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“Annie”, rescued from a shelter in Green Bay, WI
Deb Paige, Owner

The Joy of Fostering

By Steve Deger

When our 14-yr old Chow Chow passed away this winter, there was a gaping hole in our lives. We’d arrive home from work still expecting to see her there, remembering the welcoming kisses she always gave us with that big blue tongue of hers. She spent much of her last years sleeping, and after she was gone, my ingrained habit of opening doors very slowly (always assuming there was a big, furry red dog dozing on the other side) took me weeks to overcome. Even Effie, our AWS, was melancholy—sighing as she looked out the back window, waiting for her old comrade to return from that last, sad trip to the veterinarian.

We weren’t ready for another puppy. But we also knew we couldn’t stay a one-dog household for long; we simply enjoyed the company of dogs way too much. So on Valentine’s Day, my wife suggested that our gift to one another should be a foster dog. It seemed the perfect solution for our desire to have an additional curly brown spaniel scurrying around the house, without necessarily involving the long-term commitment of acquiring a new dog.

How Fostering Works
Foster owners are people who temporarily care for American Water Spaniels that come through the AWSC Inc. rescue program. Contrary to popular belief, rescue dogs are not necessarily “reject” dogs that no one wants. Sometimes an AWS ends up in rescue because an owner has died, or has become ill or infirm and unable to care for it. Sometimes relocation forces an owner into an apartment or townhome that does not accept dogs. Sometimes a new baby arrives, and the dog plays too rough with what it sees as a new member of “the pack”. Sometimes owners develop allergies to their dogs. In rare situations, AWS are placed due to abuse or neglect. Too often, the original owner has simply just given up on the responsibility of caring for a dog.

Foster homes help ensure that good dogs such as these are not needlessly euthanized in a kill shelter, nor left languishing in a dog run with little human interaction. By evaluating the dog in a home situation, the foster family can aid in determining in which types of living environments the rescued AWS would and would not thrive. This helps ensure that whatever home the dog is placed in will be its “forever” home, so that they dog will not get bounced from one owner to another, or worse yet, returned to a shelter. How long a dog remains in foster care varies. Some dogs go to permanent homes in a matter of days. But other dogs have ended up becoming permanent companions for their foster families.

“Seamus”, rescued from a shelter in Keene, NH
Paulette Ajavon, Owner

Perfect Timing
At the time Leslie and I contacted AWSC Rescue, no fewer than four AWS had turned up in shelters around the country. The dog closest to us was a scent marker—something my wife and I didn’t think we could cope with, having dealt with the age-related incontinence of our Chow for many years. But, we happily got him out of the shelter and delivered him to another foster home in our area. Of the three remaining AWS, one was quickly rehomed, and another was claimed by his owner. That left “Seamus”, who had turned up a stray in New Hampshire. We were eventually able to negotiate having him shipped to us in Minneapolis.

Seamus came with a substantial amount of paperwork from the shelter. He had first turned up as a stray the previous October. He was initially adopted out of the shelter by a family with multiple children. The oldest daughter let him sleep with her in the bed, and he appointed himself as her sole protector, eventually deciding that NO ONE else could even come near her bedroom. Unhappy with this behavior—and with his occasional mischievous habit of stealing sandwiches out of the kids’ hands—-the family returned him to the shelter.

Since we don’t have any kids, and we don’t let our dogs sleep in the bed with us, Seamus didn’t exhibit any of his dominant behavior in our house. He quickly took a subordinate position to our “alpha” female. We did notice some of his impetuous food-stealing behavior, including his habit of standing up and trying to take food from the edge of counter-tops (aka “counter surfing”). We corrected him for doing this, but tell-tale slobber marks on the edge of the counter showed he continued to do it at night or while we were away.

As the weeks went on, we became very attached to him. He was much more biddable and affectionate than our female. After a few excursions to my gun club, I realized he also had more bird drive, greater retrieving instincts, a bolder flush, and was more water crazy than our other AWS. Unfortunately, he was also seriously hardmouthed. So it became clear that despite his other wonderful field qualities, he was probably best suited for a nonhunting home.

Such a home came only a month later, when Paulette Ajavon, a local minister, heard about Seamus and immediately fell in love with him upon meeting him. I explained Seamus’ history to her, including his penchant for “counter surfing”, but Paulette felt she could handle this, and took him off to his new home.

Saying goodbye was hard. But the experience only strengthened our love for these curly brown dogs. Although we hope that no future AWS will end up in shelters, realism tells us it’s only a matter of time. And when it does happen, we hope we’ll again be able to care for him or her until a “forever home” can be found.

How You Can Help
According to Elizabeth Pannill, chair of the AWSC Rescue Committee, help is always needed with breed rescue. Offers of foster homes are greatly appreciated. If you can't foster, there are other ways to help such as going to check on a possible AWS in a shelter, or transporting a rescue to a foster or adoptive home. AWSC Rescue always appreciates financial donations to help offset the costs associated with rescue, including veterinary care. For more on how you can help, contact:

Elizabeth Pannill, DVM
AWSC Rescue Chairperson
PO Box 176
Staples, TX 78670