Monday, September 27, 2010

Running Multiple Packs (And other fostering issues!)

I don’t know how they do it…those basenji foster caregivers, with several dogs, who aren’t home 24/7. I am, and these “angels” wear me out.

Right now there are thirteen (count ‘em! THIRTEEN) basenjis living IN my house. They are not in a kennel. There are more than a dozen crates stacked in my den. Six of these dogs are fosters. (I also have two “outdoor” dogs.) Here is my problem:

Sunny doesn’t like Gemmy (mutual); Junior beats Sherlock up; Cooper doesn’t like anyone but Sunny and Corky; the five youngsters (two are fosters) love everyone, but not everyone loves them. Consequently, right now I am running 4 packs of dogs, plus one who has to be taken out alone, and on a leash, because she can’t be trusted yet to not make a mighty and successful attempt at escape from the yard.

Letting dogs in and out, and giving them all time out of their crates in the house is a FULL TIME JOB. I’m fortunate enough to be retired (so to speak), and don’t have to work away from home, but most of every day is spent in “Let the dog in; let the dog out...” work.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all of my dogs (nine), and I love having fosters. Working with fosters is very rewarding, especially when you take a frightened little creature who has been neglected, sometimes beaten, rarely socialized, and sometimes biting out of fear, and with love, patience, and time (sometimes LOTS of time), watch it become a loving, confident, and thoroughly entertaining companion.

The hardest part of running multiple packs is deciding into which pack newcomers will fit, without running the risk of one of the gods (oops. I meant to say, “Dogs.” Ummm. No I didn’t. Around here, they all think they are gods, or at the very least, rulers of the kingdom, and must be treated accordingly.) getting hurt. Sometimes the “No fighting, no biting, and no snarking” rule gets forgotten in the melee. And, after I managed to need a total of somewhere around 20 stitches in one year (16 in one bite, and I wasn’t even the intended victim! My foot just got in the way. You should have heard the story I told them at the ER, so that animal control wouldn’t be notified, and dogs quarantined or put down. But I digress…), it became even more important to me to see that the rule was remembered at all times.

So, when new dogs come in for their temporary (albeit, sometimes months long) lay-over en route to their forever home, I spend a day or two, evaluating personalities, and they spend a day or two in semi-quarantine in the small kennel pen inside my backyard, so that there can be interaction in safety, and I can observe. I just can’t imagine not having the luxury of time so that this observation and evaluation can occur, or not having the ability to run several packs, so that everyone can get yard and house time, and still be safe and happy.

Running four packs is just the “right now” condition. Sometimes it is fewer packs, occasionally it is more, when I have a foster that requires individual care, and can’t be run with any other dogs, for health reasons.

A couple of years ago, I had so many fosters to care for that BRAT had to pay for boarding at a kennel. Granted, the lady running the kennel gave BRAT a great rate, but it came with the condition that I come to the kennel and do all of the cleaning and feeding. Those chores, as well as attending to their medical needs, and giving each of them individual attention so that they could become socialized and adoptable, took a big chunk out of my day—twice a day. This meant that twice a day, EVERY DAY, I had to drive 5 miles one-way to take care of them, and that meant time away from the dogs (and horses, nine of them) that needed care at my house. Hubby began to feel neglected, as well.

Of these nine dogs, three needed heartworm treatment, two had Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick fever, and one had both of these conditions in addition to Lyme disease and a compound fractured leg that required extensive and expensive surgery with a stabilization contraption on the outside of her leg. She was confined to a large crate for nearly 6 months, and for the first 3 I had to carry her outside to go to the bathroom several times a day.

I get exhausted just thinking about it.

But, what’s a person to do? The dogs are out there, and they need us. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of “us” to go around. There are other foster/coordinator homes that have as many, sometimes more, than I have handled. You all know who you are.

