Fostering animals is truly one of the most rewarding, challenging, amazing, emotional, and exhausting parts of rescue. It tests your mettle in ways even the most veteran rescue volunteer and foster can find surprising. And each experience is different, because each animal is different. They all come to us, basically, with unknowable histories, straight out of the shelter, where they likely aren't comfortable or confident, and they come to us with mysterious attributes, peccadillos, and quirks. Add to that consistently unpredictable scenario the attitudes of your own resident dogs and the (mostly) scheduled bustle of the household and its inhabitants, and the undertaking is always new, no matter how many times and how many years you've done it.
And when you agree to foster a nervous, fairly unsocialized, extremely emaciated while also VERY pregnant dog and end up not only (incredibly hands-on) physically assisting in the birth of her babies, that's a whole new adventure that even ace foster and founder of the fantastic Reading to the Rescue program based here in Los Angeles, Pamela Brodsky, wasn't entirely prepared for. However, Pam's profound tenacity and devotion to her fosters knows no bounds and we felt her story of Momma Abbey and the West Wing babies needed to be shared, pretty much in her own words.
"Our family has been lucky enough to foster dozens of dogs of all ages and sizes in the five years we have been immersed in rescue. There was Charlie who stayed months and learned how to use a dog door and how to be a wonderful family pet. Gordon, who only spent a few nights and was the perfect senior gentleman, my husband’s favorite. We had puppies who became extremely ill and as it turns out, had been infected with parvovirus during their short time at the remote shelter where they were born. We also housed puppies who had been living outside in extreme temperatures and seemed a bit on the wild side-my backyard still hasn’t recovered!"
Lily Spindle/Pet Poufs: Can you tell us about Abbey?
"Our most recent tenants have really taken over our lives in a special and unplanned way. You see, Abbey was living outside in Bakersfield, on a property where no food or water were available to her. She was pregnant and starving. Thankfully, the local animal shelter convinced her owners to surrender Abbey and she was brought to the shelter.
Pregnant, emaciated and terrified, Abbey was lactating, and the shelter staff knew they needed to get her out as the puppies could be born at any time. A call was put out for a rescue to pull Abbey and I was tagged in the post."
"Now, since I had promised my husband that we could take a foster break until after the new year, and it was only October 17th, I watched the post carefully, hoping that someone would take her. When no one materialized, I offered our home. My youngest daughter is hoping to be a veterinarian and if the puppies were born at our house, what an amazing experience! My saintly husband obliged. It was perfect because the rescue had another foster to take over for us once she had room for Abbey and her puppies, so it would most likely just be a few weeks."
Lily Spindle/Pet Poufs: What was Abbey like when she arrived at your house that first day?
"Abbey arrived that day so frightened, covered in ticks and so thin I could hardly believe she was pregnant. She threw up plastic wrap that had no doubt contained some scent of food, so she had gobbled it down to fill her tummy. Even though she was starving, she did not want to eat in front of us right away. We spoke softly and left food behind that would disappear shortly after we left the room.
Gradually, Abbey opened up to me and especially my youngest daughter. She started to feel safe and trust us with her care. We fed her every two to three hours and walked her carefully and away from any frightening sounds as best we could. The smallest sound sent her bolting-voices in the backyard and she would run back to the safety of her nest in my daughter’s room.
As she bulked up, we wondered when the puppies would come, and would we be ready? My daughter and I pored over videos and articles. Our family has never birthed puppies before and had no idea what to expect-but our studying came in handy the night of October 29th. We had recognized the early signs of labor in Abbey that day and stayed close to her side. At 6:15 pm, the first puppy was born! Abbey, being a young mom, really didn’t participate in the instinctual things the mom dog is supposed to do after the pup comes out, so my daughter and I were really hands on and thankful we had learned about almost every scenario that could arise during whelping. We had a tray with suction bulb, sterile scissors to cut the cords, thread to tie off the cords, and a sheet to document birth weights and coloring. (We were really reaching thinking we could do this, so this did not happen, we barely documented the times it was so exciting and scary.)
Abbey amazingly gave birth that night to 10 live and healthy pups and 1 stillborn. Considering her emaciated condition when we received her, we were shocked and thrilled that 10 were perfect mini-versions of Abbey."
Lily Spindle/Pet Poufs: Did you have any idea she was carrying just south of a dozen pups? Were you prepared to foster the entire family of eleven for the long haul?
"Since things don’t always go to plan, the second foster for Abbey and her puppies fell through. My husband could not have been more supportive that Abbey and her family should of course stay with us while they wait for their adoptive homes. So, my daughter’s room has been abandoned and converted to a playpen for 10 growing puppies and my permanent pooch Coco has been relegated to the front of the house so that Abbey doesn’t feel her pups are threatened."
Lily Spindle/Pet Poufs: What's been the most surprising part of this undertaking, especially for someone like you, a pretty experienced veteran in the world of fostering?
"It has been an amazing journey for our family, watching Abbey grow and gain confidence, then become a mom to 10 squirming, slithering pups. Now they are 5 weeks old and have little personalities all their own. I have learned to live with a bit of chaos, which is so hard-but so worth it. We wouldn’t trade this experience even if we knew in advance what we were in for. Who knows, after the new year, maybe we will do it again?"