When A Foster Dog Picks You – Why I Kept A Dog I Did Not Want.

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When A Foster Dog Picks You – Why I Kept A Dog I Did Not Want.

Keeping A Dog I Did Not Want - Foster Dog Fail

The purpose of this post is to show people that even damaged dogs can bring so much joy and fulfillment to your life. That the dogs you may not think are the best for you – may be the ones you need the most.

As the proud mom of 2 pitties Ginger and Riley – I knew I wanted to help more pit bull type dogs when they passed away. These dogs taught me the meaning of love, how to live life to the fullest and how absolutely fabulous pit bull breed dogs are. They are the reason I am an advocate and the reason I will do everything I can to educate as many as I can about the breed to help more find homes.

Ginger lived to be 14.5 and Riley passed 2 weeks after her 14th birthday – good lives for pitties. We adopted them at 8 weeks old from our local SPCA. The momma was a breeding dog for dog fighters in one of the worst towns in our area – so we made sure we were ready to commit to these 2 angels we were lucky to call “our girls” so they would never fall into the wrong hands.

They never knew a bad day. They were loved, they were cared for mentally and physically and they never had a fear of anything in the world. They had what we considered perfect puppy lives from beginning – until they passed in our arms at the vet.

This is the life every dog deserves.

When Ginger passed in March 2016 – I was overwhelmed with the loss of my 2 best friends in such a short period of time and in no way was ready for a new family member.

Then a dog appeared in my Facebook feed (see the below image) – now, I am active in rescue to an extent – so I see a lot of dogs in need in my feed, but this one was different. For some reason she really spoke to me in that picture for whatever reason.

The next day I went up to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter to see this girl – and my heart broke in a million pieces.

She was so broken – mentally, physically and emotionally.

She had clearly been bred, starved and her backend had no muscle tone so she had a hard time walking. We believe she was kept in a crate most of her days – but she was found roaming with another dog when the shelter got her.

She made no eye contact with me and actually receded as far back in her kennel as she could to avoid me. When they went to get her to bring her out to me – she literally had to be carried out.

Not only was she broken – she was now breaking me. I could feel the tears welling up…

Cleo in the FB post I saw

I said OK I will foster her – so we put her in my car and off we went.

I had no intentions of keeping her – NONE, NADA, ZERO.

What I really wanted!

I wanted an older pittie – one who had been in a shelter for too long.

I wanted a less active pittie – one who did not need hours of play.

I wanted a dog that could go to stores and out in public.

I wanted a dog that would welcome people into our home with a friendly butt wag and a kiss.

I knew what I wanted and this dog was not it. The plan was to bring her home, make her healthy and happy and find her the perfect forever home.

Clearly someone had a different plan.

Our first few weeks were hard – like really hard.

I wanted to quit and send her back to the shelter. Yes it was that tough. I was not equipped to handle the issues she had and my non-dog loving husband although tried hard, sometimes was not patient either. He has always supported my animal crazies — he was a great dog dad to our girls, even though he never wanted dogs – so when I brought Cleo home he did not know what to expect – but he did not expect this.

She came to our home August 2016 – a terrified nervous wreck. I had no idea what I was doing as I had never dealt with a dog like this before. I had no skills in the area – but I hoped with love, patience and kindness – she would learn to trust.

She ran away from everything and everyone. She bowed in fear if we went to pet her. Her pupils were huge – her eyes always wide with fear. She was terrified.

A fun dog she was not.

What we did that first week:

  1. Kept her crated a lot the first few days to let her decompress and know that the crate is her “safe space”
  2. Limited our time engaging with her so she could just get used to her surroundings without us stressing her out
  3. Because she had so many emotional issues we decided to invest in a dog anxiety vest to see if that could bring some relief
  4. Took her to the vet
  5. Gave her toys and chewies
  6. Fed her the same time every day – and always kept that water bowl full
  7. Invested in a GPS Dog Tracking Collar – although we have a fenced yard we did see some indicators she may try to get out due to immense fear.

So after doing the above we settled in and prepared for a stressful few weeks ahead.

The vet estimated she was 2-3 years old, definitely had a few litters and said she was about 20 pounds underweight. But otherwise she seemed very healthy physically. The doctor noted emotional issues based on her body stature and mannerisms and prescribed a little puppy prozac – which to date we have not used.

ETA 1/10/18: someone noted on our Facebook page about us not giving her the “puppy prozac” and we wanted to clarify that the not giving it to her was not because we are anti-pill, but we could not physically give it to her. We tried everything under the sun and she spit it out every time. We even tried to “get it down her throat” so to speak – but she became a terrified mess – so we just put the pills aside until we felt we could get them in her consistently. We WILL give this another go now that she is more acclimated and trusting of me.

OK, we are making progress.

