August 19, 2006


Once upon an all-too-brief time, I was a foster parent for the Toronto Humane Society. I took in animals who were recovering from illness or injury or who were not coping well with life in the shelter. The experience was more challenging, more rewarding and more heartbreaking than I could ever have imagined. Although Scott did not share my enthusiasm, he was grudgingly supportive and he spent many Saturdays shuttling me and my charges to the shelter clinic.

My first charge was an eight-month-old German shepherd recovering from a leg wound. I remember expecting her to be an adorable little pup with oversized ears and big clumsy feet. Wasn't I surprised when a large wolf-like beast emerged from the pound dragging the shelter worker behind her. Tanner was a handful, to say the least. When we brought her to a cottage, we had the delight of introducing her to swimming. Unfortunately, we never could convince her that joyfully leaping upon running children, attacking other dogs, and pooping indoors were bad ideas. I had to be honest about her wild nature, and once she returned to the shelter it took four months for her to find an adoptive home.

My first felines were a mom and her six ten-day-old kittens. What I didn't know when I took them in is that they had been exposed to distemper. We lost four kittens in quick succession. One died in my home after a visit to the emergency vet. I had to bring the other three, one by one, to the shelter clinic to be euthanized. I will never forget putting one sick little kitten in a shoebox and travelling by streetcar to the clinic. Fellow passengers asked for a peek and I obliged, not having the heart to tell them what was about to happen. I still feel sick when I think about it, and yet I miss the fostering experience all the same.

Molly was the mother of those four unfortunate kittens, and I adopted her and her surviving sons, Samson and Trooper. Trooper did contract distemper, but after losing his four siblings and my own cat, Milligan, within the space of two weeks, I'd had enough. I took a week off work and spent my time cuddling and force-feeding Trooper until, against the odds, he recovered.

Cosmo was an elderly poodle found wandering the streets. He was blind, deaf and toothless, he wore a diaper, he couldn't be caged and he couldn't be left alone. We were close companions for a week. I had to carry him in my arms on the subway to and from work and he slept by my side at night. He was a great asset at work, calming a normally tense environment and softening even the crustiest of co-workers.

When a fellow volunteer dropped Patches off at my house, the first things I noticed were the dog's size and smell. She was considerably overweight and she half waddled, half limped. The smell was the result of the fact that she had soiled the bed that came with her, and she herself had several brown "patches" that didn't belong. Hers was a rude welcome, as the first thing I did was drag her upstairs for a bath. She stood miserably in the tub, hanging her head in resignation as I scrubbed her clean.

For the first few days of her stay, Patches did little more than lay under my coffee table and avoid eye contact. This wasn't surprising considering the fact that her original family had dropped her off at the shelter after twelve years, claiming that they were moving out of province and could not take her along. With a good diet, arthritis medication and plenty of TLC, Patches soon had a new lease on life. She slimmed down, stopped limping, and preferred running to walking. In spite of many admonishments, she insisted on climbing up onto the sofa and drooling profusely on the cushions. Patches was with me for two months before someone noticed her on the "Special Needs" section of the Humane Society web site and arranged to adopt her. Although I was sad to see her go, I was thrilled that her story had a happy ending.

Scott the surrogate

My next responsibility was a set of five orphaned kittens. Because Molly's brood had suffered from distemper, I was instructed to keep the new kittens away from the room where the sick ones had resided. Thus, the five new kittens lived in my bedroom. The experience was something like this. I had to weigh the critters daily and was expected to bring them in for their vaccinations as soon as they reached 650 grams. Unfortunately, the entire lot ended up with diarrhea. It didn't dampen their spirits at all, but it dampened a few other things. I recall laying in bed listening to the phbbbbbt! phbbbbbbbbbt! phbbt-phbbt! of their intestinal distress. Back to the clinic we went. The vet showed me how to inject fluids subcutaneously, leaving a liquid-filled hump in the kittens' backs. I gave it a try and nearly passed out at the sound of the kitten screeching. The vet was prepared to send me home with needles and packages of fluid but, as my knees buckled and my face flushed, I realized that I wasn't up to the task. I had to leave the kittens behind to be cared for in the nursery. It left me with a feeling of failure, however I knew that overextending my abilities would not be in the kittens' best interest.

Pixie was a deaf Pomeranian. She spent most of her time with us snoozing in a cat carrier. We had to stamp our feet to get her to come out. Scott nicknamed her "Pissie" for her habit of peeing on the floor the moment we let her in from the back yard.

Araps was a purebred Lab who had twice been hit by cars. He had lost his tail and he walked askew, but he was otherwise normal and demonstrated the usual Lab penchant for chewing. I had a habit of calling home to check for messages while I was at work and I wondered if the ringing phone was an annoyance to Araps. One day the answer awaited us in slobbery pieces on the living room floor. At first I couldn't identify the mangled object, but Scott cleared up my confusion when he picked up a tiny piece, put it to his ear and said, "Hello?" We collected the bits and pieces and have displayed them in a shadow box next to a photo of Araps.

Angel was an older sheltie who was either deaf or aloof. She constantly lay by the front door, possibly anticipating the return of her former owners. While walking her one day I met some neighbours who were seeking a companion for their Australian shepherd. They fell in love with Angel. When they learned that she was a foster dog, they began calling the shelter daily in the hope of adopting her. For one reason or another their request was denied, however the last time I bumped into them they introduced me to their new sheltie puppy, Peewee.

My final fostering assignment was a cat named Snowball and her three newborns. Sadly, my lousy luck with felines continued. Snowball became ill and refused to nurse her kittens. I returned them all to the shelter.

Shortly after returning the last fosters, Scott surprised me for my birthday with a trip to a breeder. Knowing that he is not a dog person, I was touched by his selflessness. There was a catch, however. If I got a puppy of my own, I would have to cease bringing home "rental pets," as he put it. I didn't like that condition, but honestly... could I resist Ferris?


Anonymous said...

What a truly noble person!

How is our Ferris?

Calamity Jen said...

Noble? I don't think that describes me. Fostering is something of a compulsion, only suppressed because of Scott.

Ferris has been happier and more energetic and playful lately. It's wonderful to see.

panda said...

Such love! I have never been able to let go of a pet once it entered my house, so I am in complete awe of all the pets you've helped.

And Ferris is one lucky puppy!

Calamity Jen said...

Awww, thanks Panda! You know, if it weren't for Scott's practicality, I'd be a crazy cat lady by now, with a few dogs thrown in for variety.