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Monday, April 22, 2013

Puppy Fostering: Things They Don't Tell YOU!

Yes, I got coerced into fostering 2 pups from a rescue, Mercy's Door.
I have a friend and dog trainer to thank for this (becoming a foster) but I was severe about my timing.  I could not take them until April 7th, 2013, much as they wanted me to take them 5 days earlier.

It was a sad story as most rescued pups are.  Mom Addie had run away, leaving her pups behind.  When they were finally turned in to the shelter, in a filthy box, malnourished, Momma Addie started to care for them.  But her milk was drying up.....This is where Foster Mom Tracy and her family took on the monumental task for caring for a mother dog and her six puppies.

Addie, by the way, as of  this writing (4/22/13) is still waiting for her Forever Home and is, by all accounts, a sweetheart!

The spousal unit drove us down to Wooster to rendezvous with the interim foster mom, Katie.  We transferred the two urchins in their crate to our car and proceed home.

And yes, they got car sick.  Harbinger of things to come...

And now for THINGS THEY DON'T TELL YOU, abbreviation: TTDTY.

In no particular order.....

TTDTY#1: Puppies are messy.  
OK, granted they tell you they're messy but nothing can prepare the novice for exactly HOW much mess two eight week old puppies can generate. Nothing.  Even if you have done the puppy thing before, you will have forgotten the magnitude of it all. You will spend the next 2-8 weeks in perpetual cleaning mode. 

Picture it this way: Two puppies equals two mobile kids in diapers with diarrhea and head colds.

TTDTY#2 Pee pads are great! In theory.  
As long as the puppies don't try to dismember or eat them, they are a great idea.  I found that if I could anchor them under newspapers and under the x-pen, they were useful. 

TTDTY#3 You will need an X-pen. 
Preferably one that's about 3 feet high.  (Mine are higher.)  And one with a door (all mine were in use pretending to be fences) and one that clips shut, not one that is in a continual circle.  That is a first class pain the in ass.  You need to be able to get in and out fast. 
I don't get why anyone wouldn't utilize an x-pen.  It's crazy.  
These puppy suckers are:
1) Faster than you can imagine.  They are out of sight in a nano-second
2) Destructive
3) NOT house-trained
4) You need to contain the madness for your own sanity.  Plus your resident dogs need a break.

TTDTY#4 No matter how many newspapers you have, you'll need more. 
Trust me, you'll need more. I would go through a well stuffed large kitchen trash bag a day, sometimes two. If yu don't get a newspaper, hit up all your neighbors for theirs.  If no one in your neighborhood reads a newspaper, shame on them. Subscribe. 

TTDTY#5 Stack up on large kitchen trash bag and have a trash can near the x-pen.
This make clean up fairly easy.  It only took me three days to figure that one out. Genius.  Not. 

TTDTY#6 SAFETY FIRST! Hire/bribe a young kid (elementary school age works) to get down on the floor and check for Bad Things Your Pups Might Get Into!  
You can also ask a flexible adult to help with this. If I get down there, I might not get back up.
Bad Things include:
1) Wires of any kind
2) Outlets
3) Small spaces underneath furniture.  Puppies would love nothing better than to disembowel the underside of your furniture.
You need to block them off.  I used a combo of sturdy cardboard boxes, book cases turned around and bricks.  Bricks are surprisingly handy to have around the house.  So are x-pens!

Also: TTDYT#6A Have another set of eyes check your backyard for escapes hatches, dangerous items etc.
I had four friends check our yard and block questionable areas. I still had to be wary and block some areas even after getting the puppies.
And pick up all your resident dog poop before the pups get there.

TTDTY#7 If your resident dog(s) aren't crate trained, get anxious in a crate or being confined in any way, your life has just become a thousand times more stressful.  
Even if your resident dog(s) get along fantastically with the pups, everyone needs a time out. If you have an x-pen, this can provide a time out.  If you need to leave the room or house for any reason, everyone needs to be shut up safely.
I personally would not foster if my dogs weren't crate trained. Being able to kennel my dogs was a Godsend.

