lunging at someone else. I get that Rescue Lady can’t afford a lawsuit. What I can’t get is Tara’s behaviour. There was a world of difference between the snuggly, loving dog I knew and the one that lunged at Rescue Lady and ripped her pants.

I get that Rescue Lady did what she needed to do. I also get that Tara did what she thought she needed to do.

Most of all, I get that every living thing in this world does what it has to do in order to survive.

I’m just sorry that Rescue Lady’s survival requirement clashed with Tara’s survival requirement, and that Tara lost.

RIP Tara. You were lovely to me, and I can’t stop crying.

Some fostering days (and dogs) are better than others

Today I have six dogs – three of my own, and three foster dogs. It’s been one of those days.

My Pixie is still not acting normally since her desexing operation a week ago, so I have been keeping her separate from the other dogs and crating her at night.

The new foster dog, Sooky, has been chasing the others up and down the fence for two days, and I thought it was probably time and okay to introduce her to another dog.

I decided to put Pixie in with Sooky for the day.

Sooky took exception to this idea and to Pixie, and started to lunge and growl and bare her teeth as soon as Pixie and I went into the pen with her. She even tied me up in her chain as she tried to get to Pixie.

Okay, that didn’t work out. I took Pixie over to the other pen where her sisters and the other adult foster dog were, and she was as happy as could be.

But then Ash (the 27 kg foster dog) and Nova (my 18 kg dog) got into a full-on fight – over me. Not good. I chased them around the pen, yelling and trying to catch them and separate them, knowing full well that this could end in disaster.

I finally caught Ash, and held her still until both dogs had calmed down.

But suddenly I realised that Sooky was out of her pen, and in front of this one, wanting to join the fight. Bother!

I opened the gate between the two pens, and let some bodies rush past me into the second pen. Unfortunately, two of the wrong bodies flashed past. Never mind, the priority was catching Sooky.

Somehow Sooky ended up in the pen with Ash (and two others, one of whom quickly went back next door when I opened the gate), and promptly wanted to start a fight with her. Sooky is less than ten kg, and very skinny, and wouldn’t stand a chance against Ash if they got into a real fight.

So then I picked up a struggling Sooky and took her back to the top pen. I investigated the pen thoroughly – the gate was still closed, there were no holes in or under the fence. The only conclusion I can make is that Sooky either climbed or jumped a six-foot-high chain wire fence.

She’s now back on the chain, which is not what I wanted for her, but to keep her safe I must.

I went back and checked the combatants. Luckily, neither dog was hurt. They both had sections of their (long) fur that were matted and wet with saliva, but I can find no wounds or blood.

To top it all off, the puppy with the broken leg had been howling throughout the fracas, because I hadn’t fed her yet.

Some days of fostering dogs are better than others. This was not one of the better days.


Little Meg and the big bad scary dog

Photo by Jo LyonsMeg and I were sitting in the late winter sunshine this morning, enjoying each other’s company and vegging out together. She’s very restful when she leans on me and looks around.

She has good eyesight, and was watching my sister about 100 metres away, when suddenly I saw a blur of brown. Then two brown dogs, one bigger than Meg and one about the same size as Meg, came in the front gate.

Instantly, Meg was on her feet and barking ferociously. Her hackles went up, and the barks were interspersed with deep growls.

The intruder dogs stopped, looked at Meg, turned tail and fled.

Meg, with the broken leg, scared off two strange dogs with her noise! I had already started to get up off the ground in order to pick her up and get her out of harm’s way if necessary, but it wasn’t necessary. My brave little Meg! What a champion!

Meg stayed on the alert for several minutes, growling under her breath. She even growled at a blue heron that landed nearby.

After a while, though, she settled down again, but she made sure she was touching me.

Who was protecting whom? I have a feeling she was protecting, not only me, but the property as well.

What a wonderful way to start a day – sitting on the grass in the sunshine, watching the world go by, and playing and vegging with a broken-legged but big-hearted puppy.

I’m all relaxed now, and ready to start my day.

Thank you, Meg.

Seeing the world through a puppy’s eyes

Today was the first full day that Meg, the puppy with the broken leg, was at my home. Unfortunately for her, I had to go out. I gave her a chicken carcass to keep her occupied, and turned on a radio at low volume to give her some company, then left her in her crate in the garage.

Several hours later, I came home to hear her howling.

Oh dear.

I went into the garage and the howling stopped. Somebody’s here! Licks and kisses and tail wags galore.

I let her out of the crate and took her outside for a pit stop. It’s hard to stop her jumping to say hello, but I know I have to because the broken leg is one of her hind legs, and obviously the strain of standing on only two legs has to hurt.

