Monday, July 31, 2017

The Joy Of Fostering

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 2, 2017] ©2017
It is the legacy of our still-mourned bulldog Winston that we began fostering dogs a year ago through Holly’s Garden Rescue, a wonderful small-breed volunteer rescue organization in El Cajon. One of those dogs, Lily, is now our forever dog.
Olof and I are actually the worst foster parents ever: we instantly fall in love with and want to keep every rescue animal that crosses our doorstep no matter how unsuitable it is for us.  Lily, for example, is a bichon-poodle mix, the ultimate foo-foo dog. My husband had always said “no foo-foo dogs!” Three days in, he was the one who insisted we keep her.
For us, the number one requirement for dogs, permanent and foster, is that it has to be a breed that swims. Alas those little dogs with the short legs and smushed faces sink like stones.  After fostering our first dog, a Shih Tzu named Percy, and fishing him out of our pool three times, my husband Olof said either the dog needed a different home or we needed to buy waterproof watches. Percy went to a fabulous home and we’re still in touch with his owner. He’ll always be family.
At the end of June, the county shelters begin euthanizing dogs to make room for the glut of animals that come in the week of July 4. Spooked by fireworks, dogs panic and slip their collars, ending up lost on the street.  This year the county took in 144 such dogs. Volunteer rescue organizations like Holly’s try to rescue as many dogs from being euthanized as possible.
So we weren’t surprised that week to get an emergency request from Holly’s to take a maltese-poodle mix (maltipoo) as a foster. Poodles and poodle mixes are excellent swimmers. But could we stand the heartbreak of falling in love with another dog who we’d have to give up?
Sawyer, the maltipoo, was one very adoptable little dog.  Holly’s rescued him from an L.A. county shelter where he’d come in a total matted mess, no tag or chip. And never claimed.  But someone had obviously cared for this dog; he was so affectionate and friendly. None of the skittish behaviors of a traumatized animal.
I sent out photos of Sawyer to everyone I knew. One of those people was my dear friend, Eloise, my co-conspirator in the rescue of Moo, a 9-year-old blind Shih Tzu. Despite Moo’s genuinely rocky start, and living in constant peril of being devoured by Eloise’s family’s ferociously hostile Rottweiler (ain’t NOBODY breaking into that house, let me tell you), the Rottweiler ultimately declared a d├ętente, and Eloise’s family fell in love with a little dog who had the saddest back story imaginable.  (Moo now sports a prominent red tag reading: “I’m blind. I see with my heart.”)  I wrote about Moo in a column called “It Takes a Village” last November.
Eloise forwarded the Sawyer photos to her family members.
Two days later, the phone rang.  A woman whom I’ll called Fiona said that she was a teacher. Eloise’s sister’s son had been one of her third grade students and the family’s adorable maltipoo had been a frequent visitor to the classroom. Fiona said her beloved German shepherd had just died in March and she was trying to decide if she was emotionally ready for another dog. Now 60, she was thinking that a 100-pound dog was not the right choice for her anymore. And she loved that little maltipoo that her student’s family owned.
So she decided to pray about it. She asked God to send her the maltipoo that she was meant to have.  She then went to take a nap. When she got up several hours later, there was the email from Eloise’s sister with pictures of Sawyer. Talk about service. She said to herself, “I’d better answer this.” 
I love this story. I sometimes think God looks down on all of us and shakes his head.  “I know I gave them free will,” I imagine Him saying, “but geesh, who knew this is what they’d do with it?”  Just then a message pops up on His request line.
“Well,” He concludes, “I can’t fix Syria, but maltipoos I can do.”
And thus, Sawyer found Fiona. She came over to meet him and it was love at first sight. Re-named Riley, he now lives with Fiona out in La Mesa and has added a new dimension of happiness and healing to her life. It’s definitely a mutual adoration society.
There are so many dogs who need forever homes, or even foster homes while they wait for one. The shelters have only so much room. We’ll never stop missing Winston but have found the pain of his loss greatly mitigated knowing that Percy, and Lily, and Moo, and now Sawyer have gone on to happy lives partly because of him. R.I.P. Winston.
Sawyer, Day 1, playing with a chew toy
Sawyer (right) makes himself right at home watching TV
with Olof and Lily
Sawyer and Lily make an Olof sandwich
Lily (left) and Sawyer- almost twins
Fiona and Sawyer (now Riley): Love at first sight