Becoming an Old Dog Haven Home
Thanks for your interest in caring for a senior dog! Being an ODH Home is a big commitment and is not a job for everyone. It takes a considerable amount of time, dedication, caring and patience as well as adaptability and ability to deal with difficulties. Providing a wonderful home for an aging dog for the rest of his life, whether that is a short while or longer, may start out as an act of kindness but we believe you will soon feel that the rewards you receive in love and satisfaction have more than repaid you for all the effort.
Please note: We are only able to place ODH dogs in geographic areas where there is emergency/specialty veterinary care.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FOSTERING FOR ODH:
Where do the dogs that need ODH homes come from? Most dogs who need our homes come from one of the many area shelters. A few come from owners who have to give up their dogs. Most often these dogs come to us in poor condition, in poor health, and very anxious from being abandoned. Most of these dogs are NOT posted on our website, rather they are on our office’s waiting list.
Do I get to choose the dog I take into care? We take great care to match the most appropriate dog to your living situation and family, and will suggest what we think will be a good match – you can say yea or nay. It is very important to understand that, in nearly all cases, you will NOT be able to meet the dog in advance nor to introduce it to your own dogs in advance. When we agree to take a dog we are committing to it, and would never send the dog back unless there was serious aggression involved. It is a leap of faith that we will choose a dog likely to succeed in your situation and that you can make it work. It nearly always does – these are nice old dogs who adjust amazingly well – but we can’t guarantee that there won’t be challenges.
Will my ODH dog be house-trained? We find that nearly all of the dogs have been house-trained at one time, but some may need a “refresher course”; many may need a few days to settle in and get into a routine. Please remember that senior dogs very often need more frequent potty breaks, even as often as every 4-5 hours (some medical conditions may require breaks even more often). We can never guarantee how a particular dog will act in a particular environment. Rule of thumb: Expect accidents in the beginning!
How long will I keep my ODH dog? This is the very hardest question to answer. Nearly all the dogs we take in are clearly NOT going to be adoptable, so will stay with you in Final Refuge care until there is no longer a good quality of life. The average time is a bit over a year, but it could be a few weeks or several years. Our best guess with any particular dog can be wrong. It is best to consider ALL of our dogs as hospice. (We do take dogs for very short-term hospice care; if you have the heart for this we’d love to talk to you!) Occasionally there is a dog we DO expect to post for adoption after “deferred maintenance” is completed. Normally, adoptable dogs will be with you around 4 months. A few of the other dogs MAY become adoptable depending on how their health assessments come out. If the dog does seem healthy enough after “deferred maintenance” is completed, we will post him for adoption. Typically we may have 5-10 adoptable dogs in a year, many of whom are adopted by their ODH foster family.
- If you are not comfortable doing adoptions at all, we will match you with a dog that we know will stay with you permanently.
- If you are interested only in doing adoptions, we will try to send you a dog that likely will be healthy enough. However, please understand that we don’t get many of those dogs so may not have a match for you in the near future. If the dog we hope will be adoptable turns out not to be, we will work to find a Final Refuge home for him but that can take some time.
- Do not approach ODH fostering with the thought “We will see how it goes.” Please remember that you are making a commitment. We do not have back up homes if you change your mind; the need is so great that we use every possible spot to help as many dogs as possible. We will of course relocate the dog if there is an emergency or if animals/people are in danger, but we are counting on you to commit to this dog barring major problems. We have a good protocol for introducing a new dog to your home that will usually make things go smoothly, but the major factor is your confidence that it will!
What does “Final Refuge” mean? If ODH has determined that a dog is not adoptable or shouldn’t be moved again, then permanent foster care – what we call Final Refuge – is needed to provide a safe loving home for the last months or years of his life. (You might call this “doggie assisted living and hospice”.) Most dogs come to ODH clearly needing Final Refuge care because of advanced age (usually 13+) or medical conditions. Many, however, have some time ahead given proper care, but have a chronic or expensive condition which makes them unappealing to adopters. We provide support, advice, and help with end-of-life decisions but you commit to be with your ODH dog to the end – we find that the rewards of providing a loving safe home far outweigh the pain of losing a friend. (See more about End-of-Life Care below.)
