10 Things My Kids Have Learned from Fostering Dogs

Shortly after we closed our license as foster parents for the State of CT, we decided to try our hand at fostering pups. We connected with a local rescue organization and have now had 4 foster dogs through our home with many more to come. Did I mention we also have 3 adopted rescue dogs of our own? We like to stay on the brink of sanity busy. I’m sure there are people who would think we are crazy for taking unknown dogs into a home with 3 children, but, with the proper safeguards firmly in place, it has been a wonderful experience. Here are the top 10 things my children (and I) have learned through this journey…

10. Poop Happens

Literally and figuratively. In the house and out. When sh*t happens you stay solution-focused, clean up the mess, and move on.

9. It is Okay to Love Something and Not Keep It

Did I just blow your mind?? I know. This whole concept is very un-American of me. We Schreiers are dog people through and through. We also fall in love fast and hard. There is not a single dog who has come into our home whom we haven’t felt love for. Yes, my children get attached – that’s why they are so good at this gig. But, instead of that being a reason to stop fostering, we use it as a powerful lesson. We don’t have to keep, own, and possess all that we love. We can send our love out into the world and let it multiply.  We have so much love in our lives already, it is an incredible gift to pass it along and offer that same joy to others.

8. Patience

Dogs require patience. Foster dogs who have been through many transitions in a short time, require more. It is so beautiful to me to see my children taking the role of caregiver with these animals and being calm and nurturing with them. In this photo, a new pup was hesitant to come into the house, so my 7 year old suggested that we just sit on the step and give her some time. So we did. 15 minutes later, the pup walked herself into the house, jumped up on the couch, and went to sleep. The patience we showed gave that dog the message that this is a place where she was safe and respected. Imagine the outcome if we had tried to yank her in by the leash?

7. They are Not Alone

As children adopted from foster care, these dogs are a part of my kiddos’ tribe. The dogs search for permanency in the same way they once did – always carrying their past with them while looking towards the future.  The dogs provide a safe anchor to themes commonly discussed in our home: it’s not their fault, they are lovable, there is a greater plan.

6. Teamwork

At one point last weekend, I had 5 dogs and 3 kids in my house. By myself. It could have been chaos. But it wasn’t, because I wasn’t alone.  The 6 year old filled water dishes while the 7 year old took our resident dogs (that’s the term we use for our adopted pups) out in the backyard, and the 11 year old and I walked the foster dogs up and down the driveway until they settled. Giving children the opportunity to be a part of a team teaches them that they are important and capable. Kids are kids so I make sure I never sign up for more than I can handle on my own, but I’m sure glad that I have never actually had to.

5. We are Helpers

There are so many needs to be filled in this world. It’s overwhelming, really. But that is not going to stop us…even if we can’t help everyone, we can help someone (you know, if you consider dogs to be “someones”…which we obviously do.)  We are people who say yes, show up, and help.

4. It’s Not About Us

Anyone with a tween knows where I’m going here.  Instead of wasting my breath with constants rants of “YOU DO NOT HAVE A TERRIBLE LIFE AND OMG, EVERYTHING DOES NOT REVOLVE AROUND YOU”…I find it useful to simply show them. The foster network we work with is just one small piece of the world but it still offers the opportunity to look outside of our bubble. Multiple states, hundreds of people, and even more dogs with stories that will rip your heart out. When a dog comes through our home who has truly suffered a tragedy, but still has a wagging tail and goofy grin, it provides a powerful dose of perspective.

3. Empathy and Intuition

A critical skill to working with dogs of differing backgrounds, breeds, and temperaments is knowing how to pay close attention. These dogs, while amazing and resilient, can also be under a lot of stress. A new environment doesn’t always bring out the best in a dog so we must pay close attention to vibe and body language. My children know to look closely at ears, tails, flicking tongues, breathing, and more to determine a dog’s emotional state. We talk, also, about listening to your gut and feeling the energy in a room. This keeps us, and the dogs in our care, safe. This is a skill that will serve them well with canines and humans alike in the years to come.

2. Everyone Has Strengths and Weaknesses

One dog was so friendly to everyone she met, but she also had a bad jumping habit. Another would respond to commands in an instant, but pulled terribly on leash. Yet another was gentle and calm – the world’s best snuggler – but would destroy his crate if asked to be in it for more than an hour. Two of our resident dogs take a while to warm up to others, but are incredibly trustworthy and have never chewed or destroyed anything. And so goes the story with the people in this house as well. All of us are imperfect, and all have plenty to be proud of.

1. We Are Lucky

At this point, we only do short term fostering so when our pups leave us, it is usually to a long term foster home where they continue to wait for a family of their own. Those nights, when we say goodbye and settle into the (relative) calm and quiet of our house, I’m always overwhelmed with the sense of how incredibly lucky we are. Unlike these dogs, our lives are abundant in permanency. We know where we will sleep tomorrow and who will be by our side for many days to come. In the routine busyness of our lives, it is easy to lose sight of just how incredible that is. We are the lucky ones.


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