Of Bombs and Foster Dogs

IMG_5724_smallerPeanuts was dropped at my apartment one evening by his regular foster mom, as she was going away and I had been called in as a foster–foster mom. He was from the Great Dog Rescue of New England, who is often in need of puppy fosters. (They rescue litters, among other dogs, from high-kill shelters in the south.) At five months old, Peanuts weighed around fifty pounds and reminded me of a slightly smaller version of my friend’s dog, Majic. Peanuts was a Beagle/Bull Terrier mix, but the resulting features resembled a Pit Bull at first glance, which was cause for one failed adoption as a puppy. He trembled in the living room of my apartment after his regular foster mom left, and I sat with him and a bag that held a few of his favorite toys. He gave a few licks and whined.

“It’s okay, Peanuts.”

He leaned into me and licked my hand.

I was only going to foster him for ten days. A convenient ten days, luckily, as the Monday was Patriot’s Day, giving me the day off work. After some anxiety from a roommate (who suddenly wished to revoke the permission he had given to foster a dog), I set about introducing Peanuts to the Alcohol Cats.

* * *
Smirnoff and Bacardi have done well with a dog before. But that dog weighs much less than 50 pounds, and is such a friendly dog that anytime Smirnoff or Bacardi got uncomfortable, he would simply walk away and give the cats their space. Peanuts had lived with a cat (and other dogs) in his foster home but was already nervous being somewhere he didn’t know.

At first, all animals kept a respectful distance. But then I made the mistake of turning away to make a phone call, and in those five seconds I moved, Peanuts followed me and walked too close to Bacardi. Bacardi flipped and whacked Peanuts on the nose, and Smirnoff began vocalizing while Peanuts tried to hide behind me. Strike one.

I borrowed a baby gate so that Peanuts could be free in a room but the cats could come and go as they pleased. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable solution. Smirnoff, ever-wary of his territory being invaded, kept a close eye on the canine. As Bacardi approached the gate, Peanuts went over to say hello. In an instant, the gate fell down, Bacardi panicked, and Peanuts was chased from the room by Smirnoff. The dog was so scared he peed on the floor. I separated them. Strike two.

Peanuts_Bacardi_smallWhile I was slightly touched that Smirnoff would so boldly rush to Bacardi’s defense (even when none was needed), having animals scared of each other wasn’t going to work. I was not going to allow a strike three; so I kept them apart. While the dog was loose, the cats were shut in my room. While the cats were out, Peanuts was in his crate. Normally, Smirnoff sleeps on my bed and Bacardi sleeps elsewhere in my room. But for the next nine nights, Peanuts sprawled himself on the bed, Bacardi slept in a smaller puppy crate in my room, and Smirnoff was banished to the living room.

Not ideal, but Peanuts refused to be anywhere other than next to me. As soon as I was home from work, he would follow me around the apartment. He’d climb onto the couch next to me. He would whine if I went to take a shower. I tried to keep my distance, making sure he had time resting in the crate while I sat nearby (and so the cats could come out), and keeping him busy with treat puzzles. Any attachment he had with me was going to be broken eventually, and while he was otherwise an extremely well-behaved puppy, I didn’t want to get too attached because I had to put my cats’ needs first.

I set out to ease the anxiety of the foster as much as possible. It would be stressful, of course, but it was only ten days. Ten very normal days.

* * *
Then the bombs went off.

I had the day off work, but I couldn’t go anywhere because of Peanuts. He was scared of public transportation, and while he eventually got used to taking the bus (after some initial fear), I didn’t feel it was worth it to try and get him used to the T, as he would most likely be adopted out to the suburbs.

So that afternoon we walked over to my boyfriend’s apartment and the three of us sat on the couch and watched a stand-up show. Peanuts was curled up with his favorite toy.

Then Jon’s roommate came home and told us about the Boston Marathon.

We turned off the show. The humor had left us.

We scanned social media until we knew our friends were all safe. That all the Animal Rescue League of Boston runners were safe. That Amy, an ARL volunteer who is also a nurse and was volunteering in medical tent A was safe.

We turned on the news. Then we turned it off.

I went to work the next day. And the day after. And the day after. And then the day after that, I woke up to a lock down and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. It was an unexpected day off work.

Watertown is several miles away, but we could hear the helicopters on their way. The occasional siren rushed by. Peanuts, being a dog—and in particular, a puppy—still needed to go out every few hours to relieve himself. Less than two miles away, an apartment was being searched.

We walked around the block. It was the same block I walked every day to go to work. The same block where children shouted on the playground, basketballs pounded the court, and cars revved up the hill. But now, everything was eerily silent. It felt different. I passed by a family who were also walking their dog and after the dogs met and we parted, I said “take care.” And the words felt heavy and serious.

Peanuts and I spent most of the day curled up on the sofa, switching between episodes of Arrested Development, and an Internet stream of someone’s police scanner. Bacardi occasionally came over and the animals gave each other a tentative sniff. Having Bacardi sleep in the same room as Peanuts (though confined from each other) was making a difference. He was no longer as suspicious of Peanuts, and they could be in the same room as each other once more. Smirnoff, not having those hours of rest in the dog’s company, still hissed when they got too close.