What expenses are paid for my ODH dog? All vet bills and medical supplies are paid directly by ODH, including any prescription diet food. We provide a 6-month supply of flea treatment and supplements (after that period you are responsible for these supplies except if prescription) and as much advice as needed. The foster family is responsible for providing the foster dog with good quality dog food, grooming, basic supplies, etc. A note: Many breeds (especially the small ones and spaniels) require regular professional grooming – usually every 8-10 weeks. ODH will pay for an initial grooming since the dogs often come to us in desperate need but thereafter this is the foster parent’s responsibility. If that is not within your budget, please let us know so we can match you to a dog who won’t need professional grooming. ODH neither provides nor pays for the care of your dog when you go on vacation—this would be your responsibility. Many of our foster homes trade vacation care but you would need to make those arrangements and there are no guarantees that someone will be available.
May I use my own veterinarian? We have relationships established with particular clinics and doctors in various areas and will ask that you see one of our doctors. It will most likely not be the doctor you see with your own dogs. Because it can be hard for doctors to remember which dog is your personal dog and which is ODH, we may ask you to go to a different clinic even if yours is an ODH site.
What are my responsibilities as an ODH Home (foster parent)? The first and most important responsibility is to commit (and have all in your household in agreement) to the dog. A foster parent needs to be available to get the foster dog to various vet/specialist visits; there may be many in the beginning as we catch up on deferred maintenance and get the dog back to good health. Keep in mind that specialists and medical procedures are rarely available on weekends and you might be asking your employer for frequent time off. Some at-home care is usually required; this may involve basic grooming, bathing, administering medications, ear cleaning etc.
Communication with ODH is very important to us – we rely heavily on email – and your input is needed in planning and arranging care for your dog. Flexibility is another key factor as we are never quite sure what to expect of a dog coming from a shelter or from previous owners. We get as much information as possible but there are always surprises. You’ll need to be able to “roll with the punches” and try to work around some challenges as they arise, but you’ll always have the support of ODH staff and foster homes.
Can I foster if I have other pets at home? Absolutely! It’s far preferable, actually, for most of our dogs – they like doggie company. Provided that:
(a) your pets will accept and tolerate unknown dogs coming into their territory and sharing their human. We may know a bit about how a dog gets along with other dogs/cats before it goes into a home, but we can never guarantee it.
(b) your dogs are spayed/neutered and have vaccines up to date, including Bordetella*.
Do know that if you foster for other organizations, especially young dogs, we may not want to risk placing one of our immune-compromised dogs with you. For the same reason we do not place dogs in homes where there are boarding kennels or on-site dog sitting. Our dogs are susceptible to whatever client dogs might bring in (even when they appear healthy), but also our dogs can come from shelters with something that could infect client dogs.
*Kennel cough/Bordetella vaccine (which should be given every 6 months if you foster): Shelter dogs often arrive with kennel cough which is easily transmitted to other dogs; in younger dogs it’s no worse than a cold, in older dogs it can lead to serious problems. We can’t guarantee your dogs won’t pick up a respiratory bug though vaccinations help a great deal. We don’t knowingly place a dog with kennel cough into a home with other senior dogs but we don’t always know in advance. Being current on Bordetella vaccination is for your dog’s benefit. You should also know that shelter dogs sometimes come with giardia, which can be transmitted to your dogs and thus require treating them as well. Other parasites are also possible. And of course, your dogs should be treated regularly with flea preventative since many dogs come to us with flea infestations. We are very proactive about preventing parasite or flea infections but…..
Can I foster if I work full time? Although no one is disqualified because of a work schedule; it is very important that your foster dog:
(a) have access to frequent potty breaks (we prohibit nearly all our dogs from being left outside even with shelter during the work day – there may be an occasional exception) – usually no more than 4-5 hours without a break unless there is a dogdoor. When thinking about fostering an old dog, don’t depend on pee pads being an alternative to breaks outside—not all our dogs will use them), and not all our dogs like riding in a car to go with you.
(b) isn’t left alone for long without at least other dogs or perhaps dog-friendly cats for companionship;
(c) can get to various vet appointments (including dental/surgery drop-offs and pickups) during regular weekday hours when necessary. We of course find it easier to match dogs to families that are home much of the time and it is really tough to find an abandoned senior dog that is comfortable left at home alone all day without other dogs. Since our dogs have all been abandoned the hardest thing for them usually is being left alone.
Because we know it could be difficult to find a dog that is comfortable being left for long periods, if you work 9-10 hour days with no one else home we will likely suggest you consider an option other than fostering an ODH dog.