TTDTY#8 For every puppy, you need a crate,  Preferably a wire crate.  
Now I love Vari-kennels and I use them a lot. but for puppies, they are not quite as practical UNLESS they are the quick open kind, with the clips on the sides. You're going to be cleaning those suckers.
Here is an Example.
They will start out crating together but sooner than later, they need to be separated.  I housed mine right next to each, in between my dogs.
You want to start feeding them separately so you can see how much each eats.  The crates are ideal for this.
I lined mine with newspapers and then small old blankets (not the filled, comforter kind) thrown in there, along with a Kong.

TTDTY#9 You will need toys.  Lots of toys. 
There are two categories of toys.
1) One that you can fairly safely leave alone with the puppies, like a black Kong.

Don't go for those cute puppy Kongs.  Go for the full court press!  A medium size is fine for most pups.  Ours were about the size of a smaller pug, about 10-13 pounds.

Or invest in a Gonuts dog toy.  I know I've spelled that wrong. These things are amazing and made in America!

Here's an informational video.

2) The other kind is the "You Must Be There With It At ALL Times" Toy.  These include anything with a squeaker, stuffing, rope toys, sticks, rocks, plastic pop bottles. The SoBe bottles are supposed to be the best of the best.  Pop bottles make great toys! A stick can amuse your puppy for quite a while, actually. A friend suggested boxes from the liquor store, which is an inspired idea!

TTDTY#9 No matter your age, athletic level, abilities, eyesight, hearing, mobility you need Ninja-like reflexes and gorilla-length arms. 
If pup is in to something s/he shouldn't be, you have to be on top of them, with your fingers in their mouths, removing said object from them. Even if means scaling a fence like Base Runner or going under on like a WW2 escaping POW.

TTDTY#10 Be prepared to spend money. 
You WILL spend money.  
Have extra money or a credit card for vet visits, having an All Positive Trainer to help you or hiring a Dog Sitter for an evening or afternoon.  
If you cannot budget for extra money, DO NOT FOSTER!!
You never know.  Rescues are almost always cash-poor.  Do not count on the rescue to have a huge budget.  You are going to need to pitch in and money is one of the "pitch-in" ways.
It's one of the unwritten things about rescued animals...they may need vet care. My female pup did after her spay.
1) If you have an older dog, you made need help from a professional trainer.  You want one that is a CPDT certified. At least.  Anyone who uses "e collars", force training or "shock" collar training is a huge no-no.  Even if it means you have to travel an hour or more to take your foster to class, do it.

2) Dog classes if you're going to have them for a while. I was prepared to take these little guys to a Puppy Class.  If you have an older dog, I'd recommend a dog training class.
3) We needed a pet sitter one evening so we could go to a friend's birthday party. That cost money ($20 and food) but it was worth it.
4) You may have to kennel your OWN dogs. I had to do that with a year old cattledog that I fostered for a week.  He was dog-aggressive.
5) We actually had an experienced trainer friend to facilitate the meet and greet between the puppies and our resident dogs.

Keep track of all expenditures, they are most likely a tax-write-off if the rescue is non-profit.

TTDTY#11 They are NOT yours but you have to care for them like they WERE yours. 

TTDTY#12 Your residents dogs come first. 
This one is hard because fosters, especially puppies, take a tremendous amount of time and care.  You have to know your resident dogs very well.  How much stress can they take. When do they need a time out?  Do they need a Safe Place?
I created one for my female dog, Elke by putting an x-pen around 2 chairs and did not allow the squirts to bark at her.

TTDTY#13 You are the Foster Parent.  You and your family have every right to grill prospective owners like a flounder on the fire.  You've been living with these dogs for XYZ  period of time and you know them well.
The idea of fostering is prepare these pups (or adult dog) for its new home.  Period.  That's your job.   Just like a responsible breeder of purebred dogs, you should be asking way more questions than the prospective owner asks you. If you have concerns, you need to address them.
If it doesn't feel right, just say NO!  Puppies usually have a lot of prospective owners. Older dogs are tougher.

