Fostering Dogs Makes You Grow

I keep a list in the back of a notebook: the benefits of fostering dogs. I have a new one to add.

Fostering dogs makes you grow. Whether you want to or not.

Ginny the foster dog is as small as a boot.

If it weren’t for the long tail, she’d barely be longer than a boot.

Freaked Out Foster Mom

I have a “thing.”

I’m not good around sick people. Or injured people. Or even doctors. (I’ve managed to avoid them for 25 years, so far.)

Last week the volunteer coordinator at the SPCA asked if I was available for a medical foster. She attached three pages of hospital discharge instructions for Ginny who had been hit by a car.

I had to skim the instructions. Reading the description of Ginny’s femoral head and neck ostectomy (getting rid of the ball joint where her thigh joins the hip and allowing her tendons and muscles to take on the weight) made me a little queasy. As did the instructions for inspecting her sutures and doing active and passive range of motion exercises.

You see, sick animals spook me just as much as sick people.

I wondered if another volunteer would be better rehabilitating Ginny.

Ginny the foster dog with Honey the golden retriever.

The midget and the giant.

Why I Agreed to Foster

It always comes back to Honey. Most foster families have other dogs. Ginny would have to go to a home where she could get the exercise she needed to strengthen her muscles without overdoing it. No wrestling. No chasing.

And I knew that Honey would not play with Ginny if I asked her not to.

Besides that, I work from home most of the time and December is a slow month. So I’d have time to do a series of exercises 10 times each throughout the day.

Finally, I know that someday I will have to nurse someone in my life. I might as well try to get over myself early.

Ginny arrived at our home Tuesday afternoon and she’s doing great. But I’ve found a new thing to freak out about.

Ginny the foster dog gets physical therapy.

Therapy time.

Foster Mom or Physical Therapist

Ginny is a spry little thing. She has no problem getting around. But she’s only using three legs. The leg that was operated on just dangles as she walks.

It’s my job to help Ginny build up the muscles so she bears weight on that leg. As soon as that happens, she’s ready to find her forever home.

The pressure is on.

If I don’t do my job right, I’m hindering her recovery. The guilt is very motivating.

So don’t expect to find me lurking around Facebook. Or tweeting for a while. Because if I want to be a good foster mom, I’ll be kinda busy.

And maybe I’ll even grow into a better person.

Your Turn: Are you a good animal nurse? Or would you rather leave those jobs to someone else?


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  1. I am afraid I am not very compassionate when it comes to people, but I can fake it.

    I also hate being the one nursed. I think it stems from the fact that I am extremely independent, and I hate being fussed over or needing help. My broken knee cap right now makes me miserable, not because it hurts, but because it stole my independence!

    My in-laws’ pug had that same operation on one hip to fix hip dysplasia. He did the same thing of running on 3 legs for a long while (they did NO re-hab exercises). But as time went on, he put the leg down occasionally, then more often, and then always. I am sure under your good care, Ginny will use that leg in no time.

    • Thanks for sharing your in-laws’ story. That’s very reassuring that I probably won’t break the dog.

      I can only imagine how frustrated you must be by your injury. I guess it’s one way to making sure you don’t overdo it for the holidays.

  2. I hear you about doctors — I avoid them like, well, the plague. And if you told me in advance I was going to administer two shots a day to a small, squirming creature I would never have believed you. But I discovered you end up doing what you have to do. I’m sure you’ll do a great job with Ginny. What a cutie!

    • Yeah, I remember giving acupuncture needles to Shadow and asking myself, “How in the world did I get here?”

      The things we do for love, huh?

  3. I’m much more understanding of animals than of people, but that’s because my mum has put up with arthritis since she was 14 years old. I have seen how much she suffers and so when someone overly complains about an ache or pain I kinda want to hit them in the head! Good luck, and remember it is important to do something that scares us every day!

    • You and I both have little tolerance for people who overestimate mild suffering. I had a boss who used to refer to his business travel as his “time on the cross.” I’m sorry, but is an extra hour’s delay in an airport really comparable to crucifixion?

      Thanks for the reminder to keep it scary. :)

  4. Ginny looks like my beagle, Sophie. Sophie went on to Rainbow Bridge on July 3rd this year, but she stole our hearts for 10 good years. She was a stray in my ‘hood (Detroit!) and I had been feeding her off of my front porch for 2 weeks when she was hit by a car. THAT DID IT. She had a Mom & Dad!! She cost countless thousands ( about 7) over the years, meds alone were $100 a month. Special diet. Lotsa treats.She never was able to stop pain meds due to Spondelitis(sp?) BUT I wouldn’t have done anything different.She was the love of my life.

    • Beagles are wonderful heart thieves, aren’t they?

      Sounds like Sophie ended up in just the right place. Smart girl to have found you.

      So sorry you had to say goodbye to her this year.

  5. I surprised myself when I had to bring my partially-paralyzed elkhound home from ICU this summer (sadly she regressed and ultimately had to be put down after two weeks) – I wondered how I was going to singlehandedly keep her safe, give her the five different medications she required, wrangle her fifty pounds in and out with the sling, and deal with inevitable accidents while working full time. My living room became unrecognizable with the floor covered in blankets, towels and dog beds, all with non-slip rubber mats underneath so she could somewhat navigate. Each trip outside was a triumph and I could see the gratitude in her eyes for my nursing attempts. We do what we have to do…and sometimes find unexpected parts of ourselves in the process.

