Monday, April 13, 2009

Choosing a Foster Dog

Since we are now fully approved, trained, and available fosters, it was time to choose our first foster dog. Each day, the RAGOM foster plea goes out to foster families with bios of dogs waiting for someone to rescue them from their situation. Some are in more desparate situations than others but they come with any number of issues that could be a deterrent for a newbie foster family like ours. For example, puppy mill dogs will generally come in not knowing how to walk stairs, are extremely shy and unused to human contact, generally not house trained, and need lots of TLC. I didn't think this was the way to go for our first foster experience. Really, what did I hope to gain from this experience? Well, honestly, I didn't want to have to walk to the ends of the earth to place a few good dogs in adoptive homes. I wanted to take in a dog who was well adjusted and healthy, who was merely the victim of some non-traumatic circumstance. I wanted a dog that was easily adoptable, gentle, loving, and who would be able to come in and leave easily. Would this be possible? Who knew?

Well, as the days rolled by, I held out until I found a dog that fit just that description- his name was Junior. He is a 2.5 year old purebred golden whose family was going through a divorce. I suppose that he was well loved but he had been relegated to the basement for long periods of alone time. This was the dog for us! Junior was coming a long way from Custer, SD to Wisconsin. The trip was so long, in fact, that it took several attempts in order to organize the caravan that would bring him on his journey-Fortunately, RAGOM pulled it off and as of today, Junior is scheduled to join our family before the end of April. We're excited to have him and I am already starting to plan our walks, RAGOM event outings, and other such trips. I think Junior will be confused after being passed along through so many hands to get here but hopefully he will realize that he is being treated well and that he will have lots more human contact than before. Surely he will miss his family, despite his loneliness. But, we will try to get him the best new adoptive family we can find.

Well, while awaiting Junior's arrival, we got a little practice in on puppy sitting- our neighbors have two 10-week old golden lab puppies and were going out of town for easter. So, we had house guests for 3 days! It was wonderful and exhausting at the same time-but the cuteness factor made up for any inconvenience. I have posted some photos of the sweeties below. Cross your fingers for us on Junior's arrival-

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Home Visit

Ok, so where was I...Oh yes, the RAGOM home visit! So, the home visit was scheduled for 6pm on a Wednesday and at the appointed time in mid February, a very kind gal and her golden retriever named "Teddy" met us at the door. Now I have often thought that it is probably easier to adopt a child than it is to be inducted into a rescue organization like RAGOM. I mean, here we were putting ourselves out there to help on a strictly volunteer basis with no other reward than perhaps the gratitude of seeing a few of these beautiful goldens pass through our home and into the loving arms of a forever family. But here we were, opening our home to a stranger who was about to ask us 2 hours worth of questions that would make us re-think whether we should instead adopt a kid! I had gotten all of the eye-rolling out of my system earlier in the day so I wouldn't be tempted to do it in front of the home visit volunteer. But, there might still be an urge.

Teddy burst into the house on a long leash and greeted our 2 dogs- there was enought butt sniffing to last the entire night. We all settled into the livingroom and chatted casually as the dogs darted around us, trying to figure each other out. In hindsight, that was probably the first unspoken question that the volunteer was trying to assess- was the chaos of a new dog enough to drive us over the edge immediately? We didn't flinch. Soon came the other questions. "What kind of food do you feed your dogs?" which was followed with a 3 page list on how to score the quality of your dogfood. Basically, what the document intimated was that unless you're feeding your dog pure meat, you're doing it wrong. What is the source of this information, I asked. She didn't know. Ooooh, my eye started to twitch.

Next question: why do you want to foster a dog? Hmmm, I always like to tell people that we have goldens because they look nice next to the fireplace. That was probably not going to win me any points. Neither was my husband's carefully worded response of "Because my wife is making me do it." Well, let's see what we can do with the next question...."What do you do with the dogs when you are gone for more than a few hours?" OK, this was a trick question. RAGOM and other rescues are adamantly against the use of outdoor kennels, which we have and use on occasion. Yet, it is perfectly acceptable to crate a dog in a tiny box indoors while the owner is away at work. Eye twitches again. We explain that fortunately, since I work from my home office, there is little need to use the kennel anymore. The volunteer seems wary and explains that this may get us rejected as fosters but that she would explain it carefully in her notes. Eye is REALLY twitching now.

The evening ended with several more questions and a few more butt sniffs between the dogs, and a "we'll be in touch in a week or 2." As the volunteer left, the house settled down to its normal din and my husband and I rolled our eyes like they have never been rolled before. There is a very noticable culture among rescues, one that beging more conservative, we were probably ill suited for. The dogs would not be living ON the furniture, sleeping in our beds with us, or dining on flank steak. Although our dog, Dakota, does enjoy sharing a pillow next to the fireplace with me fairly regularly. We could give a new dog a very nice, loving home to enjoy until he found his real home. The risk we ran was falling in love too much with a new dog that we would want to adopt it ourselves. No, I was pretty sure that my resolve would be strong enough not to let this happen.

So, time passed and we waited to hear from RAGOM whether we were approved to be a foster family. In the back of my mind, I started to think that it didn't much matter if we were rejected on the basis of the kennel issue- we were happy with our dogs and we were a good family and that's all that mattered. So, a week later when we received the approval notice via email, I was happy in a low key sort of way. We'll take it as it comes and see how things go.

Were we ready to take on that first foster dog? No, there's training! "What?" I thought. What is there to train on? Take dog, feed, pet, take out for a poop, repeat. Boy was I wrong! Not only is there training but there is 3 hours of it on a saturday morning an hour and a half from home! If we hadn't bailed by this point, we were destined for fostering greatness......

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I suppose you've never heard of RAGOM before. Neither had I about 4 years ago. I had been playing around on the web looking at animal shelters and dog breeder sites because my family and I were looking to adopt a golden retriever. We have always had goldens- I guess they define us somehow- outdoorsy, laid back; always ready to lick a new visitor....OK, maybe not that last part. Anyhow, we had lost our oldest golden to the "Golden Bridge" as they say and our remaining doggie needed a companion (and so did we).

Anyhow, as I perused the numerous sites, 1 in particular jumped out- RAGOM (which stands for Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota). Oddly, there seemed to be an inordinate number of goldens going to this organization and I wondered "Why do these people have the market on goldens locked down?" Well, the answer is "that's what they do." RAGOM ( is a rescue organization that takes in dogs from several neighboring midwestern states and puts them up for adoption to well-screened applicants. Part of their success is that they are not a shelter but instead rely on an extensive network of foster families to house, love, and care for these dogs while trying to adopt them out. I was intrigued and totally sucked into their website where available dogs are posted with weekly biographies of the dogs. I soon found myself logging onto the site every day just to see how "Shadow's" vet visit turned out or whether "Josie" had found her "furever" home yet. And the puppy pictures...don't even get me started!

So, flash forward a few years now. In January, I approached my husband with a proposition, although maybe not the kind he was expecting or hoping for. "Let's volunteer to be a foster family for RAGOM!", I said. My enthusiasm was met with a look of "huh?" After explaining why I was interested, he was agreeable. My husband may have that tough external demeanor, but inside, he's a softie and loves these goldens as much as I do. So, we were off- I sent in an application and waited.

In order to be a foster, you must be screened by way of a home visit. They don't just let ANYBODY into the organizaton! My husband and I were in for an experience. Could we pass muster? Were we worthy enough to take in an expensive dog with potential health or emotional issues who could rip our livingroom to shreds, pee on our floors, and fight with our other dogs? Were we? Time would only tell.....