They call it foster fail and, I have to say, I excel at it.
A foster fail is when you try to find the dog you are fostering its best forever home, only to find that home is your own. It involves a dog, usually one with an unhappy childhood, unattractive bowel movements and a thing for stealing vital pieces of clothing. Nobody much wants the dog for reasons rarely the dog’s fault, but almost always it is the one who suffers.
There are a number of remarkable volunteer groups around the capital region that do the hard work. I have a clear bias. It’s called Denise at Paws and if you ever have any money, give it to them. They save more lives than you’ll ever know.
They’re the folk who go in and rescue dogs that are being mistreated. It’s hard enough to see an animal suffering – to not grievously harm the human who has done the damage is the really hard bit.
Foster carers come in when the really hard work’s been done. After the animal has been rescued, checked out by the vet, and treated for whatever ails it. Post-vet, usually only time and love can treat what ails it.
Last year I started fostering Archie. A white fluffy bowling ball of an old bloke who reminded me of that Muppet who hates the world and everything in it.
Archie was one of the lucky ones. He had been loved but his owner was going into care and couldn’t keep him. I suspect he spent most of his life on a lap being fed treats. His favourite exercise? Opening his mouth.
My other foster fail, Mickey The Perfect, welcomed him waggily. Archie waddled over to his (Mickey’s) bowl and vacuumed up Mickey’s dinner.
Archie put up with Mickey and me, but mostly Mickey. I was just the tall person who could reach the fridge.
Usually I bond quite quickly with new dogs, mostly because they sense, on arrival, that they’re on a good wicket – a huge house yard to play in, paddocks full of sheep poo to roll in, choice of beds to sleep on – but there was something about Archie that made me keep my distance.
The fact he would snap at my feet, for one. The way he would try to eat my hand as well as the food in it. The fact he had the breath of a bison.
He didn’t like you getting too close, he didn’t like cuddles. He loved food, being away from me and the farm kelpies.
He also liked to wee in the house. Mickey The Perfect would go outside on demand, do whatever he needed to do, and trot back inside onto one of his beds. Archie would trot out with Mickey, watch Mickey empty and then come inside with him. And then do a wee. Or a poo. Mostly both.
It’s not easy to house train a 100-year-old dog, but I worked with him on it because I was running out of cleaning fluids.
I also worked on him not biting me and teaching him that not everyone who came through the door wanted to kill him.
He started getting better, less grumpy so the next step was to make him look like a nice dog by getting him professionally groomed.
No bows or ribbons for this little bloke, a short back and every side for him. When I picked him up from the groomers, he looked like another dog.
He was a different colour for starters and I could see his face. He wasn’t growling at me. Win, I thought.
He also looked, well, cute-ish. Normal, not like a Muppet.
It was like his loss of fur uncovered his better half. He developed a spring in his step and, when he went to bite my ankle, he licked it instead. We were both just as surprised.
Something happened that day. My plan was to get him on the books to find a new forever family, yet something about this newly cropped little fellow had me by the paws. He wasn’t going anywhere. Except back home for more treats.
Foster fail. Again.