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How Do You Know if you Should Adopt Your Foster Dog?

Hello, we wanted to share about what it’s like trying to decide if you should officially adopt your foster dog!

It’s not always an obvious choice, so we know exactly what you’re going through if you currently have a foster pup.

First, Lindsay writes about trying to decide whether or not to adopt her foster dog, Lana. Then Barbara writes about why she decided to adopt her foster pup, Pablo (now named Wally West!).

Last, we try to answer a few common questions to help you make the right decision with your own foster dog.

Should I adopt my foster dog?

Lindsay here!

This won’t surprise anyone, but my husband Josh and I are wondering if we should adopt our foster dog Lana (Robin).

We’ve been going back and forth about it ever since she came to stay with us two weeks ago.

Here’s why: I can’t think of a better second dog for us.

If we don’t adopt Lana, it won’t be because of her. It’s because we might not be ready for two permanent dogs quite yet.

You’d think this would be an easy choice, but it’s very hard! I love Lana but I’m not sure we’re quite ready for two dogs.

I’m not looking for advice on whether or not we should adopt. It’s a decision Josh and I (and our dog Ace) need to make for ourselves.

SONY DSC

Still, I’m curious how the rest of you decided whether or not to adopt your foster dogs or cats. Let me know in the comments.

Note that I’m definitely not one to get attached to my foster animals normally.

I’ve fostered about 14 dogs and 4 cats, and the typical text I send Josh when I find out one of them is getting adopted goes something like:

“Barkley got adopted!! THANK GOD!!”

And then he responds with something like, “WOOOO!”

And then I crack open a beer to celebrate.

Of course, I love my foster animals, but most of them are very stressful.

Foster dogs are a lot of work!

Fostering is usually a lot of work, and Lana is no exception.

She’s been waking me up at 5 a.m. every morning, yipping, and it pisses me off.

She hogs all the attention from Ace, which I find extremely frustrating.

She whines and gets way too excited when we pass other dogs on walks, and I’m realizing she is leash aggressive.

Far from perfect. Pretty much a brat, actually. But we still love her. She’s so cute!

Someone please apply for her soon! 🙂

2020 UPDATE: We ended up finding the perfect home for Lana, a very athletic, recently retired couple adopted her. They live on a ranch in southern California and are very active with their animals every day. Lana is so happy with her new family, and we ended up getting a weimaraner puppy, Remy.

Now Barbara will share her story about her foster pup, Wally.

“Foster fail:” Why I decided to adopt my foster dog

Hi, Barbara here! I write regularly for That Mutt. I’m also a blogger over at K9s Over Coffee AND a foster failure! Here’s how it happened.

I fostered my now pup Wally for exactly one month before I decided to adopt him myself. That was in January of 2019.

I had lost my previous pup, Boxer mix Missy, to cancer in April of 2018. A few months before that, her brother Buzz had moved in with my ex, so I went from having two pups at the house to none.

That feeling of coming home to an empty house sucked. As a matter of fact, it didn’t feel like coming HOME anymore at all. Home was always where my dogs were, and suddenly my home was nothing but an empty building.

While I really wanted to have a doggie companion again, I just couldn’t get myself to pull the trigger on finding a new furry friend.

I know it sounds silly, but it felt like I’d be cheating on Missy and Buzz. Every now and then, I watched a friend’s little pups at my place, but it wasn’t the same as being with my own dogs.

How I became a foster mom in the first place

8 months later, in December of 2018, I finally decided that I was ready to browse pictures of adoptable pups on PetFinder.com.

A pretty female pup, Delilah, caught my eye. She was a larger black & white mutt. Once I started inquiring about her, the rescue organization told me that she was being fostered by a family.

Long story short, I submitted an application along with a virtual tour of my house and multiple references.

Once it was approved, I went out to the family’s home and met Delilah. She was a real sweetheart, and her foster mom and I took her for a walk so that I could experience her on a leash. She was great!

I would have been able to take her home with me right then and there, except that I had already made plans to go to the beach for a few days over New Year’s with a friend.

We rented a beach home that didn’t allow dogs, so I wouldn’t have been able to take Delilah along with me on that trip.

I asked the rescue if they would hold Delilah for a week until I got back from my trip. To my surprise, they weren’t willing to do that and explained that dogs were being adopted on a first come, first serve basis. Fair enough.