What is separation anxiety? Will my ODH dog have it? Separation anxiety (SA) is an extreme reaction on the part of the dog to seeing their person leave the house. It is like a panic attack in people. The dog doesn’t know that you will return—his last person didn’t. A dog with separation anxiety will bark, whine, or howl. He may scratch at doors or windows, destroy things, be incontinent, pace, pant, or try to escape. We can’t anticipate which dogs will have significant SA, but all ODH dogs will have some anxiety initially and you should plan to be home with your dog until he is settled in and then start with short times away. Having another dog, or sometimes even a friendly cat, for companionship can help that transition, and your pet’s calm acceptance of being home without you can help show the new guy that there is nothing to fear. If your ODH dog does have ongoing and severe SA it can mean a commitment of time and patience to help him learn that he is not being abandoned again and that you will always come back. We will help with suggestions and support, as will other ODH foster families who have worked through this issue.
Can I foster if I don’t have a fenced yard? If you’re willing to take a senior dog (who usually needs to go out more often than younger dogs) out on a leash several times a day no matter the weather, then having a fenced yard is not a must for most of the dogs.
Can I foster if I live in an apartment or condo? If you live in an apartment we will be cautious about the dog we would place with you. We don’t know which dogs will bark when left alone or will have significant separation anxiety. If you are in an upstairs apartment it may be particularly tough to find a good match. Going down multiple flights of stairs or an elevator ride may be longer than an old dog is able to wait. If you are a college student, we will likely not place a dog with you right now. Young people have busy social lives and have not yet settled into a permanent home. Wait to apply when you have a job that you know will allow you the time and flexibility that an ODH dog requires and you have settled into the home where you anticipate staying for at least the next couple years.
Will my dog be crate trained? We don’t know. But keep in mind that the ODH dog has most likely just come from a shelter where they have been contained in small spaces much of the time. A crate can be a frightening thing for our dogs. Also, having limited ability to move around can be very hard on old muscles and joints. Of course there are dogs who consider a crate to be their personal space and having an open crate available can help them feel safe. Crates also can be helpful during mealtime to give a dog their own space to eat. We will ask that an ODH dog not be required to sleep at night in a closed crate, or in another part of the house. Most all of these dogs want and need to be close to their person, either in your bed or their own bed on the floor near you.
Can I foster if I have children at home? For the most part, we find that young children (especially toddlers) and anxious senior dogs who aren’t feeling well are not a good mix. For a dog not used to children the normal abrupt and – to the dog – unpredictable movements and sounds of young children can be frightening. Because we rarely know a dog’s history with children, we are VERY careful about matching the right dog to a home with younger kids. If you have children visiting periodically (e.g. grandchildren), you should have a quiet place where you can separate the ODH dog from the kids until you know how he reacts, and a place he can go when he needs his own space. Keep in mind that a lot of coming and going, whether children or multiple adults, will make it difficult for an old dog to adjust.
Other things to think about:
- Are you comfortable with communicating regularly by email with ODH staff and accepting our guidance on care for the dog? We will work closely with the vets and make decisions for vet care. We don’t interfere much but we have the final responsibility and a great deal of experience. The dog belongs to ODH but we feel that good teamwork is really important. We try to be very supportive!
- Although we are there with advice and support, our dogs come with issues and are probably not right for the novice dog owner or for those who have not had previous experience with the heartache of saying good-bye.
- Are there smokers in your home? Many of our dogs come to us with respiratory issues and many others will develop problems. For this reason we cannot place our dogs in situations where they are exposed to smoke.
- If the dog is adoptable: Are you willing to take pictures, make notes about his personality and behavior, and to introduce the dog to potential adopters? We would do the “marketing” and screen potential adopters, but you would be responsible for the introduction and for judging the suitability of personalities and how well the dog likes the adopter. We have an adoption agreement and an outline of procedures; you would be responsible for paperwork and collecting the adoption fee.
A note about end-of-life care
While it is always sad to lose one of our dogs, our mission is to give each dog the loving home that they so deserve for their final days whether it is a short or extended time. We think you will find it greatly rewarding.
Our philosophy is: We will do as much as we can to ensure quality of life, to make the dog content, safe and comfortable for as long as he is with us. When the bad days are outnumbering the good ones, when his life is not comfortable or he begins to feel vulnerable, we avoid heroic measures to prolong life and we believe in euthanasia as the most important gift we can give at that point. We will help you with this decision (and will support your choice), or you can speak with a staff member who does a great deal of counseling about these issues. Please be sure you are comfortable with our philosophy.
