‘End of 15-year relationship meant I could finally make choice I wasn’t allowed’

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I welcomed my first foster dog into my home at the start of lockdown, and it was life changing.

Now, when I hear a new dog is coming into my life I can barely sleep. I am so excited. What will they look like? How will their personality be? What challenges will I need to help them overcome?

I’ve always been a dog lover, but was never allowed one when I was growing up in Essex.

Then in my late teens, I met a guy who did not like dogs – our relationship lasted 15 years, so getting a four-legged friend had not been an option.

When he and I eventually split in 2019, he moved out of our Gloucestershire cottage, and I thought, ‘Sod it! I’ve only myself to please now.’

It was back in September, soon after the break-up, when I contacted the Dogs Trust and applied to be a foster carer.

As a single woman I couldn’t afford to buy a dog, and the beauty of volunteering to foster means that the charity covers the cost of food and anything else you need to buy for the dog while in your care, including any vet bills.

Interview stage

There were interviews, home visits and paperwork – I passed all the requirements. As a gardener, I can take a dog with me to work most days, so it wouldn’t be left alone, plus I have a garden and live near the Forest of Dean, perfect for walking.

And I don’t have children or any other pets to worry about, so I was seen as a good option.

From a selfish point of view, I was looking forward to sharing my empty home with someone else again. Another warm body on the sofa next to me.

It was in March, just as coronavirus was sweeping the nation, when Dogs Trust Evesham rang.

They had a nine-month-old Collie cross-breed who’d been rescued from dire conditions where 40 dogs had been kept in a barn. Could I take her in until they found her a permanent home?

Melted my heart

Well, they brought Athena to my garden and my heart just melted at the first sight of her pretty face. She wasn’t used to human contact, so I didn’t make a huge fuss.

I let her sniff around my garden as I drank a cup of tea, just watching her. By that first evening she was laying her head in my lap.

I had to toilet train her, which involved heaps of praise when she went outside. If she had accidents inside I never told her off, I just quickly cleaned it up. I got through plenty of cleaning products, but after a week she’d got the hang of it.

As I busily worked in clients’ gardens, I listened to audiobooks on dog behaviours and training to educate myself.

Athena stayed for three and a half weeks before it was time for her to leave to be with her permanent owner. I cried when she left, but felt so happy that I’d been able to help her. Being toilet trained makes a dog far more appealing to adoptees.

Aries came next, a two-year-old cross-breed. He hated the noise of the bin men, all the crashing around and the flashing lights, but quickly learned to walk on the lead.

I began chatting to new people on our walks. Having a dog gave my life structure, some company, and – I know this sounds silly – but I felt myself healing after the split, I got healthier and stronger.

I would have felt so isolated in lockdown otherwise. How long you have a dog totally depends on how soon they are re-homed, so it can be anything from a few days to several weeks.

Joy and fulfilment

I really fell in love with Hermes, my next dog. He was also from the same barn, and terrified of everything. He freaked out indoors and would scrabble to escape out of a window, then whimper.

I would stand outside and keep an eye on him from the window, gradually building up the time he could be left. It was a complete buzz seeing his behaviour change.

It was hard kissing Hermes goodbye, he’d become my buddy, but I know my time with him had changed his life prospects.

My fourth dog was an adorable, problem-free Maltese puppy, Bea. I’ve never had one try to bite me. The most damage they’ve caused is chewing a wooden coffee table leg, but I am not precious about these things.

I’m having a few days away now, but I can’t wait to welcome a new dog into my life when I’m back. I bumped into my ex the other day and he remarked how happy I seemed now.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be out walking and meet someone new? But I’m happy being single now, the dogs have brought me more joy and fulfilment than I thought possible.

The Home From Home fostering scheme finds temporary homes for dogs that need a little extra TLC, such as young puppies, older dogs and those who would find the hustle and bustle of kennels stressful.

Fostering is completely voluntary, and Dogs Trust provides essentials, such as food and bedding, and provides 24-hour guidance and training advice.

Adam Clowes, Dogs Trust operations director, says: ‘Being a foster carer gives you all the joy of adopting without the long-term commitment. It’s perfect for dog lovers who aren’t ready to adopt yet.

‘Just as importantly, becoming a foster carer means helping fellow dog lovers who have no other choice than to permanently give up their dog. You’ll be giving a dog a loving home when they need it most. Every dog in foster care allows us to take in another dog in need.’

● Dogs Trust’s Home From Home scheme does still have a small number of dogs who are looking for a very particular foster home, and for the time being are only accepting applications from experienced dog owners who do not have any other pets or children in the home. To find out more about the fostering opportunities near you, visit HERE

● Dogs Trust are still recruiting for foster carers for their Freedom Project. For more information visit HERE

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