TTDTY#14 Dog savvy kids are your foster puppy's best asset. 
Use them.
Corbin, a 2nd grader, holds Hope
while Artie looks on.
I was very fortunate to have a friend with three great kids.  I shamelessly used them.
Set down some ground rules, stick to them, keep an eye out and let them go to it.
I'd use around 2nd grade and older kids.  Make sure they are dog savvy.  Ask yourself:
1) How are your dogs with them?
2) How are they with their own dogs?
3) Do you like their family dog(s)?
That's a great indicator.
Kids have endless energy and can tire out your pups.  Plus the photo ops are an added plus.

Speaking of photos:

TTDTY#15 Take pictures.  Lots of pictures. 
Like you have spare time to do this?  
I know, I know.  
But try.  Even if they are stupid cell photos.  
Puppies change daily and you need a record.  Plus good puppy pictures can benefit the Rescue....if one great picture is good, why not have 5 on that PetFinder page?  
Remember the Photo Rate of Attrition: For every 10 photos you take, one will be good-great. 
Also shoot some video!
If you have a friend with a good camera, enlist them. Pizza and booze are a nice way to say thanks!

TTDTY#16 Canned PLAIN pumpkin (NOT for a pumpkin pie, no spices!) is your friend.
Puppies poop and because of their uncanny ability to ingest all manner of strange sh*t, they get the sh*ts fairly often.  Adding canned pumpkin; about a teaspoon to one or more feedings can help this.  Don't ask me why but it sure helped with these guys.  I also used a pinch of Fortflora, which I got from my vet. 

TTDTY#17 Peanut butter (plain) is your friend.  
Use it to give pills, stuff a Kong or safe old bone for busy time. 

TTDTY#18 You will need poop bags. Lots and lots of poop bags. 
You need to carry said poop bags with you all times or have a dispenser in your yard. Both would be better. If you're like me and wear your PJs way too much of the time, use a bait bag or Spibelt to carry poop bags with you at all time. 
Quick clean-up is essential!
You can order poop bags online: Bags On Board.  I like these a lot, they are pretty sturdy and great for small to medium-large poops. 
You can use grocery bags, Walmart bags, the bags your newspaper comes in. You can use sandwich bags.

TTDYT#18A ALL Puppies eat their poop.  
At least mine did.  Puppies eat everything so why not their poop?
I can only imagine that it's because it's:
1) A nasty dog thing.  
2) These puppies were found in a box of their own filth and they were hungry.  You eat what's there. Ick.
This is one of those times when you need your Ninja-like reflexes because they can poop, turn, scarf that poop faster than you can say, "Bob's your uncle!'
TTDTY#19 At some point in the process, you will have a total complete melt-down. 
It could be because you've just cleaned out the puppy pen then there was a rampant case of diarrhea and the pup smeared it all over himself. 
It could be that day when you realize that they are leaving. 
That day they have gone. 
You will become a blithering, yowling, howling, weeping, screaming mass of harridan, incomprehensible humanity. 
Guy or gal, I don't care who you are. It's going to happen. 

TTDTY#20 Sleep?  Mwah-hah-hah!  What sleep? 
You sleep when they sleep. 
Get used to napping. 
See the Baby reference in #1

TTDTY#21 They are the ear-splitting, sonic-boom noise makers of the animal kingdom. 
They scream, whine, howl, bark at rock-concert-deafening proportions. Even if they are sleeping through the night, you'll hear them in the wee, small hours of the morning. They will shatter your dreams.  Unless you are like my Spousal Unit who takes his "ears' out at night. That noise pierces through door, ceilings, whole houses and outside. 

TTDTY#22 There are few things more enchanting that a sleeping puppy. Especially when they've crashed in your arms. 
It doesn't last long.  Enjoy it.  I watched ten episodes of THE WEST WING while Hope was recovering from her spay.  Thank God for a remote and Netflix.

TTDTY#23 It's wonderful moment when they gaze lovingly into your eyes and lick your face.
It doesn't last long.  Enjoy it.  They are yours only for a little while. 

