Diary of a Fosterer

I got my first dog in June 2011, a lab X retriever who was being given away free to a good home as a puppy. She was the puppy from hell, although looking back, maybe that was just because we were all learning together and we didn’t realise how much hard work a puppy is. In May 2012, I was diagnosed with, and then treated for, a chronic condition that made me realise that I might not always be here to look after my dog. It also made me look at life in a very different way.

I love my dog, and would love a house full, but two things stop me: 1) a husband and 2) that illness.

To get my dog fix, I started walking dogs at Mornac SPA after joining Verity’s legendary Birthday Woofer Walk in November 2013. I love being with the dogs, and my equally dog mad friends. I can’t go as regularly as I’d like but I’m still going when I can, falling in love with any of them if they will sit for me or my biscuit, and feeling great that just a few hours of dog walking makes a huge difference to those dogs.

However, the thing I love most is fostering. I took the plunge with Arnold, a setter X who was really struggling to cope with life in the refuge. It didn’t take him long to find his feet and fall in love with Daisy, and he spent two months with us before he found a great home with a friend of a friend, so I know he is happy and loved. I’m on my 9th one at the moment. He’s 10 yrs old, and you can tell. He’s a bit creaky, has scars from his previous life and gets upset when Daisy bounces in to him. He came to us after six weeks with another fosterer. Before that we don’t think he’d been in a house, so it really is a case of trying to teach an old dog, new tricks.

baxter230116-3

The wonderful thing is watching him gain his confidence. He got very attached to me very quickly, to the point that he would bark if I left the room and shut the door. After two and a half weeks, he’s just relaxing enough to let me leave without having to follow me every time. He still goes in to melt down sometimes if I’m gone for too long, and I can be sitting in a different room and he can run right past me in his panic to find me, but he will also lie in the garden listening to me “singing” along to my ipod, just happy to be exactly where he is.

We’re still dealing with the occasional accident in the house, I have to creep out of the lounge at bedtime, I have to crate him when I leave the house and cajole him in to eating his dinner as he’s not interested in food. Some food upsets his stomach and he’s still really thin, so food is a constant challenge. We have spent hours cat training him, but he now follows the cat whenever he can, and curled up to sleep with him for the first time yesterday!

That is with a dog who was described as “not easy”. I’m guessing that meant difficult, but we have been careful to set boundaries for him and all of our foster dogs, and haven’t had a difficult one yet. We have had one who escapes (but only as far as the nearest bin), two terrified setters, one of which we spent a lot of time chasing round the lounge to catch him to go for a walk, a retriever X who tried to mount everyone and everything in the first 24 hours of arriving, but is still my favourite and three young ones, so lots of puddles and piles to clean up, but only for as long as it took to do a bit of intensive toilet training!

They are all different, and the adult ones usually come with baggage, but they soon settle in to a routine and become part of the family. I have loved all of them and am always a mixture of happiness and sadness when they leave us. The joy of knowing I have helped each of those dogs on to a loving home, far outweighs the upset I feel when they go, and I do get upset, but I know there will always be another one who needs a helping hand.

I live in Poitou-Charentes in France and foster for Orfee in English. I walk refuge dogs and cuddle the cats at Mornac SPA, just outside Angouleme. There is always room for more volunteers and fosterers.
If you’re in a different area of France, maybe we can find somewhere for you to do your own refuge dog walking or cat cuddling. Find our website at LAARF or for a quicker response on facebook at LAARF – SPA Volunteer Network

A dog called Xxxx

Eighteen months ago I walked a dog called Xxxx. He was big and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was an absolute dream to walk: responsive, happy and obedient. I have a great photo of him giving a paw for a treat, and anyone will tell you that I‘m a sucker for a dog who sits and gives his paw for a treat!

Each time I went to walk the dogs, I’d try to walk him but when I looked for him on the refuge website, couldn’t find him. It turns out he is part of a court case, which means he can’t be advertised.

A few months later, his companion was adopted so he was alone in his box. He doesn’t seem overly bothered by other dogs or cats, but I guess he must be, because he’s still in a box on his own, unadvertised, getting chunkier and not quite so good on the lead, which makes him a more difficult choice for walking; a vicious circle for the bigger, stronger dogs as less volunteers can walk them.

Last Friday I walked him again, eighteen months after that first walk.  He hadn’t been out since Monday and it was the first time I wasn’t sure that I was in control when he almost pulled me over on the slippery grass as he tried to race from his box to say hello (?) to the other dogs. Once we were out of the refuge gates, and we’d had a few minutes battling to decide who was in control, he calmed down and we spent a happy 20 minutes sniffing, peeing, pooing and interacting. He has the softest brown eyes, little perky ears, and that look that most dogs give you when they will do anything for a biscuit….and he loves a cuddle.

He’s one of my special favourites, but he’s also one I worry that will spend the rest of his days in a refuge. He’s a great boy but it’s already been too long for him. Apparently, a while ago, he had an assessment for police training, and the only reason he wasn’t selected was because of his age. He’s a good boy, but he’s a big boy, getting bigger and older every day, he’s frustrated and he’s trapped.