BRAT is so seriously in need of foster caregivers. In my state, there are probably a dozen BRAT volunteers on paper, in our database. I’ve quit asking them for help because I never get an answer when I ask for it. I can count the number of reliable foster homes here (including me) on three fingers. And, when there are more dogs than there are foster homes, they get stacked up in places where they don’t get all of the attention that they need to become adoptable, and then they either take longer to post and adopt, or the foster becomes their forever home because no one else can/will take them. Those are the dogs that are either so socially damaged or have health problems that they can’t be placed, but the foster has too big a heart to make the decision to put them down.

Why, you may ask, am I telling you all of this?

I am telling you because I am hoping that you might feel sorry for us, and more sorry for the dogs, and decide to become a foster home to at least one dog, and give it a better chance of being placed because it has had the attention it deserves to become socialized and healthy on its way to a forever home.

I’ve heard the excuses for not fostering. You’re afraid that you will become attached. That’s true. You might become attached. You wouldn’t be a caring foster if you didn’t. I’ve become attached to every foster who has passed through my door. I even adopted the first foster that I got, and he’s still here, eight years later. But, I remind myself that my fosters will get so much love in their new home that they will be more spoiled than I can ever make them.

You may think that you can’t give them all of the attention that they deserve. Surely you know that whatever attention you can give them is more than what I can if I have to board them and drive back and forth to take care of them, in addition to taking care of my own dogs plus the fosters who are living in my home.

You may have a limited income. I do. We all do. Other than the expense of food, BRAT covers everything that a foster might need—shots, neutering or spaying, medications. If you don’t have a crate, we can help with that when necessary.

You may feel like you don’t have the skills to take care of a special needs dog, either one that has socialization needs or medical needs. BRAT would never ask you to take on a dog that you think might be more than you can handle, and the lifetime support that we give to all adopters extends to foster caregivers as well. Actually, it extends there first, because you are the first stop on the way to forever happiness and comfort. Help is never more than a phone call or email away.

You may think that you couldn’t possibly sort through adoption applications to place a dog in its forever home. That shouldn’t concern you. Fosters are not expected to do this. That is what coordinators are for. If you feel like you might eventually want to coordinate placement of your foster dog(s), a seasoned coordinator will help you learn what to do.

So, you ask, “What do I have to do to foster a rescued basenji?”

It really isn’t so difficult. You fill out the volunteer form on the BRAT website. Be sure to check “foster” in the items listed for helping. (Any other “helps” that you check will also be appreciated.) Your information will be sent along to the appropriate coordinator who will schedule your home visit.

A home visit is required for all new foster homes, but, as I tell my adoption applicants, a home visit is not a pass or fail inspection. Rather, it is to evaluate your home, and advise you about any possible shortcomings that you can fix, give suggestions about things you can or should do to insure the safety of your foster as well as preserve the integrity of your home (read that, “Keep your home from being chewed and shredded to pieces.”), and answer any questions that you may have about fostering. The evaluator (who may not be your district coordinator, but just another BRAT volunteer) will assess what your capabilities and needs are, so that you can be as properly matched with a foster as possible.

Then, when a foster home is needed in your area, one can be matched with you. Sometimes it is necessary to transport foster dogs from one area of the country to another by use of the Basenji Underground Railroad. You will be asked before any are transported that depend on you volunteering to foster one of those dogs. Everything about the BRAT organization is based on volunteerism.

Well, that just about sums up what I think we need. BRAT can always use donations of money. But, without volunteers to foster rescues, all the money in the world won’t save them.

Now, excuse me. It’s time to let the dogs out/in, again!

-Jacque Holdaway


  1. Bless you! As soon as our Cory passes to the bridge we will be able to help with fostering, but at his age and with his temperment, I am not going to bring in another dog to shorten his time spent with me, and the other 3 keep us busy too. Prayers for more fosters going out. Dawn

  2. Very interesting and informative information. I would personally like to thank all of the BRAT team. If not for people like you we wouldn't have our B "Kizzie". A shout out to the Tampa Bay area Brat coordinators and foster parents. We have a Wiaumama rescue and a 10 year old basenji. thanks again, Trish and Joe Williams, New Port Richey, FL

  3. I have considered that I may want to foster in the future and I appreciate your article. I am not in the right place to make it work yet, but I hope to be soon. Thank you.