Monday, October 19, 2015

Adopt, Don't Shop. Our Fostering Journey :)

Being someone of faith, I believe that God has a hand in every aspect of my life and I understand that what I want many times, may not be what He thinks is best for me and my family. :) The family fostered a puppy 3 months ago, Singapore Special (street dog), from Save Our StreetDogs Singapore (SOSD) and this is our story. :)

I have always been an animal lover. I am blessed because even when I was young, my dad (who likes animals) too, would indulge me and get me bunnies, crabs, terrapins, etc. Our family dog, a fiesty Fox Terrier, was with us for a good 14 years before he passed on. After I got married and shifted out, the hubs and I had another 2 dogs. But truth be told, I forgot how hard it can be fostering a puppy. Jaime is from a litter of 10 puppies which SOSD rescued from Jurong Island. Being dog lovers, we wanted to get another dog after our Goldie, a buff colored cocker spaniel passed on last year but it took me a while to decide that I was ready as I was really attached to Goldie.

I have been following some Animal Welfare Groups on Facebook for some time and the family decided to visit an adoption drive in June at Bishan Park. My original choice was to foster a dog named Autumn and we visited the drive to have a chance to interact with her. Unfortunately, Autumn was not at the drive because of some ring worm issues. One of the volunteers there (I am still "blaming" you Val!), then passed us Jaime. For some strange reason, the hubs and the kiddo liked Jaime. We took some time to observe her as she interacted with other dogs as well as watch how she took to other "visitors". 

(Dumpling with Jaime who was a wee bit of a pup at 3 months old)

Though not really our original "choice", we then filled up a form to indicate our interest and waited (somewhat impatiently I would add) for the fostering team to call me. I am stifling a chuckle because I am sure that the rehoming team has never met any potential fosterer who is as “tiger” as me. I must over emailed the team 3 times in the week that followed after we met Jaime. :p

Jaime before her first bath after we brought her home in June. She was just a bit bigger than the bottle of shampoo then. :p

:: The fostering procedure
If you are considering being a fosterer or adopter, make no mistake that because these are volunteers, the process is casual. If anything, the process was really stringent. I had a phone call / interview followed by a home visit. The call was very thorough and the lady whom I spoke to was very frank with the work needed. During the home visit, the team spoke to us about what is expected from our end (train the puppy – e.g. toilet training, regular walks, bringing the puppy for vaccination and adoption drives, etc.) what to expect from a puppy as well as took a look around our apartment to ensure that the place is suitable. They also highlighted areas where we needed to puppy proof (e.g. placing mesh netting over our gate). Over the next few days, there were to and fro messages on whatsapp and there was also a concern if there was anyone at home to watch over the puppy. There was also paperwork to be done where fosterers needed to take note of some responsibilities listed in the Fostering Agreement. 

We then visited the shelter and one of the volunteers there brought J out, and that was the start of our fostering journey. 

:: The fostering journey  
In retrospect, I forgot how challenging it is to have a puppy. Puppies need so much work – besides needing to be fed 3 – 4 times a day, most tend to be very mouthy as they go into the teething period when they are about 4+ months old. With a puppy, you are starting on a clean slate so yes, the potential is there. BUT that also means that you and your family alone are responsible for teaching the pup some manners and BOUNDARIES.

Jaime "gated" because she was caught biting our slippers and sandals 

It is a daily tussle of reinforcing and nagging; not unlike having a second kid. (Haha!) Then there’s also the toilet training. I prefer my dogs to be able to “go” on both papers and grass and this, on hindsight, has come in handy for us especially with the recent haze reaching hazardous levels.

However, along the way of paper training her, she regressed. She started off good but as she grew older (about 5 months old), she started really pushing the boundaries. I think part of the reasons may be because she was much more comfortable with us so she feels “secure”. That started the chewing and… the severe separation anxiety.

I was woken up rudely one morning, around 3+am by J’s sharp barks. Because it was such awkward hours, I had no choice but to tend to her. J, at that point, sleeps in the kitchen area on her own. When she was 3-4 months old, she would whimper and bark a bit before she sleeps but it was often for a short period like 5 minutes. However, for some strange reason, things took a worse turn when she was 4+/5 months old. Over the next few nights, she would bark at 4+ / 5+am too. It was a bad period because I was worried about the disturbance to my neighbours. We tried many things – playing with her and taking her for longer walks so that she would tire out, gently easing her into bedtime but nothing worked.

Instinctively I know that she could feel my anxiety when she barks late at night. So, I spoke to my immediate neighbours and explained the situation to them. I asked them if they could hear the barks ("yes, but it is quite soft") and that I want to try ignoring her barks and will need a week to work on it. Thereafter, that very night, I closed all the windows but turned on the fan for J. I then stuffed our ears with ear plugs and for once in a long while, I had a good uninterrupted rest. She did bark for small stretches of time and waited for us to attend to her. After some time, she realised that it did not yield the attention she needed and she promptly stopped.  

(Another evidence of one of Jaime's misbehavior, she chewed a hole in our wall!) 

