Foster-Dog-In-Hiding: A DINOS Adoption Story

I’ve spent the last few days reading your touching Valentine’s Day Essay Contest entries and I have to say – you guys have not let me down in the crying and laughing department. Your love letters to your dogs got me thinking about a past foster dog of mine, also a DINOS. After a few years of being out of touch, I just reconnected with his mom and I thought I’d share his story.

This is Buddie. He was my foster dog. I called him The Skipper back then.

When I found him roaming around South Philly he had this collar on. It was zip tied closed and there was a piece of a heavy chain, broken, dangling from the ring. The Skipper had busted loose and into my life.

My landlord didn’t allow dogs, but the Philadelphia shelter system is a tough place for a dog to survive, especially back then, so I just picked him up and drove him home. I filed a “found” report, but with no family stepping forward to claim him, Skip became our foster-dog-in-hiding.

My husband Brian (then boyfriend) and our three cats were not impressed, but not surprised either, by Skip’s arrival. Being a dog walker in Philadelphia meant that I was constantly running into stray dogs and stumbling onto little feral cat colonies. I often brought dogs home for a few hours until I could reunite them with their owners. And our basement had a secret back room that I used as the Feral Kitten Underground Railroad.

So no one (not even my cats – who started off in that basement room), was shocked that Skip moved in. But they were a little taken aback when he pooped in our tub that first day, couldn’t be crated, and kept asking to taste the kitties.

My little family sucked it up, so the Skipper could be safe. Cleaned up and neutered, Skip was pretty awesome and we hoped he’d get scooped up quickly. But no one came. The ‘Adopt Me’ fliers I posted all over Queen Village showed off his magic ear, but still no callers. Skip remained our foster-dog-in-hiding. I was terrified that my landlord would discover Skip before I could find him a safe home.

Not long into our time together, I was walking Skip and we bumped into a woman and her dog on the corner. She thought his ear was indeed magic and wanted to know more about him. As we stood talking, I realized that Skip was letting out a long, low growl. And then a bark and lunge at the other dog. It wasn’t over the top, but it was rude and a surprise, so off we went.

I hadn’t made up the name for it then, but my foster-dog-in-hiding was a DINOS.

In those days I walked a few reactive dogs, I read Patricia McConnell’s Feisty Fido a lot, and strictly obeyed leash laws, but I didn’t really get leash reactivity the way I do now. Back then, it was a real surprise that Skip wasn’t cool with other dogs being close by and I quickly realized that finding a family was going to be even tougher than I had imagined.

In a city as densely populated as Philly, with only a few dog parks available for off leash exercise, everyone walks their dogs in close quarters. Leash reactive DINOS are challenging for all of us, but for those that live in cities without backyards or lots of open spaces, they can be really tough. I worried: Who would want to adopt a DINOS in packed city?

Kerry. That’s who. One day Kerry heard about Skip and saw his magic ear and sly, bedroom eyes and emailed me.

If you’ve ever been a foster family, then you know what it feels like when you meet a potential adopter that you think might be a great match. You really hope they’ll like your foster dog and not get freaked out by his behavioral issues. You desperately want them to see all the good things that you see in your foster dog.

But, because you want the match to be the right one, you also want to lay out the more challenging bits, so they understand what they’re committing to take on if they adopt him. You want them to see the whole picture and be as smitten with the good, the bad, and the bathtub poop as you are.

So, the potential adopter arrives and you’re totally excited and you want to rave and gush and lay out all the problems all at once. Basically, you want to vomit information at them, while gesturing wildly with a scary smile on your face. That’s what you feel like on the inside, but on the outside you just. try. to. stay. cool.

Like it’s no big thang. Yo, lady, it’s nice if you like him, but no worries if you don’t. No pressure or used car salesman techniques from this foster broad. Love ‘em or leave him. Who me, worried? Nah, I’m just chilling with my foster-dog-in-hiding, not worried at all that he might eat my cats or that I’m going to get evicted.

Oh, you like him? And you want to adopt him even though I’m just some weird gal that you’ve never met before and I scooped up this stray dog off Washington Ave? And you heard me when I said he’s not that into other dogs? And you’re really responsible and loving and actually filled out my home-made adoption application with thoughtful answers?

Yes, you can have him. Now excuse me while I burst into tears. Please help me from drowning in my own snot.

Meeting Kerry went something like that.

So Skip went to live with Kerry and became Buddie. And they went running through the city together and worked on his leash reactivity and even let me come visit them sometimes. Buddie made friends with Kerry’s mom’s dog and they sent me photos. It was a good adoption. I can’t tell you how lucky I was and am that this worked out for Skip/Bud. In a city with that many dogs, happy endings are hard-won, especially for DINOS.

It’s been about six years since then. I moved to Maine and eventually lost touch with Kerry, but never forgot them. And I often wondered, after hundreds of adoptions since that one (through my work in a shelter): Does Kerry still have him? What are the chances that this was a lifetime adoption? After you do enough of them, you learn that even the best adoptions don’t always stick and dogs you never thought you’d see again, show up back at the shelter for another turn on the kennel floor. I hoped that Buddie was ok.

And then, out of the blue the other day, I got an email from Kerry. And it turned out that all my fears, that this DINOS adoption wouldn’t last, were for nothing. Here’s what she wrote:

“He is such a huge blessing, Jessica. He is still a bit anxious when I leave and in the car, but much better than the beginning. He has gotten to the point where he can tolerate other dogs nearby…he still goes crazy over cats and squirrels, can leap over 6-foot fences and has that lovable one-ear trick! He’s the same dog you rescued – so loyal, playful, caring and sweet. I just adore him and can’t imagine my life without him. I really do think about you often and feel grateful for you and the fact you brought this extraordinary friend into my life. “

This is a foster mom’s dream for her foster-dog-in-hiding.

Thank you Kerry. Thank you for loving Buddie as much as I had dreamed someone might, if only we were lucky enough to find them. Thank you for helping Buddie to beat the odds and make it into a family that loves him for who he is. Thank you for rushing him to the ER to have life-saving surgery last year. Thank you for giving him the family he was hoping to find on that day he busted his chain and went in search of something better.

Thank you Thank you Thank you.

And for anyone out there that is fostering or caring for a DINOS in a shelter, I want you to know: There are good people out there that will love these dogs, despite their quirks. For all the sad stuff, the returns over tiny issues, the adoptions that don’t work out, there are dedicated, loving families that will do the work. There are DINOS-friendly families out there. To everyone caring for a Foster-Adoptable-DINOS, keep your head up! There just might be a Kerry right around the corner.

I love you Buddie-out-in-the-open