Loving a Foster Who Doesn’t Know How To Love You Back

Last week I posted about the importance of being a foster parent and why it makes me sad when people say they’re too nervous because “their heart can’t handle giving the animal up.”

Because let’s be honest for a minute, the only way the majority of animals will make it out of the shelter ALIVE is if a foster steps up to help.

So… you’re either looking at the selfish fact that this animal may break your heart on its way to a forever family or this animal will most likely be killed, scared and alone in a cold shelter room.

You tell me which is more heartbreaking?

I know from an outside perspective that sounds pretty cruel and dramatic…but unfortunately it’s 100% true. Most private rescue organizations just don’t have the money to operate a facility and hire employees. That means they survive solely on fosters.

I understand  the idea of bonding with a helpless animal, nurturing them for a set amount of precious time and then letting them go to their forever home, sounds heart-wrenching, but the more you do it, the more you realize it’s a magical and transformative experience…as well as a necessity (if we ever want to make a dent in our homeless animal epidemic).

And this brings me to the post you’re currently reading where I want to expand on a very important concept; not every foster animal is going to fill your emotional cup and tear your heart to bits when it finds it’s perfect home…and that’s OK because you’re doing this for THEM and not for YOU.

Just like Hollywood movies about romance and relationships, our culture weaves a narrative and expectation that all pet/human relationships will be like fairytales. Full of love, laughter and happy strolls on the beach. Usually this IS true, but on very rare occasions, it doesn’t come as easily.

Especially if you’re fostering an animal who has never been exposed to kindness.

This is when it’s of UTMOST importance you step up to the plate and remind yourself that your purpose as a foster parent is to nurture THEM, even IF you don’t feel that they’re nurturing YOU in return. I say this because I’m currently in this specific situation.

One of my fosters is a senior who has clearly led a neglected life. The scars on her body as well as the way she flinches every time you go to touch her, tell a story. I believe she lived a life of neglect and had to constantly fend for herself. I don’t believe she ever knew the warm embrace of a human, the promise of daily meals or the softness of a couch.  Because of this, her personality is not as soft and squishy as my past fosters. She prefers to do her own thing, wandering from room to room, sniffing the grass and occasionally (finally) snuggling beside me. While this was not the vision I had when I brought her home, it’s the reality I’ve come to learn these past couple months.

My first reaction to this unfamiliar dynamic was to think that I was doing something wrong. I’m a seasoned foster mom for goodness sake…I can transform any animal, right?

But then last week, the universe sent me a message by putting a social media post in front of me that made me realize the answer isn’t that easy.

It was a post from a rescue organization called “Frosted Faces” located near San Diego and you can see more on their instagram…but here’s the gist of the story…

A few months ago they rescued a very sick, senior dog named Champion. Champion was extremely ill and was dying a slow and miserable death in the shelter.

Thankfully, Frosted Faces pulled Champion out and got him the vet care he needed.

But then they learned that Champion was not as easy case; for as his health grew, so did his aggression. It pains me to think why he associated humans as being so cruel, but clearly he never experienced anything to prove otherwise.

The amazing folks at Frosted Faces took every measure possible to give Champion the dignity and integrity he deserved for the few months he lived under their doting care.

He had toys, lounged in the sun, enjoyed treats, etc.…. but Champion STILL wouldn’t let many people get close to him physically. His intense fear led to his aggressive behavior and the caring folks at Frosted Faces had to handle him carefully and take special precautions.

While most people would have given up on Champion because he was not giving THEM anything in return for all their hard work, Frosted Faces understood that Champion WAS grateful and was loving them the best way HE knew how. It might not look like the love you EXPECT from a dog, but it was to the best of HIS ability…and when the time came for Champion to peacefully cross the rainbow bridge, the humans who helped save him knew they had done everything they could.

Thus, this brings me back to my current revelation that not all animals you foster are going to immediately become the love of your life….

Sometimes you just have to remember the bigger picture and the fact that you’re the “in between-er” who has the amazing gift to give this animal what nobody else is willing to…the time/space/freedom to become themselves, whatever that means for THAT particular animal!

Again, while most cases of fostering are fun, easy and full of excitement, it’s always important to remember that sometimes you get paired with an animal with more specific needs.

Instead of getting angry or frustrated, expand your mind and think about why this particular dog chose you to be their foster parent. There’s ALWAYS a lesson (if not MANY lessons) that you learn through each fostering experience.  And last but not least, never forget… while fostering is SOOOO rewarding for humans (mentally and physically) it’s really for THEM and not for YOU!

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