In summer 2019, I had the crazy idea that my husband and I could handle fostering a dog. Bear in mind that my husband is disabled, so I take care of the household; we both work full time (currently from home) and we already have two not-exactly-bombproof Terrier mixes.
There’s Quark, adopted from East Valley Shelter in 2010, a diva who runs the show. Then there’s Crosby, adopted from Baldwin Park Shelter in 2011, a dog so skittish he flinches at the drop of a crumb.
Still, we had room in our home (and our hearts) for more pets, and so commenced a succession of short-term fosters through three LA-area rescue groups. All were small in size but big in character, none was young, and many had health issues. We fell in love with each of them.
By January 2020 we’d become a full-fledged family of five, because one foster, Chihuahua mix Oreo (another Baldwin Park Shelter alum), began having terrible seizures when he went to another foster home. Whether they were caused by a medical problem, stress, or both, we weren’t sure, but he promptly came back to our house and never left again. Oreo is now a “forever foster,” meaning the rescue foots the bill for any vet care (currently heart murmur and anti-seizure meds).
Three dogs seemed to be our new sweet spot, until I received a call on December 11, 2020, from the same rescue that gave us Oreo. Could we foster another senior from high-intake SEAACA in Downey, just for a week? Shelter staff said the sweet poodle mix had been hit by a car then dropped off at the shelter, his back legs unable to function properly.
We’d had previous experience with this same issue, having nursed Crosby back to health following surgery for spinal disc ruptures in 2013 and 2015. Plus, ‘twas the season of goodwill and shelters would soon fill up with unwanted pets after Christmas. How could we say no?
That evening, Dasher (yes, like the reindeer) arrived. As he gingerly shuffled out of the crate and into our backyard, we assessed his condition. His right hind leg appeared especially weak, but he didn’t show any signs of pain. He happily scooted about on the grass to do his business (he was, thankfully, house-trained).
Judging by his stinky, dirty fur and the crusty warts all over his body, he’d not exactly been showered with affection by his previous family. He was likely kept outside, ignored, unloved and neglected. And not neutered. Shelter staff had claimed he was fixed, but even in the darkness it was abundantly clear this wasn’t the case!
I knew from previous experience that Quark might not take too kindly to an intact interloper—sure enough, he growled at poor Dasher the moment they met. (According to one theory, unfixed males give off a particular scent that can be considered a threat to neutered males.) Oreo, the smallest of the bunch, seemed intimidated by the newcomer, and jealous of the attention he was getting, while Crosby, notably bigger than Dasher, couldn’t decide if he was a toy or prey.
So the gated-off kitchen became Dasher’s den, with plenty of space for stretching and a large, metal-frame crate filled with comfy blankets and towels for snoozing.
Dasher dozed happily in his “man cave” at night, and I left classical music playing gently on the radio to lull him to sleep. Once, he appeared restless, so I reached for my Best Friends Animal Society magazine and started reading him stories of animals who found amazing forever homes. (This bedtime ritual continued even after I realized that Dasher might be deaf, as I suspected he could still make out some soothing sounds as I read to him.)
As we watched this delicate boy heal and come out of his shell—complete with a bark-verging-on-shriek that belied his small size—little did we know our other fur babies would be the ones to have difficulty adjusting.
While Dasher settled into his new digs, the other dogs showed signs of jealousy. Crosby would pee in random places around the house, including directly next to Oreo’s favorite bed in the living room, as if to say, “Hey, I’m still here!”
Oreo would snarl at Dasher through the kitchen gate, knowing he couldn’t retaliate from behind the bars, even if he wanted to. Quark, the “friendliest,” would “merely” growl lightly at Dasher to let him know that playing was most definitely not in the cards.
During my week off work over the holidays, I spent as much time as I could in the kitchen with Dasher, cuddling him after baths, stroking his soft fur, and receiving kisses in return. I even bought a doggy stroller and took him to the park in it, bundled up against the cold but still able to enjoy the fresh air. He loved other dogs, and got so adept at scooting around on his backside when I put him on the grass that I often had to run to keep up with him! He made friends, both human and canine, quickly.
When it was time to return to work, a new routine developed: after breakfast, we’d settle onto the bed, me with my laptop and Dasher at my side. Quark would usually join us, at a distance, while Crosby and Oreo did their own thing. I did my best to give all four of them equal amounts of attention and stick to regular routines, including treating them to their beloved Busy Bones every Sunday.
As one week turned into two, then three and beyond, we committed to keeping Dasher until he’d completed his vet visits. The neurologist placed him on a course of steroids and was pleased with his progress at a follow-up appointment, advising that physical therapy rather than surgery was the way to go.
He was ultimately neutered, and his “warts”—11 in all—were diagnosed as sebaceous adenitis (a largely cosmetic condition) and removed. When he came back to us that night, all stitched up, he looked more pitiful than ever, but he still wagged his tail, wanting to play with Quark. Needless to say, Quark didn’t reciprocate.
It’s now nine weeks since our “one-week foster” arrived, and it’s been a joy to see him blossom. His stitches are out, he’s looking stronger each day, and in a couple more weeks he’ll have his first physical therapy session. Dasher may be deaf, his eyesight may be poor and his back legs may be weak, but he’s not done yet.
As I sit here, surrounded by four peaceful dogs, I wish he wasn’t leaving today. But to keep him would be doing him a disservice. He needs to be in a home with other dogs who welcome him, not shut behind a kitchen gate or restricted to a bed. His new foster mom has another friendlier dog, so Dasher will have the playmate he longs for. And Quark, Crosby and Oreo can return to some kind of normality.
I’ve finally realized that it’s not always possible to keep foster dogs for good, for all their sakes.
Written by Lesley McCave, Corporate & Foundation Relations Officer at Greater Good Charities