They say that a picture (in this case a photograph) is worth a thousand words. Especially when it comes to adorable bully breed puppies. This cute little guy is Toby and he’s looking for his forever home. Toby didn’t always look this cute as I discovered when I asked his foster-mom to tell me more about him.
He’s a good boy; came to me skinny and had kennel cough and worms. He’s clearly filled out now and all healthy! Toby’s very smart and fun to watch play – he’s a total riot – carries a bully stick around in his mouth all of the time like he’s smoking a cigar!
What, I wondered, as Tracy and I started emailing back and forth had been her introduction to fostering and why bully breeds, I asked her and as her story was so compelling, we both decided it would make a good blog post.
HRD: So, before we get started with your foster-mom story, can you tell us about yourself? Where do you live? Did you grow up with dogs?
Tracy: My name is Tracy Cotter. I live in North Tonawanda NY which is a suburb of Buffalo. I grew up in Oswego NY and we only had cats until I was in high school. So dogs were not something I was very connected with although I have always been an animal lover.
In my mid-20’s I bought a bichon puppy from a breeder (which I will never do again). For my 30th birthday I adopted Bella, my now 3 year old pit bull. She is my soul dog and the reason I work with a rescue now.
I am a school counselor at a boys private high school and have worked there 9 years. Working full time and fostering does have its challenges. I live alone so it is me, my two dogs- Blue and Bella, and whatever fosters are currently inhabiting my house.
Time is a factor. I cannot foster newborn pups as I cannot bottle feed throughout the day. Outside of newborn pups, I can make sure that all dogs are exercised and have enough attention each night but it is a priority in my life and has to be to make sure everyone is taken care of well.
HRD: How did you get involved with Rescue a Bull?
Tracy: I got involved in Rescue-A-Bull at it’s start. I had known many of the members of the staff previously through another rescue and when they created Rescue-A-Bull in December 2010, I immediately jumped up to volunteer with them. I started by doing transports, posting on Craigslist and home visits. A few months later I saw a pup in Ohio that caught my eye. I was tossing around the idea of fostering but was not sure if I was ready. I talked to a member of Rescue-A-Bull and made the leap.
That weekend I drove to Ohio and picked up my first foster, Romeo, who now lives happily in NJ. Since Romeo, there have been 8 other foster puppies at my house in a year and a half including the two I currently have- Tanner and Toby which came from the same shelter as Romeo.
In February of 2012, I was asked to become a member of the staff. I now work as an adoptions coordinator and help clarify applications, post all of our adoptables on Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet, and work with our volunteers who post to Craigslist.
HRD: How have you set up your home for fostering?
Tracy: I have a room off of my kitchen that I use for quarantine. It was originally an office when I bought my house- the dogs have taken it over! It is their play room as well as where the fosters stay when they are in quarantine.
My yard is fenced (thank goodness!) which allows for games of fetch with me and wrestling and chase between the dogs. All of the dogs (my dogs and the fosters) are all crated when I am not home. I am lucky with my two dogs- they tolerate the in and out of fosters well. My bichon (Blue) basically ignores them. He is 9 and mostly likes to just chill. He teaches the foster pups boundaries.
Bella is like a mama dog. She wrestles with them and allows them to curl up with her for some snuggle time. She loves when quarantine is over so she can get to play with them. It is like a never ending play date at my house!
We do slow intros at my house to start. Blue doesn’t need it but Bella needs to feel them out. We will do walks together and she is always introduced to only one foster at a time. Most of the time our meetings happen outside first with the foster on a leash. The fosters are usually fairly excited so this allows me to let Bella get some space if she needs it. But within a day or so, she has accepted them as part of her family.
With young puppies, she needs breaks as they can be a lot to handle. Her crate is downstairs so when she is ready she goes to it and I let her rest there until she is ready to play again.
HRD: What’s the longest time that you’ve kept a foster dog? Have you ever failed the foster creed and kept a dog?
Tracy: The longest foster I ever had was Bentley. He came from Rochester Animal Shelter. They found him abandoned in a house covered in feces and urine with no food or water. He was skin and bones. They thought he was 3 months but he was actually 5 months and was just very malnourished.
He came to my house in September 2010 and was with me until April 2011. He had some behavior issues which made him unadoptable at first. He was a resource guarder and had handling issues as well. The first time I gave him a bath he tore a hole in my shirt from trying to bite me.
I took him to a trusted trainer friend who gave me some ideas as to how to help him. No one was sure if he would become adoptable or not. I fed his meals to him by hand for months working on training. I clicker trained him with everything. We worked on basic commands as well as how to handle a towel touching him and how to wear a muzzle as I was not sure if he would ever be able to handle the vet without panicking.
It was a TON of work but slowly he got better. He learned people were okay and not there to hurt him. I still cannot believe how far he has come. Literally all of his initial handling issues are no longer a problem.
HRD: It’s not always easy, is it? Given all that you and Bentley had been through together, how hard was it to find him that perfect home?
Tracy: When it came to adopters, I was incredibly picky. I denied many applicants before his adopter put in an application and I was unsure about his adopter as well. But he came from Staten Island to Buffalo to meet Bentley and me. He ended up being the perfect person for him.
He loves him just as much as I do and I am lucky to get updates often. I cried everyday driving home for a week because I knew he wouldn’t be there barking at me when I got home. It was incredibly hard but it was definitely the right move to let him move on. I had taught him all I could.
Since Bentley, I have had 6 other fosters. Saying goodbye to him allowed to to save those 6 from the shelter. He was the closest I ever came to failing but I have yet to be a part of the failed foster club!
Fostering is a lot of work. You have to love and care for a pet that is not yours. I always say that I am like a hotel. I am a place these dogs live while their real house is finishing up. I love each of them like they are my own (but, yes, I do have some that are my favorites).
I won’t lie and say it’s not hard to say good bye because it is hard, sometimes painfully hard. But I realize that if I keep them, I cannot foster. There are lots of wonderful people who want to adopt and by saying good bye I get to save the next one for another great family.
HRD: What would you say to someone who is thinking about fostering but isn’t sure that they can?
Tracy: I have one suggestion with fostering- make sure you work with an EXCELLENT rescue group. They are critical. I have heard some horror stories about fostering and I have not had that experience. Rescue-A-Bull has been wonderful. They pay for vetting and are always there to answer questions whether I have a training question or a medical question I can get it answered very quickly as we have both a vet and trainers on staff.
Make sure you know who you are fostering with and talk to others who have fostered with that group to be sure you will be supported. Having one good experience will make you want to foster for life, having one bad experience may sour you.
Foster homes are critical in saving the lives of so many- it is how a rescue is run. Without fosters, there is no rescue!
Rescue-A-Bull is recognized by the NY Department of Education as an educational organization, dedicated to educating the public about bully breed dogs as well as modern dog training and behavior through all aspects of outreach both online and off.