Why we failed as foster parents

On my social media feeds being a ‘failed foster’ is a good thing as it means a dog has made their foster parents fall in love with them and gained themselves a forever home. Sadly for us failing did not have such a happy ending.

15 month old border collie Willow came to us after a long search for a young female to join out family. We were prepared for the adjustments that would have to be made to accommodate this little girl especially with our dog reactive boy JJ, so slow introductions and lots of space was given to everyone as well as lots of cheese as rewards.

JJ surprised us all by being keen to meet the newcomer and very tolerant of her over enthusiastic greetings which included tapping him on the head with her paw while he laid in his bed. Over the next few days they figured each other out and Willow persuaded JJ to play tug and to let her share his toys and bed.

Our old girl Trim also surprised us all by hiding from Willow and spending time in a different room growling if Willow got too close. Trim has always been great with other dogs and for the past few years has been my stooge dog to help training nervous and reactive dogs. We didn’t think Trim would have a problem with a new dog. On walks Trim kept her distance too and didn’t want to walk near Willow when on the lead, so we respected that and gave her the space she needed. Over a few days Trim let the distance reduce little by little and stopped growling when Willow approached. We thought things were going well and little Willow was winning our hearts by being cute and clever.

As Trim gained confidence so did Willow and over the last couple of days Willow has chased Trim away from the sofa and from us in a bid to win those resources for herself. Every time Trim would try to join the family, Willow would quietly and efficiently send her back to a different room. Trim’s decision to leave reinforced Willow’s behaviour, so Willow gained more confidence and next challenged Trim with growls, lunges and snaps. Of course we chastised Willow and led her away, but my poor old girl would hide again reinforcing Willow’s belief that she was winning.

I worked in rescue for several years and saw, on more than one occasion, old dogs given up because they did not get on with the new puppy. It always broke my heart to see these faithful old souls lost and confused in kennel blocks when they should have been safe at home with the love of their family and a comfy sofa to pass their final years. I could never understand why the owners gave up the dog that they had ‘loved’ for years, and that had undoubtedly loved them in return, rather than rehoming the new puppy.

We had said from the start of our search for a new family member that JJ and Trim were the most important factors, if they didn’t like her she couldn’t stay. And so we made the hard decision to let Willow go after a very short stay with us, because it is the best thing for Trim.

Within minutes of Willow leaving, Trim is reclaiming her space and playing with her toys in the garden with a happy, relaxed expression on her face. She looks instantly younger and I know I made the right decision even if it was hard not to cry as I waved Willow off with another family who’s dog can’t wait to continue the games he started playing with her in their introduction in our garden.

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