One week later, Delilah had been adopted by a different family!

I was disappointed of course, but then a few days later the rescue lady asked me if I’d be willing to foster a dog who’d just been returned after having been adopted a month before. I felt bad for the pup and said yes.

Enter Wally, the Feist Dog

That’s how Wally entered my life and turned me into a foster mom, except back then his name was still Pablo. Pablo-Wally was a 38 lb Feist mix.

If you’ve never heard about that breed, you can read more about it in That Mutt’s article What is a Feist Dog?

Feist mix Wally and Barbara

Pablo-Wally moved in with me in early January. One of the advantages of fostering a dog is that the rescue organization covers all food and medical costs. All I had to provide was TLC and a safe place.

Stressful first few days

The first few days with Pablo-Wally were stressful as we didn’t know each another yet. He didn’t know what I expected of him and vice versa.

So, Pablo-Wally was stressed out the first few days of our new living situation. He showed me just how stressed he was when he decided to lift his leg on the back of my beautiful midcentury sectional. Several times. GULP!

I thought about it and then came to the conclusion that this HAD to be stress-related on his part and therefore temporary. However, the behavior itself HAD to be fixed right away.

So I went ahead and wrapped a doggie diaper around him in a first quick-solution attempt. That worked right away and his leg stayed down.

Another path I took was to leash him inside the house when he wasn’t wearing his diaper and either attach the leash to me or some nearby furniture, e.g. the fridge when I was cooking in the kitchen. When I wasn’t home, I crated him, but never for any longer than 4 hours.

The rescue lady also suggested to give him a few of those relaxation pills that he came with. I think it was Alprazolam, but I’m not entirely sure of the name anymore.

Those combined attempts worked out nicely and he soon stopped wanting to mark inside the house.

Do I really want to keep fostering this pup?!

I’ll be honest and say that that very question popped into my mind when I made the mistake of comparing Pablo-Wally to my late pup Missy.

After all, Missy had NEVER peed on my furniture. She also never did any of his other “interesting” behavior! Read on for a few more GULP moments!

The bed destruction

For example, Pablo-Wally had no clue what to do with a doggie bed. WHAT?! I still had Missy’s plush round bed, so I was willing to pass it on to him. Technically, she had always been a little too big for it, but she had loved curling up in it.

Pablo-Wally first preferred to lie down NEXT to it. He finally agreed to walk into it when I put a tasty treat in there.

He then figured out fairly quickly that this was a pretty comfy space to be in.

However, just a few days into our foster adventure, he also figured out that it was super fun to bite right into the plush raised rim and pull the stuffing out. GULP! Missy had never done that!!

Pablo-Wally lounging in Missy’s old bed, before he decided to rip it apart!

The “anything-plush” destruction

Clearly I also didn’t know that he had a thing for destroying anything plush, regardless of size, shape, and purpose. He destroyed that bed followed by countless plush toys and anything else that was plush, regardless of whether it was a doggie thing or not.

The expensive toy-kidnapping phase

The first few times I took him along into pet retail stores, he managed to “kidnap” plush toys we walked by and then refused to let go.

I ended up having to pay for them, and Pablo-Wally proudly trotted out of the store, tightly holding on to his precious “prey” which was promptly destroyed thereafter. GULP yet again. Missy had also never done that!!

By the way, he’s gotten a lot better at controlling his impulse to simply steal plush toys when we’re out shopping, but he’s still drawn to them. The moment I don’t pay attention, he’ll still grab one. Except that now, he allows me to take it out of his mouth.

The itchy skin phase

Pablo-Wally came to me as one itchy pup. I immediately made the connection between his itchy skin and the poor quality dry dog food he was eating.

I have to interject that I’ve been feeding raw dog food since 2015. Over the years I’ve come to majorly appreciate one of the benefits of feeding raw, which is the healthy dog skin aspect.

That translates into no itchy spots and no biting/licking/scratching at the skin. And that’s exactly what Pablo-Wally did at nighttime. Every 45 minutes or so I’d hear him lift up his head followed by “scratch, scratch, scratch” and “lick, lick, lick”. UGH! So annoying and it really messed with my sleep!