There are a few dogs at the refuges in the same position as Xxxx, dogs that can’t be advertised because they are victims of mistreatment or abuse, who have to wait, possibly years, until the court case is heard before they can be advertised, or until they are spotted and chosen.

I don’t need a reason to walk the dogs, but if I did, Xxxx would be why I would. Every time I walk him, that’s a little bit less time he is in his box, time interacting with people and enjoying his freedom/treats/cuddles, the things our own dogs take for granted.

I wish he wasn’t there. I wish that someone would walk up to him in his box, fall in love with him and not be put off by the big, bouncing boy going a bit crazy because he hasn’t been outside that box in four days. I wish that for all of them of course, and while they’re there I will walk them.

I will make a difference!

Join us

Remembering Maddie

Two years ago today Maddie Lineham lost her life at just 10 years old as a result of an anaphylaxis shock. Maddie was a beautiful, caring mini animal rescuer loved by everyone who knew her and who lives on in the hearts of many of our members as it was her Mum, Verity, who’s actions led to LAARF being born.

Our thoughts are always with Maddie’s family, but especially today.

Maddie 2

Postcard from the Bridge 3 by Jackie Amor

Hello Mum its me again, I know it’s been a while
But something happened here today that really made me smile

The weather was ok today until the clouds came in so fast
All the animals gathered around to see what had come to pass

The lucky ones who had a lovely home just like mine
Helped the ‘Lonely ones’ to understand about this special time

The lonely ones that had no one to care when their time came to cross
Were worried by the change as it revived memories of their loss

Sorry I am rambling now so the story now I shall tell
What happened at Rainbow bridge today made those old eyes well…

A little human lady arrived, all smiles but with eyes so sad
She wouldn’t say what happened but for her family she felt bad

And then she saw the Lonely ones and the angels nodded their heads
She smiled at them a lovely smile and the mixed and purebreds

Ran to her at full speed their old age and pains now gone
And as she stroke each one with love the sun came out and shone

With each caress they gained strength from that lovely rescue girl
they knew she had come especially for them and around her they did swirl.

For they had found their saviour in that her precious soul
Then all at once as she crossed the bridge the lonely ones were made whole.

Everything happened so fast, it seemed to go like a blur
As she crossed the bridge to heaven they all left and followed her

Maddie

Maddie’s story and her Dad’s amazing Marathon fundraiser

Two years in…

It’s now two years since LAARF was created. Two years since that Birthday Celebration that led to a group of English animal lovers gathering at a noisy French refuge in the woods around Mornac to walk dogs, that opened our eyes to the lives of the abandoned and made many of us cry at the sheer scale of the problem.

Join us

It’s two years since a sprinkling of that group were bitten by the volunteering bug: a bug that takes you on a roller coaster of joy and sadness, enough joy for each of those animals who’s lives we’re improving to make the sadness of the one’s we can’t help worth the pain, and that pushes you to do more.

Actually, that’s two very strong emotions. I don’t feel either of them most of the time when I’m volunteering. Most of the time I just feel happy to be with dogs and cats and with friends who are happy to be there too.

I enjoy walking all of the dogs, even the ones that practically pull my arm off, because I know it’s the best part of their day, week or month. Sometimes I walk one that breaks my heart. Only yesterday I helped move one from the fourriere (pound) to the refuge as his holding period was over. He is big and black, with the most fabulous wide head and sad brown eyes, and he was scared. I spent about twenty minutes with him. It probably took me about one of those minutes to fall in love with him, and I admit that happens with great regularity. Every time it happens I go through the same argument with myself: can I have him?, would he get on with my dog/cat?, would I be able to work if we have another one?, would I still be able to foster?… and each time I decide I can’t. I don’t doubt that one day I will take one of them home, but when I look back at the number of dogs I have previously fallen for, I can see that most of them have been adopted in to a new loving home, probably a million times better than the life they came from. I realise that it doesn’t have to be me that gives the dogs the life they crave, as most of them will find someone else who can, but what I can do is care about them while they’re there, walk and cuddle them while they’re waiting.

If you love animals, helping out at a refuge is probably one of the most satisfying things you can do. If you think it will be too upsetting to see them behind bars, please, please, please think about giving it a go. Your local refuge is a never ending source of exercise and cuddles. Yes, there will probably be a few tears, but I think 99% of those of us who have tried it will agree that the positives far outway any sadness.

Hopefully, if you are reading this, you know how to find us. We would be delighted to try and help you find somewhere to volunteer. Please get in touch and help us improve the lives of the dogs and cats living in our French refuges.

LAARF website

LAARF Volunteering Facebook Page

LAARF dogs and cats for adoption in France

Email: info@LAARF.com

If you have room in your home and your heart, Foster!

