Sometimes there is nothing more refreshing than seeing life through the eyes of a child. My daughter, now 3 years old, has made fostering a totally new experience. While I cannot foster like I used to (all the animals, all the time!), it’s been extra special when we do. I have found fostering to be a wonderful way to teach her important life lessons.
Last spring, we fostered an adorable puppy named McKinleigh. She was originally seized as a cruelty case, with her littermates and mom, when she was very tiny. She spent a few weeks with her mom and siblings, but as it neared time for adoption, her foster mom noticed that she was extremely shy and her littermates were running all over her (literally). We thought a chance to socialize with some older dogs and break out on her own would benefit her as she waited for an adoptive home. McKinleigh did great here, and my daughter Alissa adored her. I have some seriously precious pictures of the two of them snuggling and playing together. In fact, I began to worry about what would happen when the puppy left. Was I setting my child up for heartbreak? How would she ever forgive me for adopting out her beloved puppy?
I prepared her by reminding her often that we were doing a job – getting McKinleigh ready for her forever home. I explained that we couldn’t keep her because we needed to be able to help other animals. I took Alissa to adoption events where we looked for a family for the puppy together. When the perfect family came along for McKinleigh, Alissa was able to meet them and say goodbye. She was sad, but she understood so much better than I expected. Thanks to social media, we have been able to see pictures of McKinleigh as she grows up, and Alissa is always so happy to see her in her new home.
The next dog we fostered was a very different situation. Magoo was a senior Boston terrier who was blind and mostly deaf. Magoo was as cute as can be and, after puppy playtime, I was happy to help a senior again. Unfortunately, Magoo was not doing well. He had a lot of trouble adjusting and quickly became very sick with pneumonia and an ulcer in his eye. For a week, Alissa watched as we treated him with a barrage of medications and he struggled to recover. She was so worried about him and was constantly checking on him and talking to him. Unfortunately, we could not get Magoo to an acceptable quality of life. His eye didn’t heal well, and he was so mentally unsettled that the only time he wasn’t pacing was when he fell over asleep in his pen. When the only time you see a dog at peace is when he’s sleeping, it’s time to make the decision to let him go.
I really wanted to just tell Alissa that Magoo was getting adopted. I dreaded this conversation, for although she is only 3 years old, her ability to process and question astounds me. But I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. I talked to her about how Magoo was only happy when he was sleeping and how his eye hurt him. I very carefully explained that we could give him medicine that would let him fall asleep, then his spirit would go to heaven and his body wouldn’t wake up. I was a nervous mess and struggled with my words to make sure I wasn’t causing my daughter permanent emotional distress. After I was finished my speech, she said: “I’m happy his eye won’t hurt him anymore. Goodbye, Magoo.” And then she asked if she could go out and play.
I realized this mirrored my struggle. It was so difficult to let him go; I wanted so badly for him to get better. So many “what if’s” went through my head. But my daughter made me realize that I could focus on the release that Magoo experienced, rather than the loss I was experiencing. I also realized that she inevitably would face a situation that forced us to discuss death. Although the loss of our foster dog was sad, he was clearly old and unhappy; it was an introduction to the most difficult of life lessons that made sense. I’m grateful her little mind was able to process this and better prepare her for the lessons to come.
Raising a child is quite an incredible task. In addition to meeting all her physical needs, teaching her to write and read and master academic skills, I’m responsible for teaching her what she needs to learn in order to go out into the world one day and make it a better place. Fostering animals has been the perfect way for me to begin teaching her the lessons she needs to learn in order to change the world.