Just Let It Go – Learning From Dogs

Today’s the big day.

In a few hours, I will deliver our foster puppy Zoe back to the shelter so she can find her new family.

Should I try to get in a few training sessions? Gently expose her to more household noises? Write a treatise on her personality for her new family?

Or is it time to just let it go?

Zoe the foster puppy in a quiet moment.

I’ll just sample a little branch before I see if I want to eat the whole Christmas tree.

When A Control Freak Fosters A Puppy

Would you be surprised to read I’m just a bit of a control freak?

Okay, a lot of a control freak.

Luckily I’m also incredibly lazy or I’d make everyone around me nuts.

Zoe the foster puppy plays tug.

Everything is a toy to a puppy.

Whenever we bring a foster dog home, I set up a mental plan:

  • First 24-48 hours – help the dog adjust to our home by setting up a consistent schedule and allowing her to get used to us with no pressure.
  • Hour 49 on – Focus on whatever this dog needs most to be adoptable (medical, house training, socialization, etc.)
  • Final hours – Arrange an easy return to the shelter, which includes a bit of exercise and putting a rag into her car crate that smells like me, my husband Mike, and my dog Honey.

Every dog and puppy we’ve fostered has been wonderful.

But some dogs burrow into your soul. And that really brings out my control freak side.

Finding A Home For Zoe

Zoe is the first herding dog I’ve ever gotten to know well.

In truth, I was thankful for blogville friend Roxanne of Champion of My Heart who shared her wisdom about working with a highly alert herding dog. She set me on the right track to working with Zoe’s startling at loud sounds.

And once we figured out how to help Zoe feel more comfortable in a world filled with scary noises she had to respond to (hint: we found the solution in clicker training Zoe to touch our hand on cue), she blossomed into an absolutely perfect puppy.

Zoe the foster puppy in training.

Honey: I would have pretended to be scared of that truck if I thought it would get me treats.

I know the shelter staff and volunteers will find her a lovely home. But I want it to be perfect.

I’d love to see Zoe go home with someone who has another indulgent, older dog who can continue to teach her. This person should enjoy doing training or dog sports (Zoe could be an agility star). Oh, and they should have enough experience with dogs to appreciate what a special girl has dropped into their lives.

But even control freaks can’t control everything. In the end, I’ve got to trust the universe to bring Zoe her perfect family.

It’s time to let it go.

Zoe the foster puppy looks a the camera.

How could anyone ever let me go? Don’t you see how freaking adorable I am?

Everyone Has A Job

My job with Zoe is ending in a few hours.

It’s time to stop feeling responsible for her. It’s time to focus on Honey as she loses a playmate and to give her the attention she usually gets as a solo dog. And it’s time to bawl my eyes out as I drive to the shelter to hand Zoe over to the wonderful people who will love and care for her until she gets adopted.

Zoe the Australian Cattle Dog puppy sits with Honey the golden retriever.

Zoe will be fine. I have never had a foster dog leave me with anything but curiosity and interest in what’s happening.

I need to learn from dogs.

And understand how to just let it go.

Your Turn: Have you ever had trouble letting go? Perhaps when leaving a dog with a vet? Or when you’ve fostered or pet sat for someone?


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  1. I have trouble letting go of my own dogs (and John is even worse!). We haven’t taken a dog-free vacation since we got Jimmy over 7 years ago. That doesn’t mean we have taken some nice trips, but they’ve all been planned with the dogs along. There’s plenty to see here in America that’s drive-able, but I am starting to long for something exotic. Jimmy isn’t an easy dog so leaving him with a friend is asking a lot, and a boarding kennel really makes me uncomfortable.

    • Mary Lou Stevens says:

      Hi, My dog , Odie is the same way…I can’t board him because he is a bit of a “handful”..but, he’s My Handful,lol.
      When I left for Thanksgiving, I was gone for 6 days and it was the Longest time we’ve ever been apart since he rescued me 6 years ago…
      But, I am blessed to have great friends who also love Odie (and he them) So, there were 4 people who took turns coming in several times a day..One came every morning and jogged with him..another came with her 10 year old daughter and they played ball with him in our yard in the afternoons…Another friend who works at a storage place just around the corner came and got him every day and brought him back to hang out with her at work for a few hours!
      Then, another neighbor came every evening and walked and fed him and tucked him in for the night…If you can find friends who are willing to help you, it really worked for me and I didn’t worry at all (ok, maybe a little)
      I even got pictures posted on my FB page daily!!
      Odie isn’t an easy dog either….he goes Ballistic when he sees Any other dog, but loves most people!! I hope this helped! Mary Lou

    • One of Honey’s favorite people moved into our house for the month we were in Panama last year. I don’t think she missed us one little bit.

      Hope you find a way to get your exotic vacation.

      Or you could always charter a sailboat and take the boys with you. :)

  2. OMG!!! I can thoroughly relate to learning to let go! As you know, I brought Ducky back to the shelter after a weekend of her driving poor Callie & Shadow crazy. I didn’t want to, but back then I felt it was the right thing for my big girls. I never could quite let go, though, obviously. I wish I’d known then what I know now – I’d have adopted her on the spot and started her at doggie daycare the following week!! And, I’m a control freak, too, so I totally understand where you’re coming from there as well. Have a good cry and then let it go. Zoe will be fine. :-)

    • The crazy thing is I didn’t even cry. It was very easy to leave her with the wonderful shelter staff person who gathered her up in her arms. I didn’t have anything to be sad about.

      As for Ducky, you just needed a fortune teller to let you know you were meant to be together. You could have gotten started together so much sooner. :)

  3. Wow, it seems like you just brought her home. She is so cute and I’m sure with all you have done for her, will find a great home.

