My first foster will always haunt me.
The lessons he taught me are priceless and truly opened my eyes and heart to rescue. Although his ending broke my heart, he also taught me compassion and the true meaning of rescue - of being bigger than myself.
When Ice first came to me he had already been in a different foster home for a awhile, which was nice because I was able to get a read on his personality before I brought him home (although they do act different in different environments!!). He was already housebroken and dog-friendly so the transition into my house went smoothly. I fostered him for four months before he got adopted and those four months went great. He played well with Majestic and Bourbon, and also with my friend's dogs when we set up play dates.
He did have a few low points, but nothing that caused me any trouble. He was reactive towards people walking by the house if he could see them through the windows or doors. He also had a really high energy level so to keep him 'tired' I was running him every day and incorporating lots of daily walks and short training sessions with him. I even had him enrolled in obedience class and agility class while he was with me. I put a lot of effort into him and it certainly showed :).
|Ice's position every morning after our runs.|
The next adoptathon came around and I sent him up to Illinois to attend. [Side note: adoptathons are where we gather as many fosters as we can for people to meet, only approved adopters are allowed to adopt that day, but since our dogs are spread over several states it gives people a good chance to meet more dogs without having extensive travel.] Ice got adopted by an older couple that had a 12-year old Doberman at home. Needless to say Ice was too much for them and it went downhill quickly. We always try to make the best matches, but sometimes it doesn't work out. I also wasn't there and I like to think in my head that if I was, I wouldn't have let them adopt Ice (in our rescue the foster home gets the final say), but those are the woulda-coulda-shouldas that don't matter in the end.
So Ice got returned but of course the family didn't want to drive him to Iowa to my house, so they dropped him off at one of our volunteer's training facilities. It was decided that Ice should stay there and get evaluated (as he had lunged and growled at the family's grandkids). He hadn't shown any problems at my house or the previous foster's house so it was just odd that he had a whole host of them for this family. Personally, I think it was their handling skills and their expectations :), but it doesn't matter. It was deemed that Ice was fine and he would stay at the training facility in Illinois. That was fine with me at first, but then it became apparent that Ice wasn't really getting what he needed.
The Second Time Around
Living at a training facility is very different from being in a home environment and Ice already had 'bonding' issues - he wasn't very sociable and didn't work easily with people. So after realizing he was actually deteriorating at the training facility, we made plans to move him back to me. Oddly, he came to me both times in May and left both times in September - just a year apart.
|Bourbon and Ice hanging out in the living room.|
When I got him back he was a wreck. His reactivity towards things moving outside the house was way worse and his spinning/pacing behavior had increased drastically. Plus, he now marked in the house and was peeing in his crate (which got everywhere since it was a wire crate!). I promptly put him in Clomipramine (an anti-anxiety medication) once we figured out there was no way I could interrupt or redirect his spinning and pacing. The poor boy hardly ever stopped pacing and he wasn't relaxing even at bedtime :(. The Clomipramine took the edge off but it still didn't make that much of a difference. I had resumed his morning runs with me but that wasn't going well either. He had become reactive towards people while out on our runs.
It was devastating to see him in this state. My dogs were completely scared of him and refused to even go into the same room he was in. He must have been giving off some scary vibes. I had put cardboard up in my windows so that he couldn't see anything moving past on the sidewalk. I kept all the windows closed and played the radio on low volume 24/7 so that he couldn't distinctly hear people moving past on the sidewalk either. My house felt like a prison and it was affecting my human relationships (no one could come over because he would explode) and my dog's personalities (they were so oppressed and basically walked on egg shells in case he exploded). It was horrible. And I know that I have a higher tolerance to deal with behavior than the average adopter. What adopter would be able to deal with this?
|Ice was not a cuddle bug but he could certainly pull off the cute face!|
I gave it 4 months. Four months that felt like eternity. And then I had to face the decision - is he adoptable? But more importantly was the question - what is his quality of life? At this point, his quality of life was shitty. Just plain shitty. He wasn't comfortable in his own skin. There was never a relaxing moment for him. He hardly slept. I couldn't imagine being anxious every second of every single day but that was his reality, even with medication and some behavior modification. And the overarching complications - I didn't want to live with a dog like this, does anyone else? He couldn't stay at my house indefinitely as my dogs were undeniably affected by him and their quality of life comes first. Who could adopt this dog and stay sane?
I made the decisioin - The.Hardest.Decision.Of.My.Life. I let him go and freed him from his internal distress. I was with him the entire time and it just about killed me. It still bothers me to this day and probably always will. There will always be those thoughts that haunt me - what if I could have done more? What if I had tried this? What if I had known this back then? Thousands of what ifs swirl through my mind every single time I think about Ice. But truthfully I feel I did the best thing for HIM. It certainly wasn't the best thing for me, I would much rather have placed him in a forever home. But what would the life he faced consist of with his extreme anxiousness, reactiveness, and unsocialness?
His background before coming into rescue certainly played a part (an outdoor dog, if I remember right he was a junkyard dog with no name) and his genetics probably weren't the best. Could he have been 'fixed'? I honestly don't think so, he was so far gone. Could his personality have been altered with a different 'puppyhood'? Most certainly but that is a moot point now. In the end it doesn't matter. I gave him the only gift I had left to give him.