What is Compassionate Fostering?
Switchblade Creative Studios loves this article first published by StubbyDog and written by Micaela Myers. We are proud to be Compassionate Foster Caregivers for Muttville Senior Dog Rescue (Read this great article below, then check out our personal story of compassionate fostering, “The Story of Collette”)
original publish date August 3, 2011
Opening hearts and homes to abandoned pit bulls in their final days.
By Micaela Myers
Tera had been at the shelter for two months. An older pit bull with skin cancer and two blown knees, her adoption chances were as low as can be. Knee surgery would cost at least $8,000, and the skin cancer wasn’t going to get better, either. Plus, she was now suffering from kennel stress.
So Tera went to live with Nicole Edwards, a veterinary nurse who welcomes dogs like Tera into her home for what’s known as compassion fostering.
Most foster parents bring a dog into their home knowing that the dog is on his way to a happy ending: a forever home. Compassion fosters have a very different end game: to shower that dog in love until he or she is euthanized. For a dog who is frightened and alone, compassion fosters open their homes and hearts so that dog can leave this world enveloped in love.
Edwards is the president of Even Chance: Pit Bull Advocacy, Resources and Rescue, based in San Diego. In addition to a regular foster and adoption program, her group offers compassion fostering.
“If there weren’t such a surplus of pit bulls,” she says, “maybe people would be into adopting a 10-year-old dog who’s a little gray and a little bit slower, or a dog that has a weird gimp because it was hit by a car and nobody helped. We’re just trying to alleviate the stress on the shelter system because [euthanasia is] all they do, and it’s really sad.”
Tera stayed with Edwards for eight months. “I loved this dog so much,” she recalls. “We took her skin cancer off. We let her live like a normal dog as long as we could, but her skin cancer came back, and her knees became a bigger problem. So she had an awesome eight months. She hung out with my dogs. She slept in my bed. She was like the mama dog of the house, which was very cool. Her favorite toy was a football, and it’s my favorite sport. I have two big baskets of toys. She would always pick the football out and literally throw it around the yard, squeak it a little bit, throw it around the yard some more.”
How compassion fostering works
Approximately 5 million animals are killed in shelters each year. Up to one in three are pit bull types (or labeled as such). Many shelters won’t even put pit bulls up for adoption. For those shelters that do, placing even healthy young pitties can be difficult given the misconceptions, stereotypes and breed restrictions.
In a better world, every dog would find a good new home, but until then Edwards and other dedicated volunteers make sure that no pittie in a San Diego County shelter has to die afraid or alone. The dogs Even Chance accepts into their compassion foster program have medical problems or behavior issues due to past neglect or abuse.
“The dogs pretty much get spoiled as long as we can,” Edwards explains. “That can be anywhere from a week to several months, depending on the case and what we can provide them.”
If there is no room in the compassion foster program, Edwards or one of her team members will spend a day with the shelter dog.
“I’ll take them to Fiesta Island [dog beach] on a long line. They can run around for as long as they want. They can get all dirty, have fun and play on the beach. We go back to the shelter to the outside area that’s set up [for their euthanasia]. We have a rotisserie chicken. They know me by then. They get to sit and eat an awesome meal.”
Focusing on the love
For most of us, the very thought of bonding with a dog we can’t save is too much to handle. Edwards focuses on the love she is able to give these dogs in their final days.
“I think the way that I’m able to deal with it is that we know this is the end for these dogs, and I feel fortunate enough to make it easier on them,” she says. “That’s my way of coping with it – knowing that they’ll have a full belly before they go, and that they’ll be happy and be with people that they already know and feel comfortable with.”
Edwards has personally welcomed nine compassion fosters into her home in the last few years. Loving seniors like Tera, who were cast off by their owners, are some of the hardest compassion cases for her to deal with emotionally.
“There’s definitely a grieving process after, especially when they’ve lived with you for almost a year. It’s almost your own dog,” she explains, adding that her fellow rescue volunteers are the best therapy during the grieving process. She calls them to reminisce about the dog and also vent about the previous owners who abandoned their pet. “I’m a big talker, so I talk it out,” she says.
Fellow compassion foster Jessica Stone says that showering the dog with love and positive experiences during the time he or she is with her helps during the grieving process after.
“I feel like during the time I have the dog I try and do absolutely everything I can,” she says, “taking them on lots of walks or letting them smell all the things they didn’t get to smell at the shelter or maybe in their previous life, giving them treats, letting them see the beach and the mountains.”
Edwards agrees. “It’s like going to grandma’s house for the weekend. They get to be on the bed. They get to be on the couch. They get to eat food they probably wouldn’t get.”
Eight-month-old Cooper was the second dog Edwards took in as a compassion foster. “He was found on the side of the freeway. He had his ears cut down to his skull. He also had two broken elbows that the vet thought had been that way maybe two months if not longer. He was not a surgical candidate to have them fixed, given the damage.”
Because of his broken elbows, Cooper had to crawl to get around and would tear open his skin in the process. He lived with Edwards for two weeks before he was humanely put down.
“That was a really sad case for us because there was nothing we could do for that dog,” she explains. “He was so young, but I’m sure he endured some pretty crappy situations in his short time.”
Edwards hopes that in his next life, “he can go on and get a new body where his elbows are not broken. He can have his ears back, and he can live with someone who loves him.”
Because in the end, that’s all any pit bull wants: someone who loves them.