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Lessons from the fosters

Foreword: This is my first ever public blog, and I hope I don't lose you due to it's length. By writing here, a was able to process this experience. I hope you enjoy the story, and receive some insights of your own. If you do, I would love to hear from you. Thanks for reading! JoAnn

A few months ago, I made the decision to become a foster mom for cats and dogs transitioning from shelters to forever homes. Having lost all three of my beloved pets in the last two years, I thought it would be a good way to have a "pet fix" without the long-term commitment. I was already volunteering at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, so I attended the orientation and then began to watch for emails from the coordinator of the program. At first, only emails about cats and kittens came. I decided to wait for a dog.

When we had the hurricanes, an announcement came that the shelter would be receiving an airlifted transport of dogs from Puerto Rico. Due to the conditions created by the storms, the shelters were unable to operate and the pets where being moved off the island to northern partnering shelters. This sounded like a good time to jump in and help with the many dogs coming here for relief, and a better life. I remembered that dogs from PR are typically on the smaller side. I had always owned 2 dogs at a time to keep each other company. I would take two! I emailed the coordinator and then anxiously awaited the email announcing their arrival.

The day came to pick up my precious tail wagging buddies. I went to the lower level of the new ARLGP shelter to wait, as the staff motored around completing the many necessary details required to coordinate large scale animal rescues. As I waited, my curiosity brimmed. "Do you know what breed am I getting?, I asked of the young employee at the desk. I will call her Amy. She looked on her computer, and responded, "You are getting puppies!!" Puppies??? Who ever said anything about puppies? I never intentioned puppies. I was supposed to get two smallish calm mellow dogs who wouldn’t be any trouble at all. "How old?", I asked casually. "Ummm, looks like 8 – 12 weeks", she replied. What? Not potty trained at all at that age. Oh no, oh no, two little baby dogs? OMG!! Remain calm, JoAnn!

I did my best to contain my shock, as I did not want to appear unwilling. After all, I signed up to help. I had offered to take two.  Buck up JoAnn. It will be fine! I still had not set eyes on these furry babes. Amy gathered together bags of dog food, toys, blankets, pee pads, leashes, worm medication, and I went to load it all in my car. There was a medium sized crate in the back of my RAV4, all ready to carry my precious cargo home. I came back into the shelter with empty hands and from the back room, another worker brought out two small, mostly black, bewildered canine babies wrapped in a blanket. Two sweet little innocent dog beings, litter mates, complete with puppy smell. Here we go!! I asked Amy if they needed a potty break and she replied, "Oh they should be fine!"

I proceeded to my car, my arms full of warm, sweet puppy innocence, and put them carefully in the crate and closed the car hatch. As soon as we started to roll along in the car, they started to cry and bark and scratch at the crate. The odor quickly filled the car, the smell of “oh they really needed to go”!!  As soon as I could, I pulled over into a parking lot back from busy Congress street. I was barely 2 miles from the shelter. I opened the crate and took the puppies out and placed them on the grass near the pavement, proceeding to remove the poop covered blankets, and wiping out the crate with baby wipes I keep in my car.  I was frantically cleaning while working to curtail the puppies, who were now scampering around in the grass, chasing and playing with each other, completely oblivious to my efforts to clean up and keep them safe too.  Stress creeping in. What have I done or what has been done here? Ok, regroup, puppies back in crate, continue home. How are we going to do this? Roll up the rugs, spread the pee pads, contain the space, get ready for puppyland!

Anyone reading this who has had children remembers the exhaustion of caring for young infants. My memory of this level of exhaustion was refreshed, while I had these adorable little babes, names Eli and Eliza. I spent my two weeks, cleaning up poop piles and mopping up pee, picking them up, feeding them, carrying the little female, Eliza, down the basement stairs to get to the outside space (Eli did fine on his own), playing with them, keeping them out of mischief, stopping them from eating things that weren’t food, taking them for walks. Stopping them from eating non-food items could be another complete story, woah! The walking process was interesting. Yin, yang energy… Eli wanted to go and Eliza wanted to stay! Go, stop, stop, go. My back was sore, my shoulders ached, but the joy of watching them play and frolick, the sweet puppy greetings from them, their warm little bodies snoozing on my lap, their unconditional love, made up for this.

As I have mentioned, I had clearly intended to receive adult dogs, with no thought ever given to puppies as an option. Why did I end up with these puppies? I truly believe that spirit, in its infinite wisdom, sends us challenges when we need them for growing. What do I need constant work on? Hmmmmm. Boundaries. Ah ha, this was yet another boundary lesson for JoAnn. Here we go!

Right from the beginning, I knew I was being way too liberal with the pups as this is my way, so the boundary lessons started right away. What better way to work on boundaries, or not, than with a puppy? First, there is potty training. I was clueless. I can't remember the last time I had to potty train a puppy. I was chasing and interrupting, re-directing to pee pads, running for the door with the pup in mid poop! It seems to me there is a straight pipe through the body of a puppy, and after you feed them, you have about 2 - 20 minutes before they start looking for a place to poop. Did I do what most people would have done? Crate train them? Nah! Too controlled and requires a lot of discipline from the human caretaker!  I'll do it my way, meaning the hard way, ha ha! It was a steep learning curve, and I eventually learned to watch to anticipate bodily functions of the puppies, and be proactive. I missed many queues, thinking to myself, its probably time to get the pups out, but let me just get this one thing done. Next thing I would know, there was a smell, or a pee puddle,  teaching me once again that I had missed the window, and should have done what I knew to do when I knew to do it, instead of waiting, and allowing things to get out of control. These dogs were just waiting for me to take charge. I finally did end my own suffering, and once I stayed present with them, anticipated their needs, and was proactive, life for me in puppyland, got a little bit easier. Boundary lesson number one passed.

Boundary lesson number two. Puppies are trying out their world by experiencing it all. They live in the moment, and they figure out really quickly what they can get into and get away with. They had my number pretty quickly. I allowed them to be out of the crate most of the time, freely playing in my house. They would get cranked up and race back and forth, pummeling each other, chewing on each other, growling and barking. On one hand, they kept each other very busy and entertained, on the other hand, the action level in my house would get out of control pretty fast. Eli, the boy puppy would get so excited, his level of play would get very aggressive toward his sister, and the growling and barking would get explosive. One day, toward the end of my two weeks with the puppies, I decided I couldn't take the craziness one more minute. Into the puppy pen on lock down they went. I had gotten a puppy exercise pen from the shelter but I would leave it unlocked so they could run in and out of it. It was fun for them but didn't help me much. Once the pen was locked, they immediately calmed down. Who knew? I learned that it’s ok to confine them for safety's sake, and they actually enjoyed the quiet time. Wow, setting boundaries for others who can't set their own is helpful for everyone involved. : )

Many lessons came from these joyous little bundles. setting boundaries with them saved my energy, and made me feel more grounded and less frustrated. Staying present with the puppies helped me learn their queue's which allowed me to more calmly take preventative measures, like potty breaks and confined quiet times, which made everyone's life run more smoothly. Being more "in the moment" like puppies, allows for more appreciation of life's little pleasures, allows for more fun, less self imposed stress, more joy. Puppies are pure joy! Did I mention unconditional love? There is much to learn here.

I am grateful for my lessons from the fosters, these sweet beings. I am grateful that spirit sent them into my life for a brief (2 weeks) but valuable lesson. After I brought the puppies back to the shelter to be offered for adoption, a very emotional moment for me, I slept for two days straight or so it seemed. Phew! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

Blessings and love to all,

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