During all those hours of uncertainty, Peanuts never left my side. He never slept anywhere other than my bed, his body shoved as close to mine as possible. Sometimes with a paw across my chest. He was warm. He didn’t know the terrible things that had happened, but I knew he had kept me far away from them.

There’s no point in what-ifs, of course.

* * *
The next day, when Friday evening’s successful capture had lifted some anxiety; when my own anxiety from animals not getting along was finally settling; when I knew Peanuts would be back with his regular foster mom soon, I went to the ARL for my usual adoption shift.

Amy was there. I was at the shelter early. She asked if I would go for a walk with her, and we spent the next ten minutes figuring out which dogs to take with us and laughing as we tried to put oversized jackets on these two small, pudgy dogs.

Copley

We walked along Berkeley Street with Max and Lassie trotting ahead. We didn’t say much, but I knew where we were headed. When we reached Boylston Street, a crowd stood along the barrier. On our side, the sidewalks shuffled like usual. On the other side, it was empty. Turned over trash cans hadn’t been picked up. The road that is usually one of the busiest in the city, one that I had walked down hundreds of times as a college student and after, both sober and drunk, both happy and sad, both while in a hurry and at my leisure, had nothing. No one was there except the occasional figure in a white plastic suit.

Amy and I paused at the gate. In front of the dozens of sneakers and flags and posters stood three white crosses with three names written. There were therapy dogs there, and people stopped to pet Max and Lassie. The dogs were a welcome sight, and they stood there calm and friendly even in a crowd.

It all felt different, yet the same. The past nine days, my life had been a jumble of things; nothing in its rightful place. But everything was tied together: the dogs, the city, the people surrounding us. And just as I’d experienced so many times at the animal shelter, this moment held a realization that human beings are capable of both so much hate and so much love. And that moments of love and hate are often found together.

* * *
That same day, Peanuts was adopted. I found out when I got home from the shelter. His new mom was coming to my apartment to pick him up that evening, a day before the foster was supposed to end. Suddenly, I was collecting Peanuts’ things, collapsing his crate, taking him out for one final walk around the block.

The adopters came upstairs, and attached the leash they had brought to Peanuts’ collar. Seeing the couple and Peanuts together, they seemed like the perfect fit. They were from the suburbs but had a very down-to-earth feel. They had a Massachusetts accent. I told them that other than a little separation anxiety, he was the perfect dog. The husband, who hadn’t met Peanuts yet, seemed pleased.

“He loves to go for long walks, but doesn’t demand it,” I said. “He’ll walk as long or as short as you want to.”

I handed them his toys in a bag, and the remainder of his food.

I gave him one last pet and showed them out.

* * *
And just like that, it was over. The alcohol cats settled back into their usual routine.

That was that.

IMG_5721_smaller

Tookie, The Cat Who Loved a Pitbull

Tookie 3Love knows no bounds. What animals and human beings are capable of because of love, always amazes me.

When a two-year-old cat named Tookie was surrendered to our shelter in October, his whole life changed. Although that’s really true of any animal that is brought to a shelter, but in Tookie’s case it was a bit different. He was surrendered by his owner (due to moving) and because of this was separated from his best friend in the whole world—a pitbull. According to his former owner, the two animals slept together every night. Tookie loved his pitbull friend, but the girl’s mother would only take her dog; she was allergic to cats.

When Tookie arrived, he had that look on his face that shelter animals sometimes have. It’s the “don’t even look at me because I’m not even here” look. He huddled himself in the corner of the cage and melted our hearts. Slowly, day by day, he started to open up: by leaning slightly into head pets, by giving his little “Tookie cry”—a soulful, squeaky chirp. Then he started to have a major problem.

Continue reading “Tookie, The Cat Who Loved a Pitbull”

Foster Failure

I always thought that fostering would be easy. I know, I know. But in my head, it always seemed like the perfect set-up, especially for people who go on vacation a lot or don’t have a ton of money to take care of an animal of their own. You simply take a cat (or dog, or small animal) home for a week or two, or perhaps six months at the longest—you can set your own time frame—and then you return it to the shelter to be adopted into a wonderful home. It’s like rent-a-pet, only you’re doing a great deed for an animal in need.

Still, I had never fostered because I was at work or in evening classes, plus my roommates who’ve filtered in throughout the years would have killed me. That, and I wasn’t sure how Smirnoff and Bacardi would handle another cat. My current apartment is too small for a third adult cat and its layout is too open to introduce a new cat properly, but I figured a kitten would be ideal since they’re so small and require very little room (to begin with). So when I finally made the decision to move apartments, and with the possibility of fostering in the new apartment blossoming, I figured I would give it a test run before the actual move to see if it was even a good idea. Mostly, it was to test Smirnoff and Bacardi.

Raymond was a cute little two-month-old kitten who was on quarantine (Q) at the shelter. He was on Q because he had scratched the person who found him as a stray, and legally he wasn’t adoptable for 10 days. I’m not sure of the reason for this law (it might have something to do with rabies?), but when blood is drawn, the cat in question is put on Q. No exceptions. When I saw Raymond, he only had two days left, but since he wasn’t adoptable during that time, I asked if I could take him home to foster. Again, as a test. Continue reading “Foster Failure”