I remember immediately adding a raw egg to his dry dog food the next morning after scratchy/itchy night one, followed by emailing the rescue lady and asked for permission to change his diet to raw dog food.

Technically she was on board with a healthier diet, but she asked me to choose a food that would be easy to implement by his next adopter.

Translation: No raw dog food, but dehydrated raw dog food would be fine. DONE! I went and got some dehydrated The Honest Kitchen‘s Grain-Free Beef which helped A LOT. It didn’t eliminate his scratching and licking sessions 100%, but like I said, it got less intense.

When I thought about how different Wally was from Missy, I made the following mental list of Wally’s shortcomings:

  • Feist mix. Missy was a Boxer mix.
  • Marks on furniture. Missy never did.
  • Destroys dog beds and toys. Missy only destroyed plush dog toys when she was a puppy.
  • Steals plush dog toys from pet retail stores. Missy never did.
  • Has itchy skin. Missy didn’t – but then again, she was also raw-fed.
  • Doesn’t like water/swimming. Missy loved both!

Why I shouldn’t compare Pablo-Wally to my late pup Missy

And then it dawned on me. I adopted Missy (along with Buzz) when she was 8 weeks old. As a puppy. That meant that I was there to teach her what I wanted in a pup right from the get-go.

Wally didn’t have that advantage. He didn’t have the luxury of a permanent home with loving humans who gently guided him through puppyhood. Instead, he had been at 4 (!) different homes within the first year of his life. My house was home number 5!

No wonder he was confused and acted up! It was also unfair to compare his physical looks to those of Missy. After all, they were both completely different dogs and it obviously wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t part Boxer.

Once I realized that, my mission was clear. I had to jump over my shadow and give Pablo-Wally the good puppy life he deserved, meaning:

  • No more changing homes, but one forever home
  • Regular exercise to fulfill him mentally and physically
  • Real food over processed dry dog food
  • Lots of TLC

I came to this realization suddenly, about 4 weeks into our fostering adventure. When I emailed the rescue lady to let her know that I’d like to adopt Pablo-Wally myself, she immediately agreed!

That very evening, Pablo-Wally and I went on a little car ride to buy a doggie backpack for him. I wanted him to have one right then and there, and he’s been loving it ever since!

Wally trying on his new backpack at a pet store in Cary, NC

Will my foster dog think I abandoned him?

Honestly, I think that the answer to this question is usually a big fat “NO”. That’s because dogs are able to adapt to different living situations.

However, it’s one of the questions I asked myself when I weighed the pros and cons of adopting Wally. After all, he had already been at 5 different homes, mine included. I’ll admit that because of that fact, it carried some tremendous weight in my decision-making process.

Ultimately, it was also my main motivator in adopting Wally myself. I really didn’t want him to continue to be passed on from one house to the next. I had a hunch that his itchy skin and his working dog background had something to do with that.

He needed an experienced dog owner who knew how to manage both. Unless that combination was found, it was likely that people would just continue to pass him around.

Now I don’t want to pat myself on the shoulder here, but at this point in time, that experienced dog owner who’s knowledgable in healthy dog nutrition and exercising high-energy dogs was clearly ME!

I’ve been feeding raw dog food since 2015 and have successfully cared for 100s of dogs in my capacity as a professional dog walker and pet sitter.

One and a half years later, it turns out that I made the right decision for Wally and for myself.

We’ve turned into a great team over the course of the last year and a half, and let me tell you that he LOVES his new raw diet! He’s no longer itchy and does great with his daily backpack walks and occasional hikes and bike rides.

Wally with his raw dog food

Questions to ask yourself before adopting

I want to clarify that I didn’t take the decision-making progress of adopting Pablo-Wally lightly. In addition to feeling sorry for his past, I did make sure to ask myself the following questions:

1. Is this really the right dog for me?   

Is your heart set on a certain type of dog or breed? That’s definitely something to take into consideration when you’re deciding if you should adopt your foster dog.

For some reason, I thought that my next dog would either be part Boxer again or maybe even a purebred Boxer. However, I noticed that I wasn’t as stuck on a certain breed like I thought I was.

Besides the breed part, I did know that I wanted a medium to large-sized, fairly active, young dog who’d:

  • Enjoy going on daily walks with me
  • Be a good hiking partner
  • Make a decent protection pup
  • Love going on road trips and explore new places with me
  • Have a wash-n-go coat
Wally LOVES going for car rides!

