By Tonya Kniest
I read Ardeth’s blog, Kudos to Old Dog Haven Final Refuge Families, a few weeks ago where she praised the work we fosters put in for our dogs within our families at home. All of it is absolutely true; it can be an emotional roller coaster.
But the best thing about that ride is that we fosters in the organization are a family as well. The support that we can and do give each other is incomparable.
It struck me when a couple other fosters and I represented ODH at a dog event in our town recently, and one told a visitor, “we’re a very close-knit group.” We are a network of 220 homes from almost-Canada, WA to practically-Portland, OR. Yet, thanks to email and social media, someone is accessible nearly any time of day or night.
We have our blood family and non-rescue friends for support, but when it starts to look like it might be time to let a Final Refuge dog cross the bridge, the people who can relate the best are the ones who have done it before, some hundreds of times. Some dogs that are pulled from shelters might have only days left, while others might have made it five years. It hurts all the same. Even if it’s not their time to go, abnormal blood results or an unexpected illness can take us by surprise. It’s almost a guarantee that someone else has had a similar experience.
Our Director, “Mom” if we want to keep the metaphor going, Judith Piper, is available by phone or email almost every hour of the day. Having seen thousands of dogs go through Old Dog Haven in the last 13 years, she can offer rational perspective and emotional support all at the same time. She has her own group of sick, broken, or healing dogs to care for yet doesn’t hesitate to listen or read and respond thoroughly and thoughtfully. Mom will also tell you if you’re being ridiculous, not that I’d know.
My “big sisters” [notice I didn’t say older – they might be reading] who have been fostering for years are invaluable as well. I’m relatively a newbie with my second Final Refuge dog in two years, so I often get riddled with self-doubt. But whether it’s meeting for lunch, an hour long private chat on Facebook, or asking questions in our private fosters group, the ODH family members are there to listen, offer advice, and when the time comes, share in the grief.
We continually thank each other for taking care of the dogs. We cheer their milestones together. We cry together.
It made for a touching moment recently. After a harrowing night in the ER with my pup, I went to the Walk for Old Dogs. I needed to be with my family, and with tears in my eyes I said aloud for the first time his possible diagnosis, two of them hugged me so I could let it out. I offered the same comfort in return to a foster who is facing the same prognosis.
There are non-teary moments, too. Each year in addition to the Walk we have a Volunteers and Fosters picnic. This family reunion is where we can all get together to eat, laugh, compare the antics of our dogs, and swap supplies and goodies that we no longer need. Even more, we get to meet in person other fosters (and their dogs!) with whom we’ve bonded over Facebook but live hours apart and have never actually seen. I was excited to meet a what felt like a long-lost sister and doggie niece last year.
For me, this family was the delightfully unexpected part of becoming an Old Dog Haven Final Refuge foster. I had expected to have a dog put into my life and be on my own with my vet. Instead, I got sisters, brothers, canine nieces and nephews, and probably that crazy old uncle that no one talks about.
So, if you live in western Washington and have considered fostering with Old Dog Haven but are concerned about going it alone, you don’t have to. Come on in and join the family. It truly is like no other. Check out our website: www.olddoghaven.org for more information.