all-star, but he's not the only one...we are "Mighty" after all!
For this edition of "Serial Fosters", we caught up with Anna, foster mom to senior Mighty Mutt, Gia. Anna first fostered with another rescue group, and has fostered two Mighty Mutts since then. We took this opportunity to ask Anna many of the questions we get about fostering, in order to get a real foster mom's take on them.
How did you get involved with Mighty Mutts?
I have been with Mighty Mutts for about a year now! I cannot even remember how many years I passed by Mighty Mutts at Union Square and said to myself - "I want to volunteer for them, but I am too busy..." In October of 2011, we decided to foster through another rescue group. After 7 months with our first foster dog, and after finding him an amazing home, I walked by Mighty Mutts again. That time I said - "I want to volunteer for them...and it does not matter how busy I am...I am doing it!" And I took my first Saturday shift.
"I walked by Mighty Mutts again. That time I said - "I want to volunteer for them...and it does not matter how busy I am...I am doing it!" And I took my first Saturday shift."
I decided to become a foster after talking about wanting to help these dogs for so long, and spending so much time checking Urgent Part 2 (the group that lists the dogs on the Euthenization List every night at the kill shelters here in NYC). One day my husband and I just made the decision that whereas we cannot help ALL the dogs that are in trouble, we could help one. We had volunteered to take a little (at the time little) white dog with a big black patch on one eye for a walk one day and the next day offered to foster him.
Can you tell us about your first foster dog?
Seymour. We actually liked to refer to him as Seymour the Dragon, haha. Seymour was a handful. He went from 6 months and 40 lbs, to 13 months and 85 lbs in the time we had him. He was the cutest dog in the entire world, but he had a lot of issues to overcome. When Seymour first came to us he was extremely ill. He had not been well taken care of in the kill shelter, and he had mange, pneumonia, and ring worm––fun stuff! There was actually a period of time he could not even walk outside he was so ill, we had to carry him out. After a while, his personality started to come out, and finally got healthy. His pneumonia finally cleared up after a month, his fur grew back, and the ring worm finally disappeared, all with good medical attention.
We then realized what an ENERGETIC foster dog we had. He had spent the first part of his life in a kill shelter and had zero training before we got him, that was our next big job. He was very dog reactive when on a leash and was having a very hard time in New York City. He had so much anxiety to everything out on the streets from dogs, to skate boards, to screaming children running down the street. But he was also very smart, very playful, and would do ANYTHING for a treat. We also learned he LOVED dogs. His reactivity was actually due to being on the leash and being kept away from dogs he wanted to play with. Once he got to them all he wanted to do was play. We knew our next step was to find him the right home, one where he could thrive and not be so afraid. New York City just was not for our boy Seymour.
How can you keep doing it?
It is hard, but when you know you are doing the very best thing for your foster dog, and you know he or she is going to the right owners, it also feels like the greatest thing in the world. In a case like Seymour, he just could not handle New York City. Seymour NEEDED a huge yard and a doggy friend. He would never be as good a dog as he could be if he was forced to stay in New York City. We had Seymour for 7 months, and one day there was a couple in North Carolina that we just knew were the perfect match. When our friend first told us about them, of course we were hesitant. Seymour was a difficult pup, but also very loving, and needed only the best! We went to North Carolina with him and stayed for 5 days to be sure this was for real, and to be sure these people were the very best. It turned out the woman is a dog trainer. She and her boyfriend have a GIANT yard, and they have two dogs....they really were...perfect for him. Saying goodbye was really hard, but the couple has stayed in touch with us, and even let us come visit 6 months after we left him with them. When we went back to visit we had never seen Seymour happier. Running through his yard, playing with his doggy brother and sister, and in the most capable hands we could imagine. Seymour's new life had started. And we had gotten him there. We knew we had been a huge part in saving Seymour's life, and giving him a chance to be the best dog he could be - both by getting him back to health, and by being extremely patient through his training and not giving up on him. After seeing him there 6 months later, we could not have felt better about what we had done. And we realized, maybe, just maybe we could do it again! We are now on our third foster dog. The two fosters after Seymour were both from Mighty Mutts! We had a temporary foster in-between for about 3 weeks that we cared for while her foster was out of town, and now have had our current foster, Gia, for 3 months.
What has being a doggy foster parent taught you? Has it changed your mind about anything?
Patience, resilience, deeper love, and that time is relative.
Fostering is not always easy. These dogs have often been through a horrible life before they end up in a loving foster home. It is a huge commitment, and one for which you have to be fully ready. But when you are, it can be so rewarding, and so wonderful. You learn to be patient with your pup that needs some extra help, you learn resilience when you think your dog will never learn something - and then suddenly he "gets" it, you learn a deeper love because dogs are loyal - once they love you they love you fully - you also learn a deeper love when you know it is time to let your foster go, because it is the best thing for him/her. I have so much respect for other foster parents now, and for the many good rescue organizations that are saving dogs every day. It has taught me that even if you are absolutely as busy as you can possibly be....you can find time - time is relative. People tell me every day that I am the busiest person they know. I run two companies with my husband, and I have to travel a good amount for my work. You just adjust. If it is a drivable trip - the foster dog just comes and that is that. When you do not have enough hours in the day - you simply find more hours in the day, because you are caring for a living creature that loves and depends on you. Somehow you make it work, and you realize the time was always there, you just convinced yourself otherwise.
