Melvin, former foster dog

By Kim Bromley and Susie Harper

If you’ve fostered a pet – especially kittens and puppies – you’ve heard this question: “How can you give them back? I could never do it.” And it’s true, fostering isn’t for everyone. We’ve written about fostering before in this blog: the joys and challenges, senior partners and the fun of seeing your fosters in their new homes. What we haven’t focused on solely is reunions. Herewith, one of the many pleasures of fostering: seeing once again and even spending time with foster pets post adoption.

Susie Harper, long time Marin Humane volunteer, blogger and foster mom extraordinaire, remembers one of her most memorable fosters, Tomkins, a little red Madera dog (he came from the Madera county shelter) who’d never been inside a house, and was so bonded to Susie that he couldn’t bear for her to be gone from his sight. “One day when I wasn’t home, he bolted from the house. I dropped everything at work and drove all over my neighborhood looking for him. Several kids had failed in their attempts to catch him, but, when he heard my voice, he came flying into my arms. I saw him once after his adoption. He was wearing the trappings (a pale blue suede jacket) of a successful Marin County adoptee.”

Likewise, I’ve had the experience while hiking (or even once walking in my neighborhood) of seeing a former foster. I blurt out, “Bubbles, is that YOU?” Of course, her name is no longer Bubbles and to my chagrin I don’t even know her human’s name. (To be fair, I was for many years known in a wide range of venues as “Maybelline’s mom.”) But despite the misuse of monikers both dog and human are always happy to say hi and revel in how happy they both are that they found each other and are enjoying their time together. (The answer to the question “How can you give them back?”)

Sometimes reunions take the form of correspondence. Another memorable experience for Susie was with two abandoned teen-age orange tabbies, delivered to Marin Humane by someone moving into an apartment and discovering the tabbies climbing up the screen door trying to get in. Once these anxiety-ridden tabbies were cared for and loved, they realized there were no boundaries and ultimately were adopted. Says Susie, “Not settling for just any adoption, I knew they had ‘arrived’ when their new guardian sent photos of them in lounge chairs by their pool in Belvedere.” #marinadoption

Melvin chillin with his new sis

My own reunions have brought a couple of old pals back to my house for petsitting. Melvin is a dog who stayed with us for 2 or 3 months during the 2020 shelter in place order. Melvin came from a hoarding situation. Despite his preference for other dogs over people, he quickly learned to trust and when adoptions resumed he was adopted by a lovely young couple who immediately made him a full fledged member of the family and took him everywhere with them, including visiting family in other states. However, at one point, it was apparent that Melvin would not be able to join the family fun and so I was asked if I was available for Melvin care (an offer I had made at the time of adoption). Thrilled to see Melvin again, we said yes! He has stayed with us twice now since 2020 and he’s like an old friend come back to visit. Our dogs and cat treat him like a cousin who occasionally drops in. And now Melvin has a little sister, his new best friend! What a long way he’s come from hiding in the corner.

Perhaps my favorite reunion story is about Theo, whom has graced this blog before. Theo was our foster in 2019. He lived with us for almost 6 months, mostly owing to his difficult habit of wanting to bite the ankles of people with whom he was not familiar. It took a while to determine if Theo just needed a new habit or if this was something that he would do all his life. Enter devoted volunteer, Mimi Hampton, who discovered Theo at the adoption desk. Even though she is a stalwart lover of German Shepherds, something about Theo captured Mimi’s heart.

Theo and Lulu hanging out at a reunion

She vacillated for several weeks, but during that time both Mimi and I felt that Theo was capable of being a great dog if given the right environment and support system. Because of his wariness of strangers, vacation care was a big concern. Mimi takes a couple short trips a year and was worried about what to do with Theo during those times. I said he could stay with us if we weren’t otherwise engaged. And so an adoption was forged and a new friendship was born. Since the summer of 2019 Theo has stayed with us numerous times and he’s even made friends with our friends who keep our dogs when we’re gone. He stayed with them overnight once! They absolutely adore him and he’s welcome there anytime. Theo is no longer committed to biting ankles, but we do keep our eye on him and a tennis ball in his mouth.

Two more foster stories from Susie, though not strictly about reunions, they speak to cross species bonding:

“As evidence of the trust a foster pet can have for their caretaker, I was very touched when I cared for a mama cat who had run out of milk. Not only did she not object to me bottle feeding her two tiny kittens, but she would deliver them to me in my bedroom, place them on the floor, and then jump up on my bed to hang out with me and my dogs!”

Porch party from L to R: Melvin, Nora, Lulu, Lorenzo and Claude

And this touching gem: “Jennifer, an older puppy mill poodle who’d mothered for so long it appeared she didn’t want to give it up. She tirelessly brought my foster kittens food, kept them clean, and provided warmth. Her comfort extended to allowing the kittens to nurse on her warts.”

Says Susie, “Some people ask me, ‘How can you get so attached and then take them back?’ I do it with a mixture of sadness and relief. Knowing that you’ve saved the lives of animals that become members of loving families makes it all worthwhile. And the best cure is to ask, ‘Got any more that need me?’’’