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We are always in desperate need of foster homes. Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue will pay for food, supply bedding, reimburse for mileage or gas (not both), and can even lend crates and/or dog runs. Foster families will also receive the first option to adopt the dog they foster. If you are interested in fostering, please read more about the process below.

by Elizabeth Akers

Foster homes are those family homes that can allot the time and space to keeping a rescue dog while it is being vetted, evaluated, cared for and trained. The foster will usually keep the dog until it is ready to go to a new permanent home.

Foster parents will be asked to pick up dogs from homes or shelters, transport dogs to veterinary appointments, sometimes show dogs to potential owners, or simply just house them. Foster families do not complete adoptions to new homes.

The foster home should have a fully fenced yard. If there are one or more dogs in the home there should be a safe place for the rescue dog to be kept, separate, from the family dogs at least for a while. It is important that the rescue dog have its own space one where the dog will not feel threatened or challenged by the other dogs. Do NOT assume that the rescue dog will be grateful to you for taking it into your home it will not! It will want to be home with its own family. Once it realizes that it is staying with you, the dog will typically mourn the loss of the original family for some time.

I have always tried NOT to integrate the rescue dog into my home by not allowing it all the mod cons of the house dogs, the rescue dog will hopefully be kept a bit at arm's length, thereby not being too badly traumatized when it is time for the dog to move on to the new home. You want an invisible wall between your family and the rescue dog, but one that is malleable. Each rescue dog will bond to the foster person that is natural, the trick is to keep a distance that will allow the dog to go to a new home and bond quickly with a new owner it is a fine line for a foster family to walk.

The rescue dog should be fed separately; I usually feed dry food with a cup or three of lukewarm water. I find that the wet food (not canned) helps their digestion and stress level too. The dog should sleep in a crate or a dog run so that the invisible wall is kept up. By maintaining this wall, the dog soon learns that it is in a safe place and that all good things come from you.

The dog needs boundaries and rules once you have set those, the dog may be able to relax somewhat. To invite the rescue dog onto your bed or the couch is confusing for the dog and it will probably settle in as if your home is permanent. Suddenly all things change again when it is sent off to live with new parents where the rules are again different. By making the dog a part of the foster family, it is possible that during the first few weeks in the new home the dog will be more mistrustful than normal because it does not know if it going to stay or go away again.

By all means once the dog has been in the foster home for a few days, the family can take it for walks with the rest of the pack, making sure all the dogs are safe from the petty squabbles of pecking orders. I find it easier all around to just keep them separate till it is time to move on.

When you first take possession of the rescue dog I think it is imperative to gauge the dog's attitude toward you e.g. if you were to walk up to a strange dog like one of the well rounded, well trained dogs we see in parks, you would not think twice about reaching out and patting the dog, touching it on the head, better yet, I would hope that each and every one of us would first ask the owner/handler of the dog in question whether or not it was okay for us to pat their dog! The dog in question would in all likelihood, be friendly, lean against you, lick your hand and accept a cookie. In most cases a rescue dog would do none of the above when you first meet it. There are always exceptions to the rule though!

A rescue dog knows something "bad" is happening. It may have spent the past week or six weeks or months in the middle of a troubling divorce, people yelling at each other, household goods being moved; the dog may have been kenneled while the owners pack up the house; the new baby may have come home after six months of redecorating and activity and being kept in the house, suddenly the baby is there and the dog is put outside you would be surprised at how OFTEN that happens. Then, when the baby is asleep and the dog is allowed in, the dog tries to sniff the baby and is told to leave it alone and then ends up back outside and one wonders why the dog may be resentful of this new baby?

So, with all this background, you are going to meet the new rescue dog for the first time. Again, one's inclination is to first walk up to the dog and feel sorry for it that it is losing it's home, so one tends to ooh and aah and say sorry to the dog. Don't do it!! IGNORE the dog.

Try taking some really juicy treats with you in your pocket, hold a few in your hand, shake hands with the soon-to-be-ex-owner and ask questions, lots of questions, don't even look at the dog well, you can keep the dog in your peripheral vision, but do not make eye contact with the dog, simply ignore him or her. Talk to the owner for as long as it takes for that dog to become inquisitive about you, the dog will check you out and of course the first thing the dog will do is smell the yummy food in your hand. Keep it there Wait until the dog is really nosing your leg, arm, or hand, then offer the tidbit to him, still not looking at the dog. Be aware though that the dog's body language is not saying your head is about to be removed!!

Once the dog feels safe and has checked you out thoroughly, that dog will then give you "permission", for want of a better word, to pat and touch it. I find that scratches behind the ear alongside the cheek are best rather than the dominant position of putting your hand on top of the dog's head to pat it.

The three facial areas for patting or stroking are:
On top of the head and over the top between the ears = very dominant on your part
Under the chin, and down the throat area = very submissive on your part
Alongside the face, down along the under part of the ear, along the cheeks = very neutral territory.

RRs have a large "personal" space. Remember how you feel when a stranger comes up to talk with you and gets right in your face. Each time you try to take a step backwards to get a bit of space between you and the other person, the stranger gets closer. Well, RRs are very much "space conscious" dogs. So, do give them their space until they have checked you out. These dogs are not the well-trained, happy dogs in good homes. They may be well trained in their own environment, but these dogs are going from one home to another or a kennel and are stressed and tense and mistrusting. Give them some space.

I have used Turid Rugaas' Calming Signals on the dogs I meet they work well and I highly recommend her tapes and books for those of you wanting to know more about body language and signals for the canine world.

Sequence of events leading to a dog being placed in a new permanent home:

A call comes to rescue that a dog needs to be rehoused or picked up from a shelter.

"Rescue" calls volunteers who have offered to foster dogs, keeping in mind the experience level of each foster and the needs of this particular dog.

The dog is picked up and delivered to foster or foster goes to pick up dog in which case foster loads the dog in car (sometimes in crate sometimes loose in car) and takes dog home. Remember, these dogs are stressed and you are a total stranger to them. I find it much easier to let the dog ride loose in my vehicle, often with a leash still attached, than to try and force a strange dog into a strange crate. I never know whether that dog has ever seen the inside of a crate before, so I am not about to make it more stressed by pushing it into a crate!

The dog is introduced to the foster home, walked around the house and yard. The dog is shown where the water and sleeping areas are; the dog may be allowed to see other dogs in home through a fence or other arrangement. Later, the dogs may be allowed to play together. It is important not to integrate the rescue dog entirely into your home.

Once a vet appointment is confirmed; the rescue dog may be taken in to be spayed/neutered across the next few days. The dog will be microchipped at that time.

The foster will relay to the rescue coordinators their evaluation of how the dog behaves while eating, playing, walking, in the house, in the car, at the vet and any other information pertinent to the well-being and placement of the dog. Rescue coordinators will also evaluate dog at some point.

Once a dog is ready to be adopted, fosters may be asked to meet prospective owners it is important that all prospective owners are met at a neutral location away from your home. If the prospective owner is found to be acceptable, the dog may go home with new owner. All records will be forwarded to the new owner's veterinarian.