Do you find it difficult to have dogs in a big city?
It depends on the dog. Dogs with various "issues" as many rescue dogs might have, can be a handful in the city. New York City can be stressful for some dogs, especially dogs who are not only trying to overcome their fears, but also adapt to a very busy, sometimes scary environment. Fostering in the city means you have to be completely focused on your dog at all times on walks. If an ambulance goes by with it's sirens, or if a dog runs right up to you, or a child runs up, you need to be ready for how your foster dog may react. They all have different things that effect them, so you always have to keep a watchful eye. You cannot be one of those dog owners who is texting while walking their dog, or looking the other direction when a huge crowd of people is approaching. Some dogs are very energetic and if you don't have a yard, you need to set aside a good amount of time for long walks or even jogs with your dog.
HOWEVER, I will also say that NYC is actually a very dog friendly city. It is amazing how many more people I have met in my building and in my neighborhood just because I have fostered dogs. There are also a number of fabulous dog walking services and trainers in NYC. Once you are in the "dog" community" you start to learn just how dog friendly New York is! And do not let people fool you that a large dog cannot live in an apartment. For some dogs it could be the case, but often larger dogs, love being in their "den" and curled up next to their owner, and the smaller dogs are the ones that need to run around constantly. It completely depends on the individual dog. Some large dogs do great in apartments, some don't. Some small dogs do great in apartments, and some don't. Many dogs can do very well living in NYC, it all depends on the individual pup. Gia for example, is doing great in an apartment, and is adapting well to NYC. She is a 55lb pit mix. As long as she gets her long walks, she is a happy girl.
Gia does really well with routine. I think that she would do great in a home where the owner has a similar routine day to day. Something she can get used to and know is safe. Gia has fear issues of new people, and new situations, so if she can end up in a home that she realizes is safe, predictable and a place where her owners are going to always be there to love and care for her, I think she will thrive. Whereas Gia is a good sized dog, she is actually doing very well in an apartment, as I mentioned prior. Of course, she won't complain if she ends up with a yard to call her own, but she will also be happy in an apartment as long as she can get a few long walks every day. Patience and love are what Gia needs most. She needs someone who is willing to continue to work with her fear of new people, and help teach her that people are good and are not going to hurt her. She came from a rough past and probably did not see the kind of love she finally sees today and that she will see everyday in her forever home. If someone is experienced with dogs, patient, and is willing to take the time to work with her she will be completely loyal and loving towards that person. Gia should also be the only animal in her forever home. In her senior years she prefers other dogs to not get in her "bubble." Gia also has her playful side and loves it when it is time for tug of war, but she is also very sweet and gentle and is also ready to curl up next to you on the couch, or...even in your lap sometimes. Oh - and Gia will also do best in a home that lets her sleep on the bed and where she is treated like a queen :) After all - she loves to cuddle and loves to be your number 1.
What advice would you give to anyone considering fostering?
Do it. It saves a life. Not just the actual dog you are fostering, but it saves the life of the next dog the rescue is able to take in because it had room since you offered to foster a dog. But do remember it is a commitment. You are fostering a very special loving animal, and as a foster you are helping a dog in it's transition to it's forever home. You need to be ready, willing and committed to having a dog in your life - and not just any dog. A dog that needs special love and attention because likely it has had a rough past.
What tips would you give to make smooth transition for a new dog into a home environment?
I think as a foster parent one of your biggest jobs is to help in the transition and make your foster feel safe and happy in his/her new home. If it is possible having a few meet and greets between the dog and the adopter with the foster parent present can go along way. That way the pup can get to know their new family before being fully thrust into the new environment. I think doing a meeting in a neutral place, like outside, then a meeting at the foster parent's home, and then a visit at the adopter's home would be ideal. I also think that foster parents know A LOT about their foster pups and that when a foster parent is willing to create some type of a "Guide to your Best Friend" outlining all of the tips and tricks of how to work with and care for their new pet, or something similar - it will really help the new parent to not only get to know their dog and all of the dogs unique behaviors, but also for them to learn details of the dogs health, what they eat, the vet that has treated them in the past, favorite games of the dog, etc. Also, you should always ask the foster parent if they are willing to give any favorite toys, blankets, etc. Most foster parents would do this anyway - it is very helpful for the pup to have some familiar items in his/her new home. It is also very important that, at least to start, you feed your dog the same thing it was eating in it's previous home. If you wish to change the dog's diet, doing so slowly is key. Changing a diet too fast can make the dog not feel well, and add anxiety. And remember it is a transition for the foster parent too :) Personally, as a foster parent, I LOVE to get updates and photos of how my previous foster is doing. I am also always available to talk and to help in the transition should questions come up - as I believe most fosters would be.
Anything else you'd like to add?
If you are considering fostering and are at a time in your life that you can make the commitment, do it! Save a life and gain a new friend. You won't regret it.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent for Mighty Mutts, click here to learn more or email us at email@example.com