Those were non-negotiable and Wally checked all those boxes! Small, yippie dogs or those with long coats that require professional grooming sessions would have been a no-go.

Wally out on a hike with me

2. Can I really offer this dog the best home?     

A young, active dog like Wally needs structure in his life along with consistent exercise, both physical and mental. That’s something I truly enjoy providing, so that part was easy.

At the same time, he’s not in crazy active overdrive 24/7 like some herding breeds I know. I’m thinking of Shepherds (German, Belgian, Australian) and Border Collies. That would have been a deal-breaker. I’m active, but I’m not THAT ACTIVE!

I’m also not gone for work all day long, at least not on a daily basis. As a blogger and small business owner in the pet services industry, my work schedule is fairly flexible.

On those days when I’m truly busy all day long, I have a reliable support system consisting of dog walkers and friends who can help me out with the pup.

3. Will I be able to care for this dog for as long as he lives?

That’s the plan! Obviously plans can change, but I’m not one of those people who decide to bring a dog home and then get rid of them when they start becoming inconvenient for some reason.

I just moved, and it was a no-brainer that Wally would come along on that new adventure! It won’t have been my last move either, and Wally will tag along on all future moves as well.

Something to consider prior to moving into a rental is whether or not your new home will be dog-friendly, especially if your potential future pup is considered to be a “dangerous” dog.

You know, like German and Belgian Shepherds, Dobermans, Chow-Chows, American Pit Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, etc.

I’d like to underline that I personally do NOT consider these breeds to be dangerous – I’ve had doggie clients who belonged to every one of those breeds and they were all good pups. But unfortunately, breed specific legislation (BSL) is a reality to be aware of.

4. Am I prepared to care for this dog even if he gets sick and requires expensive medical care?

Yep! One of the first things I checked off my “Wally to-do list” was to enroll him in medical pet insurance.

He’s currently on a health plan with Healthy Paws Pet Insurance that costs $41/month. The terms include a $250 yearly deductible and a 10% co-pay on all treatments.

Since cancer is the leading cause of death for dogs over 10 years of age and is beginning to be more common in younger dogs as well, I want to be prepared for the potential high treatment cost.

Obviously I’m hoping that cancer will spare Wally. I’m also doing my best to strengthen his immune system by feeding him a balanced, raw dog food diet, but you never know.

My former pup Missy was diagnosed with cancer for the first time when she was just 3 years and 3 months old, or should I say young! This was before our raw dog food journey, and the catalyst for feeding it in the first place.

Missy during a chemotherapy session

Thankfully I had enrolled Missy in medical dog insurance since they ended up covering 90% of her overall $7,689.20 cancer treatment price tag.

Back then, our insurance provider was Pets Best. They were awesome and reimbursed me via direct deposit within just a few days. The only reason why I didn’t enroll Wally with them was because Healthy Paws seems to have better terms nowadays.

How long is too long to foster a dog?

There’s really no specific time frame within which a dog can be fostered. Some dogs will only need a foster home for a few days or weeks, while others will need foster humans for many months.

It all depends on the amount of interest in a particular dog, and also on whether or not they’re healthy. Some dogs who are sick will require treatment first, and they’ll recover at their foster home.

They’ll only be ready for adoption once they’re healthy again. For example, one common sickness that prevents dogs from being adoptable right away is if they test positive for heart worms.

I personally have only ever fostered Wally this one time, and only for one month. One of my dog walking clients, however, was a serial-foster!

She had a thing for Beagles and fostered one Beagle pup after the other. Some of them were adopted and re-homed within just a few weeks, others stayed with her for months.

I think the longest time one of her Beagle pups stayed at her place was 6 months, and that was because she was heart worm positive and needed to make it through her treatment first.

Now we’d love to hear from the rest of you!

How did you decide whether or not to adopt your foster dog?

How did you know the pet was “the one”? Or, how did you know it was OK to let the pet go to a different family? Let us know about your situation in the comments!

Related blog posts:

Tips for bringing home a foster dog

What is dog fostering like? (My Q & A with Abby from Doggerel on fostering German shepherds)

How to get started with dog fostering (my guest post on Pawsitively Pets)

How to foster a cat

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