    • Two weeks certainly goes quickly. Except when the little scooter is shrieking at the top of her lungs the first night she comes home with us. And then two weeks feels like a very long time. :)

      And yes, I know she’ll end up in a great home.

  4. Mary Lou Stevens says:

    Hi…Just wanted to tell you how much I love and look forward to your blog! I read it first thing most mornings with my coffee…unless, of course, my best friend, Odie wants to go for a walk first…
    I’ve been a volunteer at our local shelter for a couple of years and have brought several litters of feral cats home to take care of, socialize, fall in love with…And I’m not really a “cat” person…
    But my little house is too small to have another dog here, so kittens it is! For some reason black cats, dogs have the hardest time getting adopted…But, my last fosters were three, black, adorable kittens and they stayed with us for two months!
    My daughter’s cat, Cecily lives here since she left for college over 8 yrs ago! But she loves being outdoors more than anything and wouldn’t do well in a city. We live in the country, in beautiful Northern California.
    But, I digress..I just wanted to say if you haven’t fostered, you guys should try it ( not you,uh..your readers,lol)
    My three amigos, Raven, Salem and Poe (added bonus, I got to name them) were all adopted by the same family!!! This Never happens and made me so happy that i just Had to share my story!!!
    Have a Great Day! Mary Lou

    • Thanks so much for you kind words about the blog, Mary Lou. Though be careful with that coffee. Tomorrow my husband is writing a guest post and he’s pretty funny. I wouldn’t want you to spout hot coffee out your nose. :)

      I love that you started fostering kitties to deal with space limitations. As we plan to move onto a sailboat with Honey next year, I’ve thought about adopting my first cat. (Honey loves them!)

      Maybe I should get my feet wet by fostering a cat?

  5. She is SO freaking adorable. Hopefully she finds a great home. I’m sure your training time spent with her will be a big help in that regard!

    The worst time when I had no choice but to just let go was when we’d asked a friend to dog-sit for us while we were going to be away for 3 weeks (we were going to Russia, so it was a long trip). It was actually our friend’s parents house where the dog was going to stay w/ our friend, and we’d never been there before. When we pulled up w/ our pup – a beagle (aka “a runner”) – it turned out their yard was not completely fenced! I about had a heart attack. But we were dropping her off on our way to the airport, so there was no other option than to leave her. They lived in a small town, a wee bit rural, so I worried she’d smell some rabbit or other critter and be off after it and then hopelessly lost. But I had to just let it go and trust that they’d be extra careful with her. If she ever escaped while we were gone, we never heard about it. :) She was there – and SO happy to see us – when we got back!

    • Oooh, I can imagine your panic. I’ve fostered a few beagles and I’ve even had problems with my fully fenced yard.

      I guess the most important thing was that your friend was responsible since your pup was obviously there when you got back.

  6. I have such a difficult time letting go. We kept a pyr mix puppy for a few days while he recovered from his neuter and then transported him to a rescue in Wisconsin. I was such a mess. If it wasn’t for our stupid 2 pet limit, he would have become a permanent member of our family. My husband says that it’s good we have the limit or every dog that entered our home would stay. I don’t see the problem with that 😉

    • Don’t you find that working in animal rescue takes a mix of a soft and a hard heart? You have to be softhearted enough to care for animals in the first place. But hardhearted enough to let them go.

      My husband has threatened to adopt every single dog we’ve fostered. Why? Because he thinks they’ll be too sad when the leave us.

      I suspect he needs limits put on him as much as you do. :)

  7. I’ve read every post you’ve written while you took care of Zoe, and I’ve dreaded the day we were going to have to say goodbye :( I’ve become so accustomed to the stories of Honey and Zoe…. I agree with everything you’ve written but I see me going into the deepest depths of depression if I had to return a puppy. You’re last paragraph is so powerful : I too need to “learn from dogs”…. in so many ways. Thank you so much for sharing Zoe with us!

    • In truth, as much as dogs love us, they are amazingly resilient. I think that’s the most important thing I need to learn from dogs.

      Isn’t it amazing how they can come back even after bad experiences?

      Resilience is certainly a good trait for fostering. :)

  8. Yep, we’ve got attachment issues at this house!

  9. I hope Zoe finds the perfect home!

    I’m sure the attention and training she got with you will help her in her new home.

    I had the cutest little chihuahua – min pin mix that I fostered for 3.5 months this past spring. (He had some MAJOR behavioral issues when I first got him, which is why he was with me for several months.)

    It was hard letting him go, as he had really become part of my life! But, the rescue group found the most amazing forever home for him, so that made it much easier.

    • That’s so wonderful that your little chi/min pin was able to foster with a professional trainer.

      With one particularly fearful dog I fostered, I was afraid I just didn’t have the skills to help her. And I didn’t.

      Fortunately, we were working one-on-one with a great trainer who helped Honey learn how to ride in our bike car. And we signed him on to help us with our foster.

      I think those vulnerable dogs that come into our lives are especially hard to let go of. But I’m glad you got to know he went to a wonderful home. That’s always good to hear.

      • That’s so great that your trainer was able to help with your previous foster pup.

        Unfortunately, I think dogs sometimes get “stuck” in the rescue system because the rescue does not have the resources within the group to provide the training that the dog needs or access to trainers that can help.

        The pup I fostered this spring had been with this group nearly a year and had three failed foster homes and a bite history. He was just very scared and misunderstood.

  10. I miss Zoe already, sniff. I think you should stalk the family who adopts her so we can all be sure she’s spoiled and her talents are honored. :->

  11. Zoe was so lovely, a little bit of me wondered if she would be going back at all!