A long time ago I studied medicine. I can’t remember when I decided to become a doctor, but for as long as I can remember I’ve envisioned that moment where I would save a life.
As it turned out, on my hospital assignments, I realized the job wasn’t for me, so I quit after five years. The hardest part about making this decision was giving up the dream of being able to save lives.
But here I am, over 25 years later, with no medical school in sight and I have had the honor of saving 12 lives and hopefully more will follow as we are a canine foster family.
I guess you could say we unofficially started mining about 15 years ago. My little sister has sincerely told her friends that I would love to take care of their dog while they go on vacation for three weeks.
The couple lived in the Midlands and commuted to work in Dublin every day. This meant the dog was alone for most of the day. So, long story short, this dog is currently lying next to me on the mat and snoring.
He’s almost 20 years old now and still going strong. He’s not as stable on the pins as he used to be and his joints are a bit stiff in the mornings, similar to mine. The vet says he might have a hint of dementia, but it’s hard to say. It was never the sharpest knife in the drawer.
He’s a cross between a Belgian Malinois and a Border Collie (we think) and he’s the sweetest soul I’ve ever met. No matter what creature walks through the door, he greets them all with a wagging tail.
I’ve never heard him growl – except when he’s asleep. I don’t know what he’s growling in his dreams, but whatever it is, it’s making his right hind leg walk independently of the other three.
Then came Tobi. The curse of my life. Toby is a small black wire haired terrier mix and a little brat. He’s the kind of dog that’s a natural bully. Small Dog Syndrome. There’s no junk he doesn’t want. German shepherds, pit bulls, it doesn’t matter. He will take her. I’m sure he has prison tattoos under his fur. All he lacks is a switchblade and a set of brass knuckles. I
started promoting officially about six years ago. One day I just emailed the DSPCA to become a nurse. Within a few weeks Nina arrived. She was a greyhound who had been found straying with a large cut on her flank. She came to stay with us while she recovered.
I had never been near a lurcher. I got the impression they were energetic dogs that would spend all their time zooming around and needing lots of exercise. As it turned out, I was very wrong. Nina just lay in her bed the whole time. I thought she might have clinical depression. I started to worry until I learned that lurchers are rotten lumps.
I didn’t know what drama queens they were either. Nina had a blood test during one of her check-ups. From her howling and wailing in the treatment room, I thought they were going to kill her. Lesson number two, lurchers are prima donnas. A bit like a Premiership footballer; the slightest injury and they fall to the ground, writhing in pain.
Boss was next and is why we love pit bulls. Boss and his two Yorkshire Terrier siblings were found tied up in the back yard of a house after their owners moved out and abandoned them. Not uncommon as it turns out. Dogs are left without shelter, food and water. Left there to die.
It always amazes me how cruel people can be. The lady was found with pellets under her skin and cigarette burns. Martha was bred to the point where her womb had prolapsed. Sadie spent the first three years of her life tied up in a dark shed. She has been left so traumatized that she cannot be transferred from her current foster home. She’s one of those people who are so badly broken that the scars never heal.
When I first met Boss, he was so scared that he crawled up to me on his stomach and begged me with his big brown eyes not to hurt him. We all fell head over heels in love with him. He just wanted to be curled up by the fire, or better yet, curled up with a human.
And the Zoomies were hilarious. We’d watch him run back and forth between the bushes in the yard, driving Toby insane. And there’s a reason they’re called the “nanny breed.” I’ve never seen racial bonding in children so quickly. You have a natural parental streak.
I won’t say we didn’t have our hiccups. We didn’t know anything about pit bulls until Boss. We didn’t understand that sometimes they can love too much. He started protecting me and my youngest daughter. I thought it was cute, but he ended up pinching my husband’s leg – an occupational hazard. Boss was immediately signed up for training and I was overwhelmed by how quickly he understood.