I came across this on social media. The person who shared it didn’t include the authors name so I can’t credit them, but what a lovely piece:

My foster dog stinks to high heaven. I don’t know for sure what breed he is. His eyes are blank and hard. He won’t let me pet him and growls when I reach for him. He has ragged scars and crusty sores on his skin. His nails are long and his teeth which he showed me are stained. I sigh. I drove two hours for this. I carefully maneuver him so that I can stuff him in the crate. Then I heft the crate and put it in the car. I am going home with my new foster dog. At home I leave him in the crate till all the other dogs are in the yard. I get him out of the crate and ask him if he wants ‘outside.’ As I lead him to the door he hikes his leg on the wall and shows me his stained teeth again. When we come in he goes to the crate because that’s the only safe place he sees. I offer him food but he won’t eat it if I look at him, so I turn my back. When I come back the food is gone. I ask again about ‘outside.’ When we come back I pat him before I let him in the crate, he jerks away and runs into the crate to show me his teeth. The next day I decide I can’t stand the stink any longer I lead him into the bath with cheese in my hand. His fear of me is not quite overcome by his wish for the cheese. And well he should fear me, for I will give him a bath.

After an attempt or two to bail out he is defeated and stands there. I have bathed four legged bath squirters for more dog years than he has been alive. His only defense was a show of his stained teeth that did not hold up to a face full of water. As I wash him it is almost as if I wash not only the stink and dirt away but also some of his hardness. His eyes look full of sadness now. And he looks completely pitiful as only a soap covered dog can. I tell him that he will feel better when he is cleaned. After the soap the towels are not too bad so he lets me rub him dry. I take him outside. He runs for joy. The joy of not being in the tub and the joy of being clean. I, the bath giver, am allowed to share the joy. He comes to me and lets me pet him.

One week later I have a vet bill. His skin is healing. He likes for me to pet him. I think I know what color he will be when his hair grows in. I have found out he is terrified of other dogs. So I carefully introduce him to my mildest four legged brat. It doesn’t go well. Two weeks later a new vet bill for an infection that was missed on the first visit. He plays with the other dogs. Three weeks later he asks to be petted. He chewed up part of the rug. Eight weeks later his coat shines, he has gained weight. He shows his clean teeth when his tongue lolls out after he plays chase in the yard with the gang. His eyes are soft and filled with life. He loves hugs and likes to show off his tricks, if you have the cheese.

Someone called today and asked about him, they saw the picture I took the first week. They asked about his personality, his history, his breed. They asked if he was pretty. I asked them lots of questions. I checked up on them. I prayed. I said yes. When they saw him the first time they said he was the most beautiful dog they had ever seen.

Six months later I got a call from his new family. He is wonderful, smart, well behaved and very loving. How could someone not want him?
I told them I didn’t know. He is beautiful. They all are.

Accor Foster

Winter Bedding Appeal 2015

As we head in to winter, many refuges will need more help to keep the animals in their care warm. Not only does this make the animals more comfortable, but it can help prevent and reduce illness.

Winter bedding appeal

If you have any old blankets, sheets or towels, please consider taking them to your local animal refuge. Some will also take duvets and pillows (not feather) but please check before you take them, as some have stopped taking them.

If you prefer to pass your donations to one of our members, please look at the map of our Drop Off Points to see if we have a member near you.

If you can receive donations, store and get them to a refuge near you, please join us and let us know. We will add you to our map.

LAARF Map of Drop Off points

LAARF Website

LAARF Volunteering Facebook Page

or email us on info@LAARF.com

Thank-you

Winter bedding appeal Cat

I can’t foster. I’d find it too hard to let them go!

That’s what I thought the first time I fostered, and I still feel that for the first few days after a foster dog moves in to their forever home. There’s always a big empty space when the door shuts behind a dog moving on…but

every time a new one moves in, I fall in love all over again

each time, I’m reminded that these are just normal dogs who have had the misfortune of being neglected, abused or abandonned.

while they’re with us my life is richer because I see life through the eyes of a dog who may not have slept on a comfy bed, run through grass, snoozed at someone’s feet, swum in a river or played with a ball

and when they leave us and I get news that the dog has settled in, I relax and I’m ready for the next one.

Foster homes make a huge difference to the chances of a dog finding the right home for them. In a refuge environment, dogs may be stressed, bored or frustrated, whereas in a home environment it’s easier to assess their true personality. Some dogs are at risk of euthanasia if they are old, snappy (often merely due to anxiety or stress) or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There are associations and refuges all over France who would be interested to hear from you if you would like to foster a dog or a cat.

Now would be a good time to get in touch as places are full and this increases the risk of animals being euthanised so, if you’re in the area, why not pop along to the Hope Booksale this weekend in 79190 to have a chat about fostering (or adopting!)

You can speak to Emma who will be representing Mornac SPA in Angouleme and to Caroline representing Orfee, the association saving dogs from a number of pounds around Poitou-Charentes.

Orfee, specifically, are at crisis point at the moment with a number of dogs at risk because they don’t have enough foster homes to save all of the dogs passing in to their pounds.

For example, Duffy, a friendly Shepherd X

Duffy

or Chester, an extremely frightened Beagle

Chester

Contact details can be found on the respective websites and we’re always delighted to hear from you through the LAARF email address.

LAARF website

Email: info@LAARF.com if you are interested in fostering, but are outside Poitou-Charentes region.

Mornac SPA website

Orfee website

hope