This Friday I will say goodbye to my foster dog, Maisy. I am teary eyed just typing the sentence. Maisy was a 12 year old owner surrender to Chicago Animal Control. I happened about her picture on Facebook one day and noticed that no rescues had come to her rescue. Her picture was gut wrenching. A tiny little furball who looked beyond scared and neglected. Her eyes pierced my soul and immediately, I found myself on a mission to free her.
At the time, our rescue wasn’t able, but by the time we got her pulled, circumstances changed (as rescue is always changing) and she became ours. I took her to an ISO at a vet clinic outside the city. Maisy had half the coat she should, mostly elephant skin… Her ears were infected, she smelled like she hadn’t been bathed in years, her nails were curled into her legs… The dog was a hot mess. (If I had a favorite breed, it would be “hot mess.”)
She spent a week at the vet clinic. I went to visit her in the basement where they kept her. I wasn’t at all impressed with the situation and as soon as she was cleared from the canine flu, I drove there and got her out. Maisy is tiny. Weighing in at only 9 pounds, she seems just skin and bones. Frail in some ways and feisty in others. She is resilient. She is a survivor.
I have spent the last 10 years immersed in rescue and animal welfare and though I am often surrounded by dogs in need, there are just certain ones that find their way directly into my heart. Maisy is one of those dogs.
Her eyes, well, they saved her life because they are so profound. She is not blind like we initially thought from the picture. But, she does have dry eye and will probably always need eye meds. Whether her lack of coat is from mange or diet or allergies or stress, we have every possible issue covered. In the last two weeks, her hair has started to grow back. Her eyes sparkle and her smell… I took care of that, too. She still has far to go to appear, “normal,” but truthfully, I don’t see any of her scars or illnesses anymore. I only see her as the lovable, sassy dog she always was.
My three dogs aren’t the best hosts. You would think since they were each once foster dogs, they would understand the situation better and be kinder. Instead, they cling to the pack they know and sadly, shun most others who come for a stay. They would never hurt her or any dog. They just don’t go out of their way to make anyone else feel welcome. Maybe they think you have to earn your right to stay? I don’t know.
What I do know is that Maisy longs for someone to play with. It appears she has never seen a cat before and has resorted to practically begging our cats to play. She tosses her own toys and plays fetch with herself. My dogs just look on with irritation and eyes that seem to ask,”When will she be leaving?”
A few years ago, I would have kept Maisy. It wouldn’t have mattered if she fit in with my group. It wouldn’t have mattered what the rest of my family thought. The reality was I couldn’t bear to let a dog go.
That is until two years ago when Lin, our President, sent me the picture of my foster dog with her new family. There she was, sitting on the lap of her new owner, as the couple drove away waving goodbye in their convertible. I wasn’t there, but the picture was proof enough that the dog found her perfect home and that it would be a happy ending. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to “keep” them all in order for them to be fully loved and cared for.
Fostering is hard. You are letting someone into your heart knowing full well that they will leave and you will be crushed. Many foster dogs require a lot of attention and care. They might need meds and baths and training. Often you give more to them when they are with you than your own dogs. You give them everything without a second thought because you see in their eyes how thankful they are to be safe, to be cared for and to be loved.
Friday is only a few days away. I have already teared up a dozen times in anticipation of saying goodbye. I always worry that Maisy, or any foster, will think I didn’t love them, that they weren’t good enough to keep. After all they have been through, it kills me to believe they could think that. I only want them to know how deserving of a family they truly are.
I am fortunate this time because Lin is going to foster her. I have known Lin for a long time. I have stayed at her home, I have snuggled with her dogs. I KNOW Maisy will be loved. None the less, my heart will break a little on Friday because when I take in a dog, any dog, I love it with everything I have. Maisy is no exception.
Here’s the hard truth about fostering. If I hadn’t fostered Maisy, she would have been dead by now. No other rescues came forward to save her. She was a senior in need of a lot of care. She is the kind of dog who enters a shelter everyday and rarely gets the chance to leave alive. Sometimes, I think, people think I, and others like me, exaggerate when we say things like that, but it is the honest truth. Millions of dogs, just like Maisy, will be killed this year simply because there wasn’t an available foster home to save them.
Fostering is emotionally challenging, but to actually KNOW you are saving a life – there are very few things that can be so rewarding. I will cry, maybe for days, but Maisy will live on for years to come. She will dazzle others with her personality. She will melt hearts with her eyes. She will become part of a family. She gets her second chance.
My tears are selfish and short-lived, but fostering is selfless and life-changing. Please, if you love dogs (or cats) and have temporary space in your home, consider becoming a foster. There are so many great rescues across the country looking for you. And, there are so many dogs like Maisy, who long for a second chance to be loved.