Boss was eventually adopted by a couple in Sweden. Because they were small and fluffy, his siblings were quickly adopted here, but no one wanted Boss. Many of the adult dogs I have raised have been adopted abroad. Unlike Ireland, other countries have much stricter breed laws — if you want a dog, you can either go to a rescue center and adopt them, or join the very long line for a custom-made, designer hypothetical-allergenic puppy accessory.
All of the traumatized adult dogs I meet were once cute little puppies too. It’s surprising how many dog people end up not being dog people. If you’ve bought a dog in the past, so be it, but if you’re ever thinking about getting another dog, please check out your local rescue center or animal shelter. Your dog is just waiting for you to find him.
An important part of grooming is learning about the dog’s personality, so when you adopt it you already know if the dog gets along well with other pets and children, for example.
We were heartbroken when Boss left, but he’s now living his best life in the Swedish countryside with his rescued Pittie brother.
And then there are the puppies. Sweet Jesus, the puppies. The teething, the peeing, the pooping, the binge eating. Let me emphasize teething. I can’t tell you how many shoes have been sacrificed in the name of puppy care. Not the cheap Penneys flip flops I bought at a wedding somewhere. Oh no, it has to be the most popular or the most expensive.
Furniture, doors, baseboards, the pipe from the back of the house and a pedal on two different bicycles were also badly injured in the teething. There is one leg of the kitchen table that is still standing thanks to gravity alone. We had blue-eyed Bianca and Milly, pooping sisters Bibi and Belle, and Vegas.
Vegas is what the industry calls failed care. One of those dogs you form a special bond with and just can’t let go of. He’s a black and white staffie-shaped bundle of love and happiness. He always smiles. When we go for a walk, people see him smile and start smiling back. It’s like happiness kindles him.
His most important bond is with my youngest daughter. He adores her. She was 10 when we got him and the two would spend hours together adventuring and just shooting the breeze in her room. He got out twice and followed her trail to the school. He’s still waiting by the door until she comes home.
I don’t usually mind giving the puppies back. I know they will be adopted. It’s the elders that break my heart, who have been terribly abandoned by their people but are still desperate for someone to love.
I think the grooming has brought me more than the dogs. First, caring for those in need is good for the soul. There is a lot of research showing that volunteering improves your mental well-being in some way.
What’s more, these dogs taught me what it means to forgive and what it means to love fully. You judge people by what’s inside. They don’t care about the color of their skin, religion, politics or profession. You see the best in everyone.
I’ve met some amazing dogs and amazing people on my fostering journey. There’s a small army of ordinary people out there involved in animal rescues. Some drive pound after pound every day to rescue animals from death row.
These groups desperately need your support, whether it’s through a donation, adopting a foster home or – best of all – adopting a dog. I can’t think of a greater honor than being able to save a life.
If you are considering a grant, there are a few things you should know:
⬤ The foster home covers all vet bills and provides bedding, bowls, toys, food, leashes and collars.
⬤ You will not be paid for the promotion.
⬤ Before getting your first foster pet, you need to undergo a home check.
⬤ Someone needs to be home most of the day so the animal isn’t left alone for too long.
⬤ You need a secure back garden.
⬤ The foster animal has to sleep in the house.
⬤ You need to make time for regular walks.
⬤ You may need to bring the dog to vet appointments.
⬤ The foster home will support you on an ongoing basis and will be happy to find another foster home for the dog if it doesn’t work out.
Where to start
A quick Google search for foster dogs in Ireland will turn up dozens of rescue centers looking for foster dogs.
Fill out the online application form on the website or give them a call.
My foster homes are Protecting Pound Dogs, Dog Angels and Dogs in Distress, all of which you can find on Facebook. The following groups are also good to check.
Dog Trust: dogstrust.ie/rehoming/fostering/
CORK DAWG: dogactionwelfaregroup.ie/fostering/
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/the-life-affirming-joy-of-being-a-dog-foster-family-41488483.html The life-affirming joy of being a canine foster family