The first few weeks with her were tough – but she was such a good girl we wanted to help…..she did not come around for a few weeks and when she did start to you can tell she was clearly going to be a mommy’s girl.

We wanted to give up on her so many times I felt guilty for even thinking like that….but I am glad we hung in there with her.

She continued to a have a very strong fear of my husband which would prove much harder to overcome.

Cleo Animal Communicator
Cleo – Easter 2017

She began to gain weight and looked a little more for some petting and snuggles after about a month.

But often when I went to pet her she would cringe in fear – this lasted for months.

On our first walk – which was about 2 weeks after she arrived, the world terrified her. We barely made it down the driveway – even a leaf blowing would have her stuck to the ground in fear. It took about 3-4 months before we made it around the block without her cringing at everything.

Her back legs were so week she could not walk far – it took months for her to build of the strength to do longer walks.

About 6 months of having her I began to realize she may never be an “emotionally healthy” dog. She will never 100% trust. She will always growl from fear. She will always cringe if a stranger goes to pet her.

Cleo has been with us 17 months now.

She is ours. We are a foster fail. 

Why we kept her.

  • She is not uber friendly.
  • She is still fearful of so many situations.
  • When we are on walks she shows a lot of aggression towards dogs – and some people.
  • She has triggers – lots of them.
Cleo Before & After

Rehoming her we realized would NOT be in her best interest due to these issues. There are not many homes that are patient enough or willing to have a dog with these issues.

So with us she will stay because we know what we can offer is a home that works for her needs.

  • We have a quiet calm home with a teenager. It is a consistent life with security and a schedule.
  • I work from home – which helps with her anxiety.
  • There are no real stressors for her to have to deal with.
  • There are no risks of her biting or being aggressive with children.

We are the right home for her – even if she is not what we wanted.

Why we did not want her.

Well, she was not perfect.

She definitely was not perfect for US!

  • She could play ball in the yard for hours — and we mean HOURS. We realized this is probably because she had never played for those first few years and now she is afraid it will end!
  • She has more energy than we wanted – not that we are old, but we are not uber active.
  • We have to put her away when company is over because she becomes so fear aggressive – even in her crate, that she scares our friends.
  • We cannot take her all the places we want to go – everything is a slow patient introduction. She does not embrace new things but fears them which makes it hard to take her on road trips.

Why she is perfect for us.

  • She forces me to get out for a walk every day. I work from home – I could work 12 hours straight without taking a break, but she has changed that. She makes me play ball in the yard and take her for a walk EVERY day! She is making me healthier – she is what I needed!
  • My husband kind of digs her – that in itself is a feat. She has a weird relationship with him – he is the play guy, she rarely snuggles with him – but oh man – when it comes to playing daddy rules. He was the one who said we should keep her.
  • She has taught me forgiveness – to see a dog so horribly mistreated be able to trust is an awesome human life goal to have. If she can forgive and learn to trust – well, then so can I.
  • We have learned some things come into our lives even when we do not expect it for a reason – she filled a hole in our heart and gave us back the sense of family we were missing due to losing both our girls.
  • She is one hell of a snuggler – and those eyes thank me every day.
  • I can let her off leash in our favorite walking spot and she stays by my side. There is a bond I never had with a dog before.

She is not an emotionally healthy and happy dog and never will be – it is what we always had and it was nice never needing to stress about who was coming over or whether a “trigger” would set them off.

But on the flip side, watching Cleo have those happy carefree dog moments when she is playing ball or walking in our favorite woods – PRICELESS!

Where we will go from here.

This year we are going to meet with a trainer to determine if she is in fact dog aggressive or just terrified and see if a new addition to our family may help her with her insecurity and fear issues. We WANT for her to have that carefree attitude so many dogs get to have. We want to make sure she has the best life we can give her.

She gets along well with our cat (although the cat is mean as hell to her) – but given her prey drive for squirrels we are proud of how well she does with our small gray cat Snoopy – who can almost be mistaken for a squirrel! Oh, and on that note – we do currently have what we think is the best squirrel proof bird feeder in our yard so they cannot get to the food – but they still try. That is one of the best benefits to keeping Cleo around – chasing squirrels is how she earns her keep around here! I promise she will NEVER hurt one – but it is nice to have them stay away so the birds can enjoy their food in peace.

We still have a it of work to do with her and other animals – especially dogs – we hope someday she will see the joy in puppy play and not fear other dogs.

While I know she is happy – I want more for her. I want her to not stress – not fear people and know that she is FOREVER safe.

Why looking for the “perfect” dog is the wrong thing to do.

So what we hope everyone can take away from this – is that the perfect dog you may be looking for, may not be so perfect after all. I am glad I saw Cleo in my feed that day – because she has turned into my “soul dog”. While I loved Ginger and Riley immensely – they were so closely bonded I feel I lost that closeness many owners have with having 1 dog.

