Fostering is amazing but it can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. It's not always cuddles and kisses, sometimes it's hard work, sleepless nights, and doubting yourself. All of these things are ok and doesn't make you a bad foster parent.
Let me tell you about my second foster dog, Layla. She has a complicated backstory but a very happy ending, but there were lots of bumps along the way.
A good friend of mine started fostering Layla through a shelter in late 2022. She was not doing great in there and needed to be out ASAP. Layla was about two years old at the time and was found as a stray. Being labeled as a stray doesn't mean they are a street dog and didn't have a previous family. It's possible that's what it could mean but in my experience, 99% of the time it means that their previous "family" didn't come to claim them or they were dumped.
My friend fostered Layla for about three months. During that time, she learned that Layla didn't know how to be a dog. She also didn't have any training, including potty training. She also started to notice that Layla had something going on neurologically. It appeared to be focal seizures so the shelter put her on seizure meds.
Several weeks later, she was still presenting with head bobbing and facial twitches and the seizure meds appeared to be not working. The shelter deemed her unadoptable by the public and was scheduled to be euthanized. I'm not mad at the shelter for making this decision and neither should you. I'm mad at her previous "family" that abandoned her when she needed them the most. The responsibility lies on us as dog parents, not shelters and rescues to clean up our mess when it's no longer convenient for us to have a dog.
Luckily, my friend was able to legally adopt her since she had been fostering her for so long and she was seeing progress with Layla. She also wanted to get a second medical opinion. By doing this, she literally SAVED her life! During her time fostering Layla, one of her resident dogs became very uncomfortable around Layla (even though he loves other dogs). Sometimes, dogs don't always prefer every dog and that's ok. It became an unideal situation and Layla needed to find another home (foster or permanent).
Even though she was legally adopted by my friend, the end goal was to always find a rescue for Layla and find her a forever home. She also needed to get additional testing done for whatever was going on neurologically.
Thankfully, Harbor of Hope Dog Rescue agreed to take Layla into their rescue and I somehow "convinced" my husband to foster her. I had dog sat Layla a couple times prior to fostering her fulltime and she was timid, quiet, calm, and so very sweet. Boy oh boy, did I have no idea at the time how my life was going to change. LOL.
My husband and I officially started fostering Layla on February 5, 2023. When her previous foster mom dropped her off, everything changed. Layla decided to come out of her shell since she was more comfortable with us, and we quickly realized that she does bark and we had some work to do. This was the start of our journey together. The first week was RUFF! We have only had senior dogs and fostered only one other dog who was also an older dog. Layla was the youngest dog we had cared for. Even though I've been a dog mom for over five years, Layla taught me that I know NOTHING about dogs. LOL.
We started kennel training almost immediately since she couldn't be trusted left out by herself when we would leave. She was destructive (and would eat things she shouldn't) and she would constantly bark at our cats and our senior dog Bonnie (definitely not allowed). Kennel training was going ok for a few days and then we started to notice her anxiety was increasing. It eventually got really bad and she would pee immediately in the kennel and that escalated into shitting in it. One night at 2 am, I checked on her and she was freaking out. There was pee and poop everywhere in her kennel and on her. Starting that day, both my husband and I knew that kennel training was out the window (at least temporarily) and we needed help.
We worked with Harbor of Hope and they put us in contact with their trainer. This was a game changer! Taylor, with Camp K9 in Fremont, Nebraska, came over for her first training session with us and Layla. I was stressed to the max. Layla wasn't sleeping through the night, she wasn't potty trained, and she had several undesirable behaviors. These behaviors included chewing on things she shouldn't (wood work, blankets, anything on the floor, etc.), jumping up and nipping, barking almost constantly at Bonnie and the cats, chasing the cats (she wanted to play), demand barking, and not being able to be kennel trained.
With the help and guidance of Taylor, we all agreed that the best thing for Layla at that time was to let her decompress for the next three weeks and to stop kennel training. This also meant that we had to limit her anxiety triggers which mainly included me leaving our home. If she saw me leave (even if it was just to go outside for a few mins.), she would lose her shit. She would franticly run around in circles, jump up on the door, bark, etc. My husband couldn't calm her down. It was like he didn't even exist to her (every straight man's worst nightmare about women). ;)
For the next several weeks, one of us had to always be home with her. We stopped kennel training but continued to feed her meals and enrichment in the kennel. She was always good with eating in her kennel and was never afraid of the it. She had confinement anxiety and would freak out if I would close the door (outside of mealtime), even if I was sitting next to her.
During those weeks, we worked on other training. Potty training went pretty good but she still had pee accidents once every few days for several weeks. I started to keep track and wrote down every time I would take her out and if she peed or pooped. If she had an accident, I made note of it including any signs that I missed. It's never a dog's fault so don't punish them. It's frustrating as hell and makes a mess, but it takes time, patience, and consistency.
We also worked on sit, down, stay, wait, and learning to be calm around Bonnie. She was always running into Bonnie out of excitement and not aware of her surroundings, especially around meal times. Bonnie eats slower so having Layla eat in her kennel allowed Bonnie the freedom to eat at her own pace without having to worry about Layla.
Fast forward to about two months later of fostering Layla and she turned into a completely different dog. I'm also 100% a completely different dog mom and all for the better! Layla got officially potty trained (bell trained), learned sit, down, stay, wait, crawl, shake, and leave it. She learned to not bark (as much) at every sound, or at the cats (even if she was only trying to play).
We also worked on kennel training again and went very slow with the process. With the guidance of her trainer, we kept in contact throughout the entire time and made adjustments as needed. We did eventually get to the point where both my husband and I could leave the house while Layla was in the kennel for a couple hours. She didn't always like the kennel when we left but she stopped having severe anxiety and accidents in it.
Every tear, self-doubt, and sleepless night was 1000% worth it! Layla truly taught me how to be a better dog mom, better foster dog mom, have more patience, and to never give up even when I wanted to. I learned how important consistency is when it comes to training, writing things down helped a lot so I could see the progress, and rewarding positive behavior is also key.
We ended up fostering Layla for about four months and she ended up getting adopted by an amazing family. She has two dog siblings, four cat siblings, mom, dad, and three human siblings.
I am so grateful we get to stay in touch with her new family and still get the cutest updates.
FOSTERING SAVES LIVES!
With love & pawsitivity,
Susie Cogswell, Cogs Dogs Mom