by Tammy Souch
When I began the ground work for this article, it didn’t dawn on me that it would be posted to the Bessie Mac website during Petfinder.com’s “Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet Week.” Petfinder.com has adopted September 17-25 as the week to put a spotlight on all of the wonderful pets out there who need someone to love and appreciate them just for who they are – no matter their size, fur color, or medical needs.
Truly it takes a special person to do just that, and Sharon Beckham, who lives outside of Kansas City, Mo., is an excellent example. She has adopted many of the world’s castaways, and believes that God brings each and every one to her for care. One of them she named Angel. Angel was a Schnauzer who had been dumped out in the country to fend for herself. She didn’t trust humans and would even bite Sharon. But time, patience, and lots of love and affection transformed Angel into a beautiful, loving dog. After spending nine full years with Sharon, Angel crossed over the Rainbow Bridge in 2010.
Sharon is no stranger to the cost of caring for dogs with medical needs either. Angel developed conditions in her later years that required $150 worth of medicine each month. And in 2008, she adopted Brodie, a seven year old miniature black poodle, paying $750 for a treatment so he could live and be free of hook worms. Brodie is still with Sharon today, and she says he is a “precious soul.”
And then she told me about Stevie. Well, his name was Collin before he met Sharon in 2005. Stevie the “Wonder Dog” is a little black poodle who was born with no eyes. She saw his picture on Petfinder.com one day while searching for a white female poodle, and it was “love at first sight.” She contacted LL Dog Rescue and soon found out that they had rescued Stevie from a breeder who was going to have him euthanized because of his disability. Instead of having his life cut short, he has gone on to live a full and happy life with Sharon.
“Stevie is just the most amazing little character I’ve ever known. I tell everyone that he sees with his heart. You would never realize he was blind because he does everything so well. People just love that little face and all the love he transmits from his little body. It is just so gratifying to have a special needs dog. They emanate love.”
Even though it takes more time and effort to care for Stevie, you wouldn’t know it from the way Sharon talks about him. During our interview, she only made brief mention of the special things she has to do to care for Stevie, such as carrying him up and down stairs and keeping everything in the same place so he can find them easily. The majority of the time she positively gushed about his sweet personality and the joy he has brought to her life.
While special needs animals require extra care, it’s obvious from Sharon’s story that the investment yields an incredible return. There are thousands of animals just like Stevie and Angel out there waiting to be loved, adored, and appreciated for who they are. Do you think you have the time, the money (if need be), and – more importantly – the heart to adopt a special needs cat or dog? If so, find a local shelter or rescue near you today!
The realization that not everyone treated their animals kindly came at a young age for me, and I’m thankful for it. At the same time, I started getting the idea that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge anyone on their appearance or on first impressions. Angie taught me those things, and I want to tell you a little about her.
Back in the early ‘80s, we lived on the coast of Massachusetts in a city called Lynn. My brother and I spent a lot of time out in the backyard playing with other kids in the neighborhood. Good times – except for the dogs next door, Angie and Newfield (“Newfie”). Two Saint Bernards barking and slobbering at us from behind a wooden fence in the era of the Stephen King novel “Cujo” had our young minds convinced that we would be eaten at any moment.
We thought those dogs were mean! As time went on, we occasionally got bold enough to taunt them when they came close to the fence. Everyone could catch glimpses of one another through the fence slats, and there was one fist-sized hole that just barely managed to fit the tip of a very large dog’s snout. We’d poke sticks through, and they’d come lunging. That only reinforced our opinion that those dogs were nuts and would take us out in bloody fashion as soon as they got the chance.
I don’t remember how much time went by before we found out the dogs were being neglected. Neighbors in the house in front of ours had been throwing their scraps to the dogs, and my mother asked them why. They told her that the owner’s way of feeding the dogs was to throw a bag of dog food into the backyard every two to three weeks. Naturally, my mom started giving them our scraps too.
More time went on, and Angie kept getting out of the yard. She liked to lay on our front neighbor’s porch, since ours wasn’t big enough to hold an entire Saint Bernard comfortably. Finding her laying there one day – in the middle of a hurricane – was the last straw for my parents. They called her into the house and toweled her off. Even though they let her back outside a couple of times after that, she always came back. Angie was with us to stay.