    • As hard as it is, all that caregiving gives us a chance to really focus on the one we’re caring for, doesn’t it.

      I’m so sorry you had to lose your girl. But it sounds like you don’t have any regrets about a moment you spent with her.

  6. I’d rather not be a nurse to an animal. They can’t tell you how they feel, so that makes it super hard. I tend toward over caring maybe, because of that.

    • Animals are so stoic. I’m always sure I must be hurting them and they’re so uncomplaining.

      On the other hand, some people tell you a little too much about how bad they feel. Especially husbands. :)

  7. I empathize about the care giving – it’s tough – just spent four years caring for my parents. But it does make you stronger, so good luck to you and good luck to little Ginny.

    • Ginny is such a good little dog who doesn’t complain. Now that she’s with us, I realize how easy she is to care for.

      But reading that discharge statement sure freaked me out.

      Caring for your parents must have been tough. I hope you had the support you needed to support them.

  8. I feel the same way about sick people (ironic, right.) but the opposite for animals. In fact, when it comes to my guys, I’m convinced that no one can nurse them as well as I can!

    • With all the craziness in your lives recently, here’s hoping you don’t get the chance to nurse your critters anytime soon. :)

  9. Ginny is in wonderful hands, and you are putting aside your fears to help another living being have a better life. That’s an amazing gift Pamela.

  10. I’ve had to nurse adults, children and dogs. The second two are far preferable to grouchy adults. I will admit that the few occasions I have been sick have brought out my dark side.

  11. Mom can’t handle human blood and stuff, but she loves helping pets. She actually worked with her girlfriend that is a vet in Germany and helped her with surgeries and stuff. Mom says she really misses doing surgery. I think she regrets not becoming a vet, but when you are young and in college, you don’t always make the best decisions. Mom is smart and a great student but dislikes school, so she didn’t do the vet thing…bummer…

    • I wonder what makes the difference for your mom between human blood and pet blood?

      Just keep yourself safe so the Mom doesn’t get to remember her skills from Germany.

  12. I’m with the other jan who posted – on the rare occasions I’m sick my evil twin takes over (I’m a gemini). And I absolutely positively canNOT stand being around sick people esp. the whiners even if they really do have something to whine about. Animals, however are a different story and my usual needle phobia is successfully set aside should injections be involved. I cared for my JRT with advanced kidney disease and as well my elderly horse with cancer, both through hospice to the end; anyone who has seen hospice through to its conclusion knows how emotionally draining that is but also how important – somehow, you find the strength to see it through.

    • I’m very thankful I’m not fostering hospice pets. People who do that are amazing.

      When they’re our own, we do what we must. Your animals were very lucky to have someone taking such good care of them.

  13. I’m not a bad nursemaid when it comes to humans, but nursing an injured Felix made me jumpy, anxious and fraught with panic. The idea that I could heal him wrong made me absolutely insane. Guilt is right.

    Ginny is a lucky girl to have such an awesome foster Mom taking care of her and I know she’ll be healing up and using her leg in no time. If anyone can help her, you can.

  14. Good for you taking on Ginny the foster dog just out of surgery. You can do it, keep up with the physical therapy and she will be using it in no time. Bless you!

  15. I have recently learned that I’m actually a decent animal nurse! It’s a bit harder with my own pets because I’m emotionally attached and a greater degree of concern sets in immediately, but I’ve been volunteering at a wildlife rehab for several months now and learned some skills, knowledge, and confidence that definitely help in that area!

    But I’m with you on avoiding doctors and hospitals. I definitely don’t go if I don’t absolutely have to.

  16. Since everyone I love (people and pets) began getting dangerously or terminally ill in 2009, I’m VERY good at the whole caretaking thing. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t easy, but I seem naturally inclined to it.

    I totally get you on that NOT using the leg thing. When our old boy Ginko had his first knee surgery in 2003, he had NO option but to use the surgery leg because the other leg had a blown knee too. BUT, after his second-side surgery, he was like “No, thank you. I can get around just fine on my one GOOD leg.” Stinker. The trick is to make her walk really, really slow. Somehow they can’t keep their balance like that and have to put the second leg down.

  17. I like to think I’m at least a halfway decent nurse to my girls. I follow vet instructions as close to the letter as I possibly can. And, when they have an upset tummy; or, in Callie’s case the arthritis is particularly bothersome, I dote on them until they fall asleep. I just take care of them in much the same way my Mom took care of me when I was a little girl.

  18. I’m sure you’ll do fine. Ginny sounds like she’s a little trooper so I’m sure her recovery will go well. Sometimes I wish I could foster a dog. Unfortunately, my dog Pierson does not like other dogs.

  19. I’ve been having computer issues and have been unable to comment on your blog and a few others. I finally got it figured out, and I even still have some hair left on my head!
    Anyway, I just wanted to say how wonderful I think it is that you went out of your comfort zone to foster Ginny. I’m not a great nurse either, but I do it when I need to and do OK.
    Of course, I’m partial to beagles, so was excited to see your latest! It seems like you’ve been doing pretty well at caring for her and keeping up with the blog too!