TTDTY#24 All those friends and family members who joyfully said, "We'll help you!" won't. 
Granted, you WILL get some folks to help but you'll have to ask, ask, ask. Just don't count on it.  

TTDTY#25 Expect The Unexpected. 
This could be anything from someone giving you stuff you needed, free! It could be a meal cooked, people messing with your pups and giving them great socialization, to your own dog turning into Cujo to illness to even death. The part that made me mentally hold my breath is that one of these little guys would get severely injured or even die. See TTDTY#11

TTDTY#26 Learn The Shuffle.
There are two kinds of Shuffles.  
1) The Crate Shuffle.  Where you manage upset, stressed, needing-time-out dogs by crating some and letting others loose. The Crate Shuffle is busy at its best; stressful and exhausting at its very worse. 
2) The Foot Shuffle.  This is a the awkward gait that one gets when you have puppies underfoot.  they can and will trip you up so it's best to practice this before you get them.  Your feet never leave the floor. Think of yourself as 101 years old.

TTDTY#27 You will need slip-on shoes with NO shoelaces. Shoelaces are crack for puppies. 
Artie playing with Hope and Dozer

TTDTY#28 Your resident dogs will amaze you. 
In my case, Elke thought she'd died and gone to hell. We had to watch her inside with them as she became overwhelmed with their playing. She learned what, "Do you need a safe place?" meant.  Two chairs surrounded by the x-pen. 
Artie, my 18 month old Australian cattledog, thought he'd died and gone to heaven.  He was absolutely amazing with these puppies.  He played with them, disciplined them, broke up fight, slept by their puppy pen, waggled toys in front of them, watched over them. He was a super Uncle to these pups. 

Which leads me to:

TTDTY#29 Know your dogs. Know their noises, body language etc.
Older dogs will discipline your puppies. That's a given. 
The first time it happens, it's going to sound and look awful.  If there's no horrible shrieking, no blood and no marks, chances are you're ok. Just monitor your dogs and watch them for signs of stress. 

TTDTY#30 Have resource people you can actually TALK to.  
Facebook, Twitter and emails all have their place but you will need instant contact and that's the good old phone.  Your resource people could be a trainer, an experienced dog friend who has had puppies before and/or the rescue agency. 
If the rescue does not have people you can contact easily: DO NOT FOSTER THROUGH THIS RESCUE. They should be there for you at all times. 

TTDYT#31 At some point in this whole process, you WILL pick up poop with your bare hands. 
It's part of the indoctrination to Puppy Foster Parenthood. 
You will also: 
1) step in sh*t (preferably in your socks because you forgot TTDYT#27).
2) step in pee (preferably in bare feet or with socks on). 
3) get peed on. 
4) get puked on.
5) become adept at improvising things to pick up puppy sh*t with.  (Big leaves can do the job.)

TTDYT#32 Stock up on laundry supplies, towels, rags etc.

Trust me, you don't have enough. 

TTYDT#33 Do not foster unless you have a lot of free time. 
It is much more time consuming than you would imagine. 

TTDYT#34 Learn to eat on the run and eat whatever is available. 
Your diet, unless you are prepared, is going right down the crapper. You don't have time to make a friggin' salad. You'll eat cold pizza standing up and like it. 

TTDYT#35 Have a To-Go Puppy Package for the new owners.
Mine contained a big amount of their current food, any meds with instructions, phone numbers for the rescue contacts, toys (Kongs, a rope toy, a clutch ball) and a old blanket or towel that they'd be sleeping on and that I had wiped my dogs' bellies and butts with plus some of my sweat. That way, they'd have a smell of "home" when they get to their new home.

TTYDT#36 Pray.  Fostering is a religious experience.  
You'll pray for patience, tolerance, psychic powers, a strong heart. 
You pray that your breath comes back after an, "OHMYGOD, where the hell is the puppy?" moment. You pray that they find their responsible  loving forever homes quickly and live in health and happiness until, old, grey, adored, it's their time to go to The Bridge.  
You pray you won't get them back.  
You pray you can let them go into an uncertain future.
You pray that the gods will watch over them always. 
You pray to be a good Foster Parent.

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