There were also other challenges which we worked hard (and some still working hard) to change. One of which is jumping onto our bed. Because J has somewhat stopped chewing our things (so far we have lost about 6 pairs of slippers / sandals) she now can enter into our room though we hawk over her and we are still insistent on the "no jumping on bed" rule.

The journey has not been without hiccups but while fostering her, we fell in love with her a bit more each day. Being a puppy, we recognise that she has loads of beans so we were prepared for that. It is also fortunate in a way that Hubs and I both have experience with dogs and we have also gone for obedience training previously so we both know how to work with her on basic obedience. 

For all the naughty things that she has done, she is also very affectionate... 

(Relishing in puppy kisses!)

(Kissing the kiddo goodbye before she leaves for school)

And very bright!

(For those who think street dogs are untrainable, you will be surprised at how bright J is. So bright that she knows how to 'bend the rules'. She knows that the bed is off limits - she can't jump onto the bed unless she's invited. So well, here she is, technically not entirely "on the bed".)

She has brought a lot of joy to our family and my kiddo also loves her to bits. :) Our family decided to make her a permanent member and Jaime was formally adopted on 7th October, under Project ADORE.

:: Tips
Chews and Kong
Puppies chew. Period. So it is always good to provide alternatives. We bought SmartBones (recommendations from the rehoming team), ribs, lambs ears, etc. One of my favorites is air-dried deer sinew (below) as there's little smell and it is quite lasting (though still gone in one day). We get this from places like Sun Petgamart (Seletar) and Polypet (Clementi). I also order bundled items from Chew Time which delivers to me using a SmartPac by Singpost. 

One of the other reasons why her chewing is minimised is that we were really consistent in correcting her behaviour. When it starts to get quiet, we would immediately check on her. We also bought a Kong where we would stuff treats in it really tight. She then had to work really hard to take them out and this was a nightly ritual which tired her out and helped settle her for bedtime too.

(Offering her alternatives such as lambs ears to chew) 

Lavender Essential Oil
What also worked for us was me rubbing Lavender essential oils on walls and corners that J likes to gnaw on. Lavender, though sweet smelling, is totally vile when it comes to taste. We use Young Living Lavender Essential Oils as they are of therapeutic grade. (I also dab a bit of Lavender / Peace and Calming on her before bedtime as I feel that it helps her settle to sleep better.)

Bringing her out + basic obedience training
Before the haze got really bad, I used to bring her out with me on Saturdays and Sunday mornings when I sent the kiddo for various lessons. Besides burning some “beans” I also had the time to work with her on heeling and sitting work. 

(Waiting with me for the kiddo to finish her classes where I also had the time to work with her on walking with leash, heeling and stopping work)

This aspect is important as it teaches dogs how to stop when you do, something that will certainly come in handy when waiting at the traffic lights or at the side of the roads at the zebra crossing. Because we have Dumpling (who's only 7) at home, one of the things that I am working on is to teach her not to jump and we started with asking her to "sit" and "wait" for her meals. 

Acceptance and Consistency
When adopting / fostering puppies, always recognise that like children, they are learning too. And more than that, they are learning OUR rules which may not be natural for them. Patience is the key and if you can accept that they are learning and will take time, you will have a more balanced BP. :p 

I cannot emphasise on how important consistency is. There are days when she jumps the gate / onto the bed when I had a really tiring day at work and all I want to do is just lay there. But I recognise that puppies need consistency and boundaries, if we do not teach them rules now, they will grow up being really difficult to handle and at times, it can even be dangerous for themselves and the handlers. (Imagine running / chasing after cars or jumping over gates and out of the house.)

(Finally understanding some ground rules where the bedroom was not to be entered unless we said OK. This was when she was younger. Now that we have observed she does not bite our clothes, etc., she is able to enter but she does not get to go onto the bed)

Despite the fact that we know that we were going to adopt her, we did not let her into the bedroom to sleep on the floor till we signed the papers. As a fosterer, my concern is that if I do not set the boundaries, then chances of her being adopted will be much lower and she may “fail” her home stay. On hindsight, I think that this has worked really well in our favour because she no longer barks and yelp nonstop when I reach home or when I place her into the kitchen area if I need to be out for a short time (we are still not leaving her at home unsupervised).

If you are considering adoption and do not have someone at home most of the time, you may like to consider an adult dog instead of a puppy. Yes, puppies are cute and all but they are MUCH HARDER work. There were many times I feel like strangling Jaime especially with the lack of sleep (I am a FTWM) and it took true tenacity (and loads of prayers!) not to do so. Puppies are cuddly, cute and all but the cuteness will not last forever and once that goes off, the "naughty" things that they do may not seem so tolerable. 

(Jaime who has come a long way and learning about our rules. Here is her growth in a span of 3 months where she outgrew her "cuteness")

The SOSD team has been great because as soon as we brought J home, there was a group chat that was started where I could update the team (special thanks going out to Jaslyn and Lai Nah!) on Jaime's progress. But during these past months, there were many instances where I was really stretched and was at my wit's end with all the barking and the chewