It all started back in 2000, when what I thought was a summer break between college and my Adult Life turned into a five-year vacation. I’d graduated from school with the best intentions of moving to Los Angeles and becoming a famous filmmaker, but my dreams were quickly thwarted when I was unable to find a job and had to live with my mom. Depression 2.0, baby!
To pass the time and ensure I didn’t kill my mom, I started walking dogs at the Alameda shelter. A once-a-week thing became an everyday ritual, because both the dogs and I needed as much time out of our respective cages as possible. I loved volunteering and quickly became attached to the pooches I walked.
But one day when I arrived at the shelter, I discovered that my favorite dog, an older pit bull named Myrtle, had been put to sleep. Up until that moment, I honestly believed every dog got adopted, that the shelter was just a stopover on the crazy ride that landed them in the laps of their forever homes. What a fool I was!
Painful as that experience was, that realization was my impetus to reach out to a local animal rescue group and sign up to foster dogs that were in danger of being put down. Fostering not only gives shelter pets more time to find a forever home, but it also helps socialize them with people (and other dogs) so they’ll be easier to adopt. And for me, it was a great excuse to get the hell out of the house while unemployed. If I couldn’t find a job, at least I’d have a cute-ass puppy to bitch at about it.
Eventually I found a job, but I continued fostering. I got involved with Rocket Dog Rescue, a volunteer-run nonprofit group that was started in 2001 by a dog lover named Pali Boucher. Pali and her band of dog-saving superheroes seriously kick ass — so far, they’ve rescued over 2,000 dogs (and various other critters, from lizards to chickens). Pali is an expert in pretty much everything dog-related. She has an uncanny ability to remember the exact type of dog you lust after and is always able to pick the perfect one from the pound. As soon as I got involved, I fell hard for the group. So hard, in fact, that I’m now Rocket Dog’s vice president.
Fostering isn’t easy. You spend weeks (and sometimes months) of your life caring for and cleaning up after a dog that will eventually abandon you for a permanent home. It’s an intimidating process, but rewarding in a way few things are. You’re literally saving a dog and giving that pooch a new leash on life. That feeling is so incredibly empowering and fulfilling that it makes up for every time a foster dog shits on your bed. And they will shit on your bed. Just stick with it — it’s worth it, and if I can do it, you can do it, too. You’re a much better person than I am.
Big-headed pit bulls are my thing; I just melt for them. Knowing this, Pali calls me one Thursday morning claiming that she’s found the perfect dog for me and that we must meet immediately at San Francisco Animal Care and Control, where he is being held. When I get there, I am staring at the cutest pit bull/basset hound mix I’ve ever laid eyes on. He looks like a Muppet mated with a fat Fraggle. I had to have him! A moment later, I’m filling out foster paperwork and we decide on the name Ike for him. Pali puts a purple star-shaped Rocket Dog tag on Ike — it’s a done deal.
I load Ike into the back of my car and we head to Pet Food Express to stock up on supplies. I wander the aisles and decide on some rope toys (tug of war!), a doll shaped like a postal worker, and a new collar. I also pick up food and an extra-large dog crate. Rocket Dog will cover all these expenses, but since I know times are tight for them right now, I pay. It’s okay, living on ramen is delicious! I only lose vision occasionally!
Now that we’ve got the essentials, we head home. As I set up his crate and create a basket for his new toys, Ike busies himself peeing on my plants and eating my shoes (this is something that dogs actually do). After I feed him some real food, we head down the street to the Attic, where I know dogs are welcome. We sit in one of the booths in the back, me sipping a Manhattan and Ike licking my feet. It’s been a long day.
It’s 5 the next morning and Ike is ready to go. I hear him whining in his crate and decide to wear him out now so that I can rest easy leaving him home alone as I run some errands in the afternoon. Foster parents are required to always keep their dogs on leash, and it’s a good idea to avoid dog parks until you know what your dog can and cannot handle. However, I decide that it’s so early that it’d be safe to take Ike to Fort Funston for a quick outing.
Fort Funston is located just above Ocean Beach and is basically paradise for dogs. There are sandy dunes to run on and the Pacific Ocean to swim in, and it’s all so ridiculously beautiful that it has moved me to tears during womanly times of the month. It’s an on-leash park but pretty much everyone breaks the rules — dog guardians like to live on the edge! Ike and I arrive and there’s hardly anyone around. We hurry down the stairs onto the beach and to my surprise, Ike pulls me toward the ocean. Pit bulls in general are not water dogs, so I’m skeptical of Ike’s ability to stay afloat. However, he bucks convention by gleefully flailing in and out of the waves. It’s like he’s Helen Keller discovering water: his almost psychotic happiness cannot be contained. After we’re both good and soaked, he trudges back to the car and we head home for a hot bath (for me) and cookies (for him). With that, I put Ike in his crate and head out for my errands.
When I return home, my apartment looks like it’s been ransacked by Kenny Powers on a bender. It appears I failed to properly latch his crate and the second I left, he slipped out and went Van Halen on my apartment. Instead of freaking out, I mix myself a Jim and ginger and call a dog trainer for some advice. Beverly Ulbrich, aka the Pooch Coach, sits on Rocket Dog Rescue’s board, and is always great to turn to for a little advice when you think you’re gonna go shaken baby syndrome on your foster dog. She leads me through some exercises to deal with separation anxiety. I start with putting Ike in his crate and giving him many treats and letting him know what a good boy he is. (This is particularly difficult, as I discover that he ate some of my underwear during his rampage.) At first, I am to let him out almost immediately, but over time, I build up the amount of time I leave him in the crate. After a few more times, it seems to be working!
Before Ike can be unleashed into the world, I need to take him to get a doctor’s nod of approval. Ike, along with most other rescue dogs, got shots and was spayed or neutered at the shelter, so at least we don’t have to worry about that. I head to Marina Pet Hospital to see Dr. Melcon. Upon meeting Ike, Dr. Melcon immediately remarks on how handsome he is. I feel so proud. Ike is very good the whole visit, standing and sitting obediently. That’s the great thing about shelter dogs — many of them come with built-in manners from their previous home. After a thorough check-up, Dr. Melcon gives Ike a clean bill of health, and we’re free to go.
Now that Ike’s got a clean bill of health, he’s ready for his first adoption event. Rocket Dog holds these every weekend, and foster parents are asked to drop off their dogs to meet and greet potential adopters. Foster parents usually care for a dog for a couple of weeks or up to several months, and in that time, it’s easy to get attached and protective. Although there are volunteers who can take care of Ike for the event, I am already in love with Ike and want to meet the person who thinks she’s good enough for my Ike. Bitch, please.
This particular adoption event is happening in Noe Valley on 24th Street. Zephyr Real Estate lets Rocket Dog take over the sidewalk in front of their building one Sunday a month. While we’re there, Zephyr’s receptionist even comes out and refills water bowls for us. Such service! Ike’s unique looks attract attention, and there are many potential suitors. One person we meet, Amy, is of particular interest to both of us. Ike likes her because she has cookies and gives good ear scratches; I like her because she is sassy, funny, and has a really gentle way with him.
The next morning I get a call from Amy and we set up a meeting at McLaren Park, an off-leash dog park in the Excelsior. We meet, and while Amy and I walk around the park, she tells me all about herself and I try to assess whether or not she wants to kill and eat Ike. Seriously, these are the types of things that go through a protective foster parent’s head.
After I’m convinced that she is not insane and will be a great parent for Ike, I give Amy an adoption application. A home inspection and lots of tears later (on my part; Ike moved on pretty quickly), Ike and Amy are together.
The perfect dog found the perfect home. That’s what fostering is all about. Now, who’s next?
Foster a shelter animal today! Each year, we kill six million animals in shelters, and fostering can save lots of those. It’s perfect for students, young adults, or someone who isn’t sure whether or not they’re ready for a pet. Foster homes are what keep rescue groups alive, and they’re always desperate for more. If you’re interested in fostering a dog, check out Rocket Dog Rescue, Wonder Dog Rescue, Grateful Dogs Rescue, or Muttville. If it’s the comfort of a cat you crave, there’s Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue. How about rabbits? Check out SaveABunny. And if you want to help our fine feathered friends, look no further than Mickaboo.