A letter to my foster dog | State College pet photographer

Dear Treasure,

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 3 years since we first met you. You were so young, so full of energy and had so much life to live. Yet day after day, you were still at the shelter while other dogs came and went. We decided to see if you and Izzy would get along, she needed a playmate and you needed a friend. After a few play sessions, we invited you into our home, to be our first foster dog. 

And so it all began. It was rocky at best. While you and Izzy got along most of the time, you picked several fights with her and we didn’t understand why. We invited our family over and you lunged and jumped on every one of them. We couldn’t figure out why. After 3 very long weeks, we took you back to the shelter and promised we’d help you some other way.

We signed up for the Pet Partners program, a program created with an animal behaviorist to help the least adoptable dogs become more adoptable. We learned how to teach you to walk nicely by using a gentle leader. We taught you commands like sit, stay, down, come, look, mine/yours, and go around. You were a quick study picking it up easily. We spent several days a week visiting you at the shelter getting to know you better and helping you to become a better dog.

Then you broke your tail open. And nothing worked to get it to heal. So we offered to help by having you come stay with us. This time, there would be rules.

After a couple of weeks and your tail hadn’t improved, we knew we had to do something a little more drastic. So an inch was amputated. Every time you slapped your tail, blood spurted everywhere. It looked as though we had murdered a toddler, blood could be found on every wall in our house. You just had to look at the bottom 2 feet and you would see it. Keeping you calm when hyper fit your name better than Treasure was impossible. We put you on sedatives, kept an e-collar on at all times, wrapped bandages nightly and after 4 very long grueling months, we concluded the surgery a success. 

By then, we had gotten to know you better. And we realized you had issues. Issues we felt we could help you overcome. So we continued to be your foster family. When you were weaned off of the medications, we realized just how much energy you have. I wish I could bottle it up, I could probably never use all of it in my lifetime! 

It was clear you didn’t like everyone you met. In fact, you scared many people by lunging and snapping at them as they walked by. Not everyone. Thankfully. But we couldn’t figure out why some people were your victim and others weren’t. We didn’t like it anymore than they did. So we needed to figure out how to teach you to behave differently.

We started working one on one with an animal behaviorist. And she taught us to teach you to react differently when something scared you. By having you “watch me”, you would direct your energy into obeying a command and then being rewarded for it. It took a long time, but you eventually learned that “watching me” and getting a cookie was much much more rewarding than lunging at passersby. 

You used to do the pogo stick dance when people would come to visit you at the kennel. At our house, we taught you to sit when visitors came. You used to pace in your kennel, but we taught you to lay down and relax when you got anxious instead. 

And somewhere along the line, we fell in love with you. We learned how sweet, cuddly and affectionate you could be. We learned that what you wanted more than anything in the world was to be loved. We learned that ice cubes are your favorite treat, tennis balls are your favorite toys, and that you never ever sit on the hardwood floor if there is a blanket to sit on instead. 

We learned that your ‘attacks” are feared based and wondered what happened to make you afraid of some people. We learned that with training and reassurance people who you once feared could become your friends. We watched you grow, mature and become a calmer, gentler dog. But still no one came to take you into their home.

Almost 2 years went by. It wasn’t always easy. There were still fights with Izzy. There were still times you lunged at people walking by. You still get super excited when we get your leash out to go for a walk. You still try to do the pogo stick dance, but we remind you to sit and stay instead and then we will put the leash on. 

We had nights when we cuddled on the couch and watched movies together. Afternoons when we would go for walks with Izzy. And cheeseburgers from McDonald’s for dinner.  We gave you a special treat and “made” your bed for you every night. When we got up, we felt your cold nose wishing us a good morning. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best life you’d ever had so far. 

Then one day when you were at the shelter, one of the other dogs got loose and attacked you. You suffered puncture wounds that required medical care. And after you started to heal, you attacked Izzy more often than you ever had. This time she couldn’t forgive you. This time she was afraid. And so were we. We couldn’t predict what would set you off.  So we made the decision to stop fostering you. And we were absolutely sick about it. Who would take over working with you? Who would spend time with you the way we had? While you were better, you still had more work to do.

The day after we dropped you off, we got a call that someone was interested in you. We met the next day. They liked you. We liked them. You needed more time. So you met them again and slowly you started becoming friends with them. They wanted to give you a chance. We couldn’t have been more thrilled. So we arranged play dates. And every time you got together with them you had even more fun than the last time. We took you to visit their home. And we knew they had fallen in love with you, just like we had. They had toys waiting for you, toys they knew you would love. They greeted you grinning from ear to ear. And when you left, they hugged you so tight, they didn’t want to let go.

And so now, it’s our turn to let go. You have your own family. And we couldn’t be happier for you. They are perfect for you, and you, perfect for them. You will be the only dog in the family and they will dote on you as you so deserve. You have a home that is safe, a creek to wade in during the summers and all the toys a dog could ever want! 

We haven’t turned our back on you. I hope you can understand that. We are letting you go because we love you so. We worked with you for all these years so someone else could love you as we do. You have taught us so much. You have been a part of our family and you will always have a place in our heart. We will miss you dearly. And we will always love you.