Length of Fostering

From: Sharyn Hutchens
Subject: Keeping rescues in rescue longer

After my post to Whippet-L this morning about Mystic's hair loss, someone wrote me privately to ask why I said Mystic needed a few more weeks with us if she was such a sweetheart. "Wouldn't it be better for her to be placed quickly so she can bond to her new family?" I don't know about other rescuers, but Walt and I are adamant about keeping rescues at least three weeks and usually a month before placing them. We've discovered that nearly all rescues go through an initial "good behavior" phase of two to three weeks and you don't meet the real dog till after that.

Keeping them here is a matter of liability and also of honesty in placements. Taking a dog out of a shelter and placing it right away is not rescue--it's bailing out a shelter dog and handing it over to someone else. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not rescue. The advantage of a rescue dog over a shelter dog is that someone who knows something about the breed has had the rescue dog in a home setting long enough to get to know its habits (good and bad), shortcomings, and health issues.

That's why people come to rescue instead of just going to a shelter and that's why they pay about four times as much for a rescue dog as they would for a shelter dog.

It's a wonderful thing to adopt a shelter dog, but you are taking a lot more risk that it won't work out.

Here are three good examples that have come through our house.

1) Maggie, the Worst Rescue Collie in the World, who for three weeks appeared to be the Best Rescue Collie in the World. We kept saying, "Why was this dog in a shelter? She is wonderful!" At about three and a half weeks, the real Maggie began to emerge. She barked constantly. She ate paper and cardboard obsessively (and thus we not only had to keep *everything* out of her reach, but about twice a year she wound up at the vet's over some dietary indiscretion and cost us a couple hundred dollars in xrays and medication. Fortunately she never blocked, but it could have happened.) Maggie went from being the Best Collie in the World to unadoptable within a month. We loved her dearly and lost her last summer to cancer, but it gives me the willies to think how close we came to placing her before the True Maggie emerged! She honestly was not a dog most pet owners could have coped with.

2) Lucky, the Shelghan, who was so neurotic when he got here that we knew he was probably here for life, but who developed a dominance aggression problem after about a month that was completely unexpected from such a sweet, happy (if neurotic) boy. After six months of behavior modification (including the NILIF -- Nothing in Life is Free -- program), very expensive drug therapy, obedience training, and a lot of love, we had to put him down last month after he bit Walt. A heartbreaking experience but I would hate to think that if he hadn't had the *other* problems, we might have placed him in a home where he would have bitten someone else.

3) P_____, the whippet - Several many years ago my daughter and I were socializing a lovely young whippet who belonged to another breeder. We were offered a coownership and I was absolutely in love with him, but he had not been out of the kennel much and was very shy. We had him out and about and he progressed beautifully. We planned to sign the papers on him next time we saw his breeder. After about three weeks, though, P______ decided he didn't like my then-husband and began growling at him every time he came in the room. In fact he didn't like *any* man. No amount of correction, attempts to expose him more often, training, worked. Admittedly, it turned out that P_____ was right about the man, but nevertheless, this would have been a definite retgurn-to-breeder/rescuer situation. As it was, I decided to keep the husband and forego the coownership on the whippet. Bad decision, as it turns out, but another example of a dog who displayed a real problem once he settled into the household.

So that's why Mystic will be here another few weeks. We also won't make a definite decision about which home she will go to until week three. Rescue (ideally) matches up the right home to the right dog and you really can't say whether you have a match till you get to know the real dog. If an applicant doesn't want to wait, we send them elsewhere. It's as much for the benefit of the *people* as the dog that we want the match to work. A household with small children is a very different environment than one with teenagers, retired people, a single owner, or a working couple. The wrong dog might not only be miserable; he might make his family miserable! (email from RPOArescue-L)

I call the first three weeks a dog is in rescue, the honeymoon phase. It is truly after that that you get to meet the dog inside. (email from RPOArescue-L).

Colby Glass, MLIS