Later my parents told the neighborhood to inform Angie’s owner to come see them when he got back. He did, and with obvious relief, signed Angie’s papers over to my mom and dad. He had already found a home for Newfie.
Angie was with us for just a few years until she died of a hemorrhage at the age of ten. We all loved her, and we all still appreciate her sweetness, and the joy she brought to our lives. For me, it was the beginning of my penchant for larger dogs – there’s just something about a giant, yet loveable, mushy dog that warms my heart.
And as I mentioned at the beginning of this tale, I got my first taste of regretting my own judgmental attitude. I had judged these big babies as a threat based on a work of fiction, and when I learned they were being neglected, I judged the owners as evil people who didn’t care about their animals. But, it was obvious from the man’s relief at Angie finding a new home that he did care in his own way (I’m not going to defend his actions – he was wrong), and when the time came to do the right thing, he did it. I’ve heard many horror stories of people leaving their animals to wither away and die, and every time I wish that they had cared enough to let them go to a better home. I’m forever grateful that Angie became a part of our family – and forever grateful to my parents for showing me the right way.
There are hundreds of thousands of dogs out there who could use a good home, and rescue organizations are always on the hunt for good foster parents to house and care for the dogs they’ve rescued so that they can rescue even more. But providing for a dog’s physical needs is just one part of fostering. Dogs, just like humans, need more than just food, water, and shelter. They need socialization, training, love, and a sense of security.
Many dogs that end up in local shelters have been neglected or abused – or both. Some adapt very quickly to new people and places, and greet everyone they meet with a wag and a smile. They honestly seem to have forgotten that something bad happened to them. Others are fearful and act out in aggression, because they don’t know what else to do. Some “shut down” and don’t appear to react to what’s going on around them at all. Most of them need at least a little help in learning what living the doggy life really means!
We can’t always know exactly what abuse an animal has suffered, but we can arm ourselves with tools to help them get into a good place mentally and be the best dog they can be. Here are some things to consider before you take the leap into the dog fostering world.
Patience. To truly help each dog that comes to you, patience is a must. If you have a fantasy of your new foster pup snuggling up with you and staring at you with adoring eyes, I strongly encourage you to talk to some people who have fostered dogs previously. Are you ready to go without sleep for a night – or three – until your foster dog is feeling more secure and used to the routine of your home? Do you think you’ll be able to cope with multiple accidents on your rugs? You don’t have to like any of these things, but you do need to be able to keep from allowing any frustration to boil over, which can be pretty difficult if you’re operating on little, or no, sleep.
Training Techniques. That new fellow in your house needs to learn their manners, and the more you can work with them in your foster home, the more likely they are to find their forever home quickly. A well-behaved dog makes a huge difference! Do some research on the various training techniques out there, and talk with the rescue organization(s) you’re thinking about working with. They’ll be able to lead you in the right direction and offer you valuable advice and tips.
Determination. Some dogs need more help than others. Some learn how to “sit” and “stay” and look at you as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?”, while others struggle for weeks with the simplest of commands. Don’t give up! If you keep at it, you will see results. Keep in mind that you don’t know what that dog has been through. It’s entirely possible that their previous owner would tell them to “sit” and then do something harmful to the dog. The moment you both connect, and they finally put their behind on the floor without any physical assistance from you, you have created a foundation of positive reinforcement and trust to build upon.
Adaptability. Every dog comes from a different background, and you will find that what works for one dog may not work for another. For instance, some dogs aren’t motivated by a standard doggy treat when it comes to training. Some don’t like to be pet or snuggled – maybe just for now, but it’s possible they’ll never really “get into it.” Some are afraid of hoses, and some may want to eat your hoses! Learning how to “go with the flow” of any foster dog will keep you from getting frustrated when they aren’t behaving like “every other dog.”
The bottom line is that foster dogs need the help of an understanding person or family to get them through this rough spot in their lives – quite possibly they need you. If this list of things to consider hasn’t scared you off yet, then you may just be ready to foster!
What about you? Have you fostered a dog before? If so, we’d love to hear about your number one “tool” – whatever it is that you have found to be the most helpful when fostering. If you haven’t fostered a dog before, and you think you might be interested, let us know and we’ll help get you in touch with a rescue agency who can assist you further.