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Got free time at home? Think of fostering a shelter dog
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Got free time at home? Think of fostering a shelter dog

From the A collection of the Daily Sun's coronavirus coverage series

People are home more now. They have time. They have motivation. They have opportunity. Some may think, "Hey, this is the perfect time to adopt a shelter dog."

Perhaps.

First, they’ll have to convince dog fostering folks such as Flagstaff’s Nicole Jones, who volunteers for High Country Humane, that they are worthy. Adopting a pet, even during these homebound days when people have more time to spend training and nurturing, is a decision not entered into lightly, so Jones and other foster “moms” judge the suitability of prospective adopters with a discerning eye.

In fact, Jones suggests that those interested foster a dog first before making a permanent commitment, rather than adopting a pet at first sight from organizations such as HCH and Coconino Humane Association. That’s an option more people are choosing during this coronavirus lockdown, taking in pets for trial runs, helping to ease the burden on shelters.

“It’s a really good time now to get the dogs out of the shelters and get them a different life,” said Jones, a dog lover who co-owns a boutique dog food business, Woof 66 Treats, with Amy Langord. “Fostering is a great way to get to know the dog’s personality and if it’s the right fit for your family.”

The experience of fostering a dog can be rewarding and bittersweet, in equal measure, those who do it say. Rewarding, in that the fosterer helps find “forever homes” for shelter pooches; bittersweet because, often, a bond grows between rescue dog and temporary rescuer.

Jones’ journey with her latest foster dog, a nearly 2-year-old Australian cattledog mix named Blossom, illustrates the virtues of fostering. By week’s end, after a screening process Jones ran that almost resembled a canine version of “The Bachelorette” in its wooing, Blossom looked to be on her way to a happy ending, and Jones on her way to missing the mutt but looking forward to fostering yet another shelter dog.

The saga of Blossom, as with many dogs in this type of situation, is both sad and hopeful. She was found a few months ago as a stray, still wearing a broken leash. That led Jones, who volunteers taking shelter dogs on hikes, to speculate that Blossom was one of those unfortunates who spent most of their time tied up in a yard.

“I’m thinking she was an outdoor dog, then a shelter dog, and now this is probably her first really loving home experience Blossom’s had,” Jones said.

It wasn’t easy at first, fostering Blossom. The pup was initially timid and withdrawn, especially around men. So Jones’ husband tread lightly around Blossom at first, as did Jones’ 10-year-old son. But, with time and through patience, Blossom, well, blossomed into a happy, well-adjusted companion that also got along well with the family’s permanent dog, Mac, a blue heeler.

“You have to go a little slow,” Jones said. “They can have different behaviors toward different people. She’s really come out of her shell. (Mac) has really helped Blossom, too, just in learning how to be a dog, you know. A lot of dogs that come into the shelter haven’t had a lot of socialization.”

Mac as mentor makes sense, because, he, too, was shelter dog fostered by Jones. But Mac turned out to be what Jones bluntly called a “foster failure,” meaning she could not place him in a permanent home. So, as Jones and family grew to love Mac, they made their bond permanent.

Courting a canine

That most likely won’t be the fate that awaits Blossom. There’s been a lot of interest, Jones said. Lots of meets-and-greets with prospective human companions. But Jones and other foster volunteers don’t just hand over the leash to anyone showing an interest.

“I am very particular,” Jones said. “Not so much that I’ll say no quickly, but I just want to be sure. I ask a lot of questions, like, ‘What do you plan on doing with the dog? Hiking? Being active?' If I can’t go see (the prospective owner’s) house, I like to ask about their living situation. Is there a yard fenced in? How long do you plan on leaving the dog outside? Are they OK with an indoor dog?

“For instance, Blossom loves to sleep on the bed. She’s gotten used to that. For me to put her in a house where it’s, like, ‘No, absolutely no furniture, no bed,’ well, that’s not a good fit.”

There have been several wooers of Blossom, who has a gorgeous short white coat speckled with black and brown, ears that fetchingly curl over like waterfalls, and an expressive face with just a hint of mischief detectable. Mostly, though, the big selling point of Blossom is her sweet, gentle nature and positive energy.

“I’ve seen so much progression with her in the last couple weeks,” Jones said.

Last week, a couple came to have a play date with Blossom and brought their dog, also a young heeler, to see if the two would hit it off. It did not go well.

“They said right away, 'I think our dog may be too much for Blossom,'” Jones recalled.

Just as well, because a day later, another interested family contacted Jones about Blossom. An assignation was planned, and it went well -- by all accounts.

“We walked around the neighborhood, and I ended up letting the wife walk Blossom, and she ‘treated’ Blossom,” Jones said. “(The woman) made chicken. She was really sweet. So we walked around neighborhood a couple times, then played ball. It looks really promising.”

Life as a foster mom to shelter dogs almost always means eventually having to say goodbye.

Will Jones miss Blossom?

“Oh yes,” she said. “I’ve honestly gone back and forth with this. I guess that’s one of the hardest things is like, when you start to bond and see how happy the dog is with you, you think, ‘Well, should I just keep her.’ But then I have to remember and look at the bigger picture because I’d like to help more dogs. There are thousands of dogs out there like Blossom.”

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Feature Writer

Sam McManis is an Arizona Daily Sun features writer and the author of two books: “Running to Glory: An Unlikely Team, A Challenging Season and Chasing the American Dream" and “Crossing California: A Cultural Topography of a State of Wonder and Weirdness.”

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