As someone that fosters dogs, I often find myself wondering what the dog’s story is. I take the information I am given, and I start forming a history based on their behaviors, their training or lack thereof, things they are afraid of…My first few fosters were either very young puppies or owner returns. Their history was either very little, or we at least know where they’d come from.
Then came Lola. She was in a shelter and needed rescuing. She was around 9 months old, healthy, heartworm negative…rare when coming out of a shelter! She was taken from the shelter to the vet’s office, and that is where I picked her up. I quickly found that she clearly had never stepped foot in a house! She had no idea what would be around each corner, and didn’t know what furniture was, or what to do with toys. And she gravitated towards Lucy immediately! Lola was not potty trained & didn’t know any obedience skills. So, she obviously was not someone’s family pet, right? She had no fear about the unknown though, and conquered everything with fierce happiness! The only issue was a pretty severe fear of cars. So…Was she a stray? Was she from a random litter, and then left on the streets to fend for herself? Maybe she started out as someone’s outside pet, but then ran away and they didn’t care to find her? She definitely loves to be loved and hugged and cuddled, but I think that is just her personality. What would she have told me, if she could talk? And when I am lucky enough to visit her, does she remember me? Does she look at me and know that I loved her, and that I would never have said goodbye if I wasn’t sure she was in the best hands? Or do dogs sort of have short term memory loss, where they just focus on the present? That would be ok too, since I know she’s in a wonderful home!
Another foster of mine was Chelsea. Terrified. Of. Everything. She came to the rescue as a young dog, with her sister, and they were both already very timid, shy, scared dogs. Chelsea was adopted by a family, but unfortunately spent most of her time in a crate. That crate became her whole world. The only place she knew would be safe for her. Then she was returned. Thankfully, within just a few weeks, a fantastic family came around and adopted Chelsea. So, what happened to Chelsea & her sister? Had they been abused? How could she be SO scared of everything when she had been living outside? I found it fascinating that she had complete trust in dogs. I would understand having a bond with her sister, but Chelsea bonded with my dogs right away. Yet despite her fears, she quickly bonded to me and Jayden, beginning to trust us. Dogs are really so remarkable. I wonder, what Chelsea would tell me about, if only she could? Was she just scared because everything was new and weird to her? Or did something specific happen to make her that way?
I wonder these same things about my sweet boy Oscar. Like Lola, he came from a shelter, relatively healthy, heartworm negative. But he had been severely malnourished, and would forever be pint sized (his shelter name was Half Pint). It was also the opinion of the shelter vet, and of the vet I use, that he suffered an injury, which caused permanent damage to his left front leg. That being said, he is so friendly! He was fully house & crate trained, and knew “sit”. The only fear he had was jumping off of things, like the couch or bed…but maybe that was more related to his lack of strength in the front leg…so, where did he come from? What happened to him? He was sitting in the shelter for a month, so obviously no one was missing him. He says hello to everyone he meets, wagging his tail and giving kisses. He is treat motivated and a very quick learner. Surely someone didn’t physically harm him, how could they? I’ve thought about this so much…Sometimes I think maybe he was someone’s pet, something happened and his leg got hurt, and they couldn’t afford to fix it so they dumped him…that happens more often than you know! But then I go back to the reason his growth was stunted, severe malnutrition. Who did that to him? Why? How can you look into an animal’s eyes and deny them the things we all need to live?
When I see Oscar sleeping on the couch, or sunning out on the deck, or running free in a field chasing Lucy, I wonder if he knows how much he is loved. What would he tell me about his past? Does he understand now that I will never leave him or abuse him? Is he blissfully happy and feeling cherished like family pets should be?
It’s easier, for me, to accept Oscar’s past, because I get to love and spoil him for his whole life. I will make sure he is never hurt again. It is harder with fosters. I work so hard to make them feel loved, to gain their trust, and teach them things. I worry that the day I leave them, they are wondering where I went, and why I left them. I can only hope that they are so loved and well cared for in their new home, that they aren’t thinking about me one bit!
Do you ever think about these things? Where your dog comes from, and what happened in their past? What would your dog’s story be, if he/she could tell it? And if you had to tell your own story, do you know what you would say?