The Hardest Part of Being a Foster Mom

On April 10, 2021 Jake and I piled our foster dog, Mac, and our adopted dog, Ronnie, into the car and started down the road toward Ennis, Texas, the Bluebonnet capital. I was determined to take some amazing photos of Mac, our 7-pound chihuahua, nestled in the wildflowers to help him get adopted. With less than ten minutes to our destination, we spotted two pit bulls crossing the three-lane road. We pulled off to the side of the road where they wandered and gave them some water and treats. Next, we started going door to door asking if anyone owned these two gentle giants, all thoughts of the photoshoot for my dogs out of my head.

People often tell me that they wouldn’t be able to foster animals. That they would get too attached and not be able to let them go. To that I have one response: Good. You should get attached and want what’s best for them. You should give them so much love because you might be the first person to do so. And you should have a hard time letting them go. And while you might not want to, it’s not about you. It’s about the countless number of dogs and cats out there that need a safe home. You could be their very first step toward a safe life with loving people. So, if you are worried that it’ll be too hard on you, maybe you should instead ask how hard it is on them.

I have been pulling dogs from shelters, sometimes off the euthanasia list, and fostering them in my home for a year and a half now. A lot of people (after adamantly claiming they could never foster because they love dogs “too much”) ask about the hardest part of the fostering process. I used to say the hardest part was letting them go. But that’s not true. The hardest part isn’t letting them go after watching them come out of their shell, or cleaning up after them, or wrestling them into the tub for a bath, or waking up in the middle of the night because they are scared of thunderstorms. The hardest part isn’t even seeing how they flinch and scurry at sudden movements, an obvious reaction to previous physical abuse. No, the hardest part is seeing how many dogs and cats are still left in the shelter after I pick up my foster and how many are being brought in every day. 

Dogs and cats are brought into the shelter for a variety of reasons. Some are strays caught by animal control. The heartbreaking bunch are the ones surrendered by breeders—the undesirable puppies or “used up” mommas that no longer serve a purpose. Others are surrendered by their owners for whatever reason—from medical problems to he looked at me the wrong way, I have heard it all—and typically these were purchased or gifted puppies that turned out to simply be too much work.

So, if I am being completely honest, (and I try to always be when writing to you), another hard part of fostering and rescuing is seeing how many people around me support the awful practice of animal breeding. How many of my friends and acquaintances gush about wanting a specific breed and how their only choice was to buy from a breeder or puppy mill because their shelter didn’t have the breed they want. The hardest part is that they don’t realize what they are funding—the very practice that ultimately puts dogs and cats in shelters—the very animals that I have dedicated all my free time to rescuing, fostering, and rehoming. 

If you’re reading this and considering adding a cat or dog to your family, I urge you to look beyond a romanticized breed. I urge you to go to your local shelter. I urge you to save a life instead of purchasing one. I urge you to adopt. (Hell, you may even save a few hundred—if not thousand—dollars!)

Of all the dogs I have fostered and eventually let go of, leaving these two gentle giants was the hardest. I only had a few hours with them before finding their home. I wanted more. But I had done my job and it was time to let go. And so, I did. While I still think about them, hoping they’re happy, missing their grateful faces as I hand fed them treats, I know I did the best I could.

Found on the streets of Ennis, Texas, these two pit bulls were so grateful for some water, treats, and pets.

I have fostered 20 dogs. And of those 20 dogs I have rehomed 18, adopted one, and lost one. I cried when I let each of them go. I keep in touch with some of their adopters. I still think about each and every one of them nearly every day. I still tear up occasionally thinking about them. But I will take all of the tears in the world if it means they never have to wonder where their next meal is coming from because they are finally safe and loved. 

Until next time,

Leah Pinkus

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