If you feel ready to be an ODH Home we would love to consider you. Please email us for an application, telling about your situation and preferences. The more homes we have, the more dogs we can help. There is nothing like the feeling that you were able to make the last few months or years of a dog’s life the very best they ever had.
Contact Information [Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the complete application form.]
email@example.com **email is the fastest and most reliable way to reach us**
Phone and message line: 206-280-7614
P.O. Box 1409; Oak Harbor, WA 98277-1409
INTRODUCING A “NEW” OLD DOG TO YOUR HOUSEHOLD
An old dog coming to a new home is most likely shell-shocked, usually will withdraw for a while and then slowly figure out that it’s OK, and will then be quite needy for a while. He may well attach himself to you like Velcro – you’re his savior! Here are some guidelines:
- For at least two days keep him on a leash (see below about dog introductions) except in a VERY securely fenced yard. Remember that a frightened or confused dog may bolt from a strange place. This is particularly true in the first few hours after arrival. Keep him on a leash even in the house if he seems agitated or wants to pace (or confront the cats or mark his territory!). No off-leash parks or romps for at least a couple of weeks.
- As soon as you have him home, show him the acceptable potty place. Take him out there first thing in the morning, last thing at night, before or after meals, midday. Presume that he may have forgotten his training, or that he may be so stressed that he can’t help it, and keep a close eye on him. Praise him for going in the right place; don’t correct an accident unless you catch him IN THE ACT. Often a well-housetrained dog in your family will just show him the ropes, given a bit of time. Use Nature’s Miracle or some enzyme cleaner on any accident spots or the smell will attract him back.
- Next, show him around the house (on a leash). If he doesn’t see or hear well, go slowly and let him sniff. Then, try to sit down quietly and read or watch TV and let him absorb it all for a while.
- At night, use a crate if you wish (placed in the bedroom or right outside it so he feels part of the pack) or show him his bed and leave him there for the first night (you can even tether him there if he seems especially restless). He’ll want to be near one of the humans, don’t shut him away. But don’t let him sleep on the bed yet!
- Feed small amounts for the first day or two, using any food that came with him and gradually mixing in whatever you choose to feed. He may vomit from nerves, don’t panic.
- Avoid unnecessary stress until he feels safe with you. Wait 2-3 days to begin the beauty treatment; however, if nails are very long start on those as soon as he seems comfortable. Don’t bathe yet except for emergencies (= you can’t stand to be in the room with him). If he is very matted, cut away the worst of them and trim away from his eyes but wait to do the groomer for a few days. Try not to have visitors or take him to strange places for the first week (the vet will be a necessary evil).
- What takes patience is letting him get used to a new routine, showing him what’s expected without putting too much pressure on. DON’T HOVER, don’t shower him with attention, let him relax and work his way into the family. Ignore him for as much as possible, as hard as that is. You need to be the leader and he will find his place with time. Don’t be surprised if he sleeps a great deal once he relaxes.
*INTRODUCING TO THE OTHER DOG(S)
- If your existing dog tends to be territorial, it’s best to let the dogs meet in a neutral place (not in your yard or home). It’s often good to just put them both on a leash and go for a brisk walk together, 5-10 minutes should do. Put one on either side of you or get help.
- If your dog is good with others, it works well to let them meet WITHOUT LEASHES in a very safe spot, not too small – leave room for maneuvering. Don’t worry if they play-skirmish a bit, they have to work out who is who. Try to ignore them and not referee.
- Feed the new dog well away from the others (in a crate if necessary), no treats for 2-3 days, no excited play with toys, no chewies close to the other dogs until the pecking order has settled.
- For a smooth adjustment, the most important thing is: PAY MOST ATTENTION TO THE RESIDENT DOG, pretty much ignore the new dog. This is the best way to avoid jealousy and let the new dog work into the pecking order. It’s tough but it’s very important!! and will go far to keep the new dog safe from bullying. Try to keep life the same for your existing dog.
- Remember that each of the dogs in your family may have some different privileges. Take some with you, take walks with some, let some on the bed, etc. As long as each gets his own special attention it will be fine. Don’t let those eyes make you feel guilty!
This all takes some effort for the first 2-3 days, but most old dogs very easily slip into the family and routine, asking little but to sleep and eat and be near you. You’ll feel how happy they become.