When I first was looking to adopt an older lab, Bruce was one of the big boys on my list. He was being fostered right up the road from my house, and I remember the day I was finally going to make the call that I wanted to meet him: that’s the day I found Annie.
But two weeks later, even after I brought Annie home, I worried over Bruce — who was going to adopt this playful, 14 year old boy?
The woman who fostered Bruce wrote the following essay for Labrador Retriever Rescue‘s newsletter. And as this is where I celebrate great stories well-told, I’m sharing the best thing I’ve read this week. Here’s to you, Elisa Painten, and to foster mothers everywhere, of all kinds.
by Elisa Painten
Several weeks ago, I said goodbye to Bruce, my 14-year old chocolate Labrador retriever foster dog.
Bruce, one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known, came into rescue underweight and with double ear infections. He had significant hair loss on his hindquarters from a flea allergy and two raw, oozing sores on his paw. He leaked urine and his dull coat was covered in dandruff. Bruce’s owner was no longer able to care for him. Fortunately for Bruce, his owner called Golden Gate Labrador Retriever Rescue instead of having him put to sleep or bringing him to a shelter, where he might not fare well as an older dog with medical needs.
Golden Gate Labrador Retriever Rescue immediately had Bruce examined by a veterinarian, where he tested negative for heartworm and Cushing’s Disease, and was treated for the flea allergy. Medication helped with his leaky bladder and two rounds of antibiotics resolved his paw and ear infections. He was placed on a high quality diet. An ointment was applied daily to the sores, and he was given twice-weekly baths with a prescription shampoo. For good measure, the veterinarian added a few supplements to support his thyroid function and to help alleviate suspected joint pain.
Despite his condition, Bruce was a happy boy right from the start. In typical Labrador style, he managed to be both dignified and goofy. He shimmied with excitement when it was time for his daily walk, ate his meals with gusto and placed his big, blocky head on my lap when he wanted affection. A tennis ball in his mouth, he trotted around the yard with obvious delight. Over the weeks, Bruce’s coat grew back in, his sores healed and he had more energy. He loved our daily walks and short games of fetch. His delightful personality, which had been subdued by the physical discomfort he was in, began to show more and more. He was one year past the average life expectancy for his breed, but Bruce still knew how to have a good time.
I have fostered older dogs and dogs with special needs before, and have been inspired by the caring people who adopt them. But given Bruce’s age, medication and special dietary needs, I thought he might be with me for a long time. I was wrong. Seven weeks after he arrived, Bruce was adopted by a semi-retired gentleman, and went to live with him in a country home not far from the ocean.
I was only one part of the effort to see Bruce off to a new life. Saving an animal always involves multiple people, not to mention resources like food, medical care and supplies. As a foster, I get the additional benefit of the animals’ companionship for however long they stay with me, and the opportunity to learn from them. Of course, this also means I develop a strong bond with them. This is especially true for the dogs like Bruce who come into rescue with an illness, or suffering effects from neglect or abuse. I enjoy playing a role in their rehabilitation and seeing them flourish into healthy, happy dogs.
Of course, that is also when it is time to let them go. Inevitably, people will ask how I can stand to say goodbye to a foster. Some even remark that they could never do it, because they would not be able to give them up. But, like most foster providers, the reason I can let them go is not because I don’t love the animals I foster, but because I do. Bruce, like so many other rescued pets, is safe and loved now. His troubles are behind him; he is cherished, safe and happy in his new home. And with so many dogs in need of rescue, there is no time to dwell on sadness. When I think of Bruce, I will not think of missing him. I will think of him walking on a country road with his new best friend, the sunlight dancing on his full and shiny coat. And then I will open my home, and my heart, to the next one.