Pups to the Rescue! 10/31/17
I recently sat down with Jess to talk about her work fostering hospice care and special needs dogs. In our wide ranging conversation we talked about the complexity of caring for dogs at the end of their lives. We talked about how adopting a puppy and watching it grow is a long term commitment with its own rewards. But fostering dogs in need is a completely different and rewarding experience. As Jess said, “Dogs allow you to stop and appreciate things on a simpler level. My current dog Duffy has lung cancer and any day could be the day but she still wakes herself up farting. She’s still wagging her tail and barking at people when they don’t pet her. She doesn’t know any different but to be happy in the moment.”
When and how did you get started fostering dogs?
I’d always wanted to have dogs and when Dan and I graduated from college we were working a lot, we worked on ships, and were gone half a year so we couldn’t have dogs. So we decided to start fostering because it’s a short-term commitment.
When we started fostering we were living in New Orleans in 2010. And then we moved to Houston, which has a huge rescue community. It’s just very much like charity oriented, so it was easy to get involved, and that’s where we really got started fostering a lot of dogs that had special needs. Whether it was behavioral or just that some of them looked scary. We would work with them to make sure they learned proper behaviors. And then we started getting into Medical Foster’s and that’s when we got our first dog that we adopted, which is Old Man. He actually came to Chicago with us and was here when Bitter Pops first opened.
What was it like getting involved in medical fostering, what was your experience with Old Man?
Old man was just an old curmudgeon, when we got him his nickname at the Shelter was Old Man because he was the oldest dog in the rescue. He was probably 10 or 12 , he’d had a hard life though, his eardrum had burst burst from multiple infections, he had arthritis, he was just old. So we learned a lot with him and in Houston with rehabilitating dogs, mainly because the rescue system was so open. It was like “oh you’ll take a dog pick any dog okay, oh you’re nice people, give us your phone number will see you next week.” It was so chill.
Whereas a lot of places here is Chicago are much more regulated. It’s very intense which is better for making sure the animals find permanent homes and they do keep track of the animals more, but it’s a way different atmosphere. So when we were fostering in Houston we were like yeah we’ll take that bald puppy covered in mange that you found on the street this morning. Which we actually did do, her was Mia. But yeah so it was just a very much more relaxed atmosphere, I mean if you can imagine Texas, anyway, it was just Texan. So we got a lot of experience with that.
What organizations do you work with here in Chicago?
Now I foster with a couple different organization here in Chicago. I mostly focus on MCP. Marta the woman who founded it and runs it is absolutely amazing. She takes lots of like special needs cases. And also a dog like a Neapolitan Mastiff, it’s a scary giant black dog, most people aren’t going to take a second look at him because he’s terrifying. But he got adopted through the rescue and now he’s the happiest thing in the world. So she takes a lot of special dogs like that. I actually met her because she personally interviews everybody that fosters dogs. So we got to become friends and that’s how I got Doodles, my current dog. I had just done hospice care for Manny, he was like this weird shepard corgi who wore diapers because he had kidney failure. And i wasn’t sure i could take on another dog, but because I had a relationship with Marta I knew I could handle it.
Tell me more about MCP?
So MCP, stands for Mission Compassionate Paw, and they’re just like really amazing. They do community outreach as well, so they educate people about responsible dog ownership, and help to provide interventions when needed.
What are some of the treatments you provide for the dogs?
So I’ve taken a class on dog message. It’s just very basic and similar to what you would do for a human. You just use gentle touching and my dogs get a daily message from me.
I also use Integrative Pet Care, which is an awesome resource. It’s a rehabilitation facility for animals here in Chicago. So my dogs go get water therapy on water treadmills, they get massage, and acupuncture, all that stuff. There’s a complete team of veterinarians, physical therapist, acupuncture specialist. So basically if you were a human you would be in heaven.
So if someone wants to get involved in fostering where should they start?
They should get a healthy dog. Really, they should get a healthy senior. There are so many seniors that make great first time dogs, because they are healthy but they’re chill. They’re quiet and they have established personalities, they’re probably housebroken. They’re gonna nap and really enjoy just taking a stroll. It might take more time and thought to pick a senior out but they will show you their personality, which can be really rewarding.
What are some of your favorite rescues and resources to recommend?
Definitely MCP, Alive Rescue, One tail at a time.
There is also a Program called Crisp, Chicago Rescue and Intervention
They volunteer on weekends at animal control and basically work to keep animals out of animal control and with their original owners. They will do anything they can, they will collect donated food, help get a dog fixed, and teach about responsible care. Animal control does not offer veterinary services, and it’s a high kill shelter, so once dogs go in they are going to require guaranteed. So many people just can’t afford care but want dogs. So much is just community outreach and support for owners to keep the dog in the home and minimize the transition for the dog.
Is there a dog that you’ve fostered that you think of as your success story?
Old man, he was a mess, he smelled terrible, he had a bunch of metal staples on him. Going back to the beginning, Old Man was found by a 70 year old woman in a business suit, in July in Houston, who ran around for almost 4 hours on the highway, trying to catch Old Man. He was definitely an outdoor dog, he was not anyone’s house pet at the time. He had 65 baggy tumors, some the size of baseballs all over him and he was half bald. He was disgusting. And he was mean. It’s not that he was actually mean, he was just scared, he was very anti-social. Even when he was healthy he was anti-social. So once he got caught, they kept him in boarding for a while but it wasn’t working out. This tiny 90 pound woman was trying to lift him into her car, he was like 50 pounds, she was in tears because she didn’t want him to go back to boarding. I looked around, Dan wasn’t around, so I said ‘just put him in my car?” Dan didn’t notice till we were half way home that there was a dog in the car. But he just needed time to get comfortable to being inside.
But before he passed away, he went from being a jerk to being able to visit a retirement home and let all the people pet him. Even at home he would purposely stay out of our reach. But visiting a retirement facility, he would let people pet him and learned how to move away from wheel chairs. He went from being a parking screaming dog in a cage to hanging out a retirement home.
What’s been the best part of taking on foster dogs?
I know I’ve learned so much from the dogs I’ve fostered, just in terms of the responsibility. Just becoming a more a more patient and caring person. I have to drop my own issues when my dogs have an issue. I feel like it’s been huge for me, I went to a military school so everything was organized and I didn’t have to make any decisions. Having the dogs has provided an outlet for compassion and understanding. Its one way to understand life and death and get to know yourself better.
Dogs allow you to stop and appreciate things on a simpler level. My current dog Duffy has lung cancer and any day could be the day but she still wakes herself up farting. She’s still wagging her tail and barking at people when they don’t pet her. She doesn’t know any different but to be happy in the moment. Of all the dogs I’ve had, at whatever point in my life, they’ve fit well with what’s been going on with me. With a puppy you train them and have them for a long time. But with hospice fosters they really dig a hole in your heart and are there forever even if they aren’t in your life forever.
Thank you Jess for your time and knowledge, getting to know you and these pups has been a delight for the entire team! -Emily and the Bitter Pops Crew