I took her onto some grass, and sat down with her. She leaned into me as she gazed around. She was a bit spooked, because it was very windy. I think it was a bit scary also because she has been in a pound for a week, and hasn’t seen green grass or a horizon for a long time. She’s only a puppy, after all.

It was magic sitting on the ground with her as she saw the world. She sat with one paw on my thigh as she looked first at the grass, then at the fence, then whipped her head around to locate the source of a noise. She smelled the wind. Her ears were constantly flicking because of the sounds and also because the wind got into them. Occasionally she would acknowledge me, but she didn’t notice when I stopped petting her, because everything around her was far more interesting than I was.

I was amazed at how long she simply sat there, soaking it all in, before she decided she wanted to play with me. She climbed over my legs, sat on my other side, and promptly decided to eat some tall grass. Then she turned over and wanted to play fight me.

She was half lying on my legs when she suddenly looked up above my head and followed something with her head. I looked up too, and saw a black bird gliding past. Meg was entranced.

It was such a special time, seeing the world through the pup’s eyes. When was the last time you sat and watched the world around you with a youngster of any species?

The Advance-Retreat Method of Bark Control

Yesterday I blogged about a new method of reducing barking at feeding time that I tried out.

I am pleased to report that this advance-retreat method of bark control might be having a positive effect.

I have now tried it three times: yesterday at breakfast, yesterday at dinner, and this morning at breakfast. It is getting results faster each time. The dogs seem to be remembering that I am not coming to feed them as quickly as usual. It is still a struggle, and I really need to be patient, but it might be a way of getting attention from them that has not been in evidence for some weeks now.

Giving a muted cheer – a cheer because it might be working, and muted because it might just be a response to my new behaviour that will not continue.

Bark bark bark bark bark – I’m going crazy!

I have five dogs on the premises. Two of them are foster dogs. The other three are mine.

I love them all, but their barks are driving me CRAZY!

  • Every time I open a back door, they bark.
  • Every time I appear at a window, they bark.
  • Every time I go outside for any reason, they bark.
  • Every time a visitor arrives, they bark. Well, that one’s acceptable – I like to know there’s someone there before the doorbell rings.
  • Every time the goat comes close, they bark.
  • Every time I go out to feed them, they go into a frenzy.

It’s driving me crazy. My brother-in-law who lives next door is being driven crazy. I’m sure the neighbours are being driven crazy.

Oh, and the dogs bark at night and wake me up. When I get up to look, I can’t see anything.

My dogs barked before I started fostering other dogs, but the current fosters are making it much worse. I bought a (very expensive) Outdoor Bark Control device that emits an ultra high frequency sound in response to barking, and I think it had a favourable affect the first time I turned it on at night. One of my dogs crept up to me the next morning, so I think she heard the sound.

However, it’s making not one whit of difference when the dogs are barking from excitement. They not only bark, they chase each other up and down the dividing fence between the two pens, even though the gate is open between them, and even though they are with the other dogs 24 hours a day. When they chase each other, it’s impossible to get their attention, and the Outdoor Bark Control has no hope.

I asked the Rescue Lady if she had any ideas on how to reduce the barking. She gave me some suggestions.

So this morning I tried her advice. I got the dogs’ breakfast ready, and opened the back door. Took one step out, and they erupted.

I turned and went back inside. The dogs were puzzled. Where did she go?

I tried again. Same result, same consequence. The dogs thought this was weird behaviour.

Third time lucky? Nope.

The fourth time I managed to walk a few steps before the din started. Went back inside, checked my email.

Tried again. And again. And again.

Finally they were totally quiet when I was inside, but were watching the door closely.

Eventually I managed to feed the foster dog in the top pen. When I started to go towards the other four dogs, it started all over again. I stopped moving. Every time there was quiet, I moved forward. If chasing started, I went backwards.

One dog in particular kept looking at me. She twigged first. The others followed after a few times of advancing and retreating.

Finally I managed to get inside the pen. Of course, the usual fencing chasing started up. Now I don’t mind fence chasing, but I abhor the barking and growling and yipping that are part of it. I know it is pure excitement – there is no aggression – but the point is that THEY ARE NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO ME.

Once the fence chasing and noise started, I moved to one side of the pen and just stood there. One of my dogs came up to me and sat in front of me. I offered her some food, and she took it from my hand. After a few moments of this, the foster dog came up and sat down. I gave her a handful and started to move towards the food bowls. That set her off again, and the fence chasing and noise started again.

To cut a long story short, the dogs eventually figured out that they were not going to be fed while they were noisy. It was bliss to feed four dogs in silence, but it took four times longer than usual to feed them.

Lessons Learned

  1. You have to be patient.
  2. You have to be consistent.
  3. It will take time for the new behaviour to stick.
  4. Maybe I have a chance to reduce the barking if I keep it up.

I’ll keep you posted.