Give a dog a chance that you may not think is right, but for some reason tugs at you.

Oh and then there is also the Animal Communicator I met with that told me Cleo was meant to be with me….that is another great story in itself!

Have you found your pet in a similar way? We would love to hear how your furry friend came into your life!

Jill Caren CharityPaws

Jill Caren

Jill is an avid animal lover who spends her time helping animal rescues by photographing homeless pets and through her work on CharityPaws.

She is currently owned by Cleo, an American Pit Bull Terrier and Snoopy Cat. Her inspiration comes from her girls Ginger and Riley (RIP) – pit mix sisters who were loved family members for almost 15 years.

You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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18 thoughts on “When A Foster Dog Picks You – Why I Kept A Dog I Did Not Want.”

  1. All my dogs were rescues. I was down to 1 dog, so I took a look at a shelter’s website to see what may be available. I fell in love with one pictured dog and decided to go down to the shelter to see him. The shelter said he had been found tied to the gate one morning when they came in, but he was NOT friendly at all – especially hated or feared, or both, men. I went down to see him anyway. The shelter tried their best to not even let me see him. They said he was very dangerous and I should not even look at him. The steered me to all their other dogs. I didn’t see one that I liked and asked again to see this particular one. He was in a 3-4 acre field – all be himself – with a building between him and all the other dogs, all of whom were shrieking and barking non-stop. I said again that I wanted to see him. They said, “No, you don’t”. I insisted. They finally said OK, but gave me this string of rules that I had to follow – don’t look him in the eye, don’t face him directly, do NOT try to pat him on the head, only the back, but they finally took me to his “pen”. My father had been a part-time dog trainer when he first got married, was VERY good with dogs, and at reading dogs intentions. He taught us how to deal with all kinds of dogs, what to do, what NEVER to do with a dog, so I did what he had taught me and completely ignored the dog in whom I was interested. The 2 women from the shelter couldn’t take their eyes off him as they worried he might attack. Within about 5 minutes this dog was leaning against my let, so without looking down at him, I just reached down and stroked him along his back, over and over. He leaned harder. He had picked me, and I had picked him. The shelter people were looking very shocked and said something about the was I was petting him. I said, “you said I could only pat him on the back, right?” They said no – we can only pat him on the head – no one has ever been able to touch him back. I said, OK, I’m taking him. They were SHOCKED. They said I’d bring him back. I said if I take him, you will NEVER see him again. I just have to see how he gets along with my other dogs. They said I’d have to bring them there. I said, “They’re sitting in the truck.” We put them all together in a smaller exercise pen, and my little female went up to him and dropped into the play position. The shelter dog couldn’t resist. I took him home that day and he is NEVER going back!!!!! He is not too fond of men, but there are some (who are NOT afraid of dogs and think he’s very handsome (he is) and he is good with them. Dogs can tell good people from bad people MUCH better than we can. He has NEVER tried to hurt my cat, and I’ve seen them touching noses together a couple of times.

    • OMG I love you! We need more of you in the world. I hate that the shelters and rescues are so quick to judge without getting an expert opinion or giving the dog a chance. These dogs are TERRIFIED and sadly we do not always know what they have been through. My girl Cleo is tough….we are 5 years in with her and she is still terrified of so much. Her anxiety is exhausting. But – I know she is happy and loved……and I would not have changed a thing. I hope you and that pooch have an amazing life together…….and THANK YOU for being an amazing human! Jill

  2. Hi – we are fostering a 1.5 year old pittie who is very close to that “perfect” dog. Loves to play, love to snuggle and loves everyone and everything. She is so cute and sweet, and we love her. My husband and I are clean freaks and never thought we could get over the mess of shedding, but here we are. I do worry that we are a little boring, but am thinking about fostering another dog if we keep her to give her company and for her to “mentor.” We just Got the call that she’s ready to go up for adoption, and now we have to decide…. do we let her go to another family to spread her love, or do we keep her for ourselves because she has been such a great addition to our life??

    • Hi Ali, thank you for being a foster family! It is one of the hardest things to do – because we know we are supposed to let them go when their time comes and as you now know, that is not always easy. Only your heart can guide you on this one. Yes, the rescue may be disappointed to lose a great foster – but they will be happy their dog has an amazing home. I think you keeping her, but still opening the door to another foster is an exceptional idea – and one I have been considering myself! Let me know what you decide! Jill

  3. I so loved reading you’re story because there are so many similarities to two of my dogs for different reasons.
    I now have a fear aggressive dog who is super young and came to me at 4 months. He’s now about 2. And he has to live separately to my other two dogs. It’s taken us a long time to find what works for us even after having help from various professionals. Nothing that gave a very positive outlook. And with his issues I know he is safest with me.
    I’ve questioned myself and if I’m the right person for him more times then I can count. And it’s crossed my mind that maybe I made a mistake. But I believe every one of my dogs were meant for me.
    Had I gone down the uk rescue route I would have been matched with a dog that perfectly suited my needs. And likely to also be declined (I was refused a dog by one rescue).
    Two of the dogs I have are definitely not on paper the dogs that “best suit my lifestyle” BUT I so believe in what you said about the dogs finding us.
    For various reasons my dogs are my dogs because they were destined to teach me to become a better and better human. To learn to love again. To help me through a tough time and give me a reason to keep going.
    They found me and I am so beyond grateful they did, even if I don’t always think it ????

    • This is awesome Katie! I am so glad you stayed dedicated to your boy – I feel the same as you, they deserve more and found us for a reason! My girl is a handful – and sometimes exhausting, but those few moments when she totally decompresses and just becomes a dog make it all so worth it! Wishing you and your crew nothing but happiness and health! Love these stories — and proof there are so many amazing people out there like yourself! Jill

  4. I have a VERY similar story about my boy, Buster (70lb Black Mouth Cur). We took him as a foster in April of 2017 and in his intake photos he was visibly fearful and my husband said “he just needs a hug”. He was on last chance and needed a foster. We agreed to take him. He was extremely fearful and ran in the first 24 hours. Very smart boy and tracked us while we looked for him, I just couldn’t get close enough to catch him in our yard or get a leash on him. I finally caught him after 12 hours with the help of a bucket of Easter ham and a friend. He was sick (heartworms and UTI), fearful, and we concerned that at 60lbs, once he became confident, he would become aggressive. He was terrified of people, men especially, and would coward at any direction (commands, lifting of arms) towards him.

    He was finally adopted, by what appeared to be the perfect family for him, in August 2017, just after becoming comfortable with me and “asking” for pets, and lost in the same day. It took us 10 days to locate and capture him again. I had already made the determination that if the adoption did not work out, we would end up with another dog (adding to our 2 already).

    Needless to say, he is happily ours, a momma’s boy (growls at my husband – fear), is heartworm free, neutered, and has earned his good canine citizenship badge from training! He follows me around everywhere and doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body.

    I recently spoke to an animal communicator and she said the same thing, he was meant for me. Your story rings true for me on so many levels, I appreciate you sharing!

    • Rachael this is awesome and does sound just like my story! Buster was meant for you — I do think they find us, whether we want them or not. Cleo is tough — she still growls at my husband after 2 years – still cowers when new people come near her on walks and I would never allow her to be near strangers in our home, she gets locked away in our bedroom. Sadly, most people would write dogs like this off and not give them a chance – but they deserve that chance more than happy go lucky dogs! I am so happy Buster found you – and thank you for giving a “hard to love” dog a fantastic home!

  5. Lucky, lucky Cleo. It’s heartbreaking to even imagine what happened to her to cause such fear. There is lots of time for her to become less fearless, the progress you made in such a short time is amazing. I’m surprised to hear your husband is not a dog person, yet wanted to keep her, and plays with her. I remember when Dolly was a puppy destroying everything nonstop when a thought hit me, what if she doesn’t outgrow it, what if she’s going to be a bad dog, would I have to give her up? I can’t believe I ever thought that, despite her still being quite a challenge! I’m going to remember this story for BlogPaws awards. Sandra and Dolly

    • Thank you so much Sandra….and thank you for not giving up on Dolly! Lot’s of people give up so quickly……and it is heartbreaking — we all have our moments of wanting to quit I am sure, but sticking it through is definitely the best feeling when you start to see them get on the right track! Hope to see you at BlogPaws!!!!!

  6. I am so glad you “failed” and now she has a great family that is taking good care of her. I hope her fears will weaken as time go by and she realizes the world is not so scary 🙂

  7. This is such a beautiful story!! No not all things are perfect, not all dogs are perfect, LIFE isn’t perfect but when you stick by a dog, they will learn to trust and eventually stick by you. So much progress has been made thanks to your dedication and I KNOW in time she is going to become even more of a wonderful family member! Dogs are SO super intelligent! They know when they are loved, and who to trust. Bless you!!!!

    • Dogs are the best therapy that is for sure! I am only hoping that one day I can really feel her “loving” life, not wondering when bad it going to happen! The day she holds that head high will be a huge sense of fulfillment!

  8. I do believe that some dogs and people are just destined to find each other and stay together. Sounds like this is one of those situations when things happen because they’re meant to be.

    • I 100% believe she was meant to find me somehow —- I never really believed in that type of thing before, but I sure do now!

  9. I’m so glad that you recognized Cleo as the right dog to bring home and foster! Even though she wasn’t exactly what you wanted, it sounds like she is just the right dog for your family! I always think that “foster failure” it the ultimate foster success story.

    • Absolutely Beth — we love a good foster fail story, especially when there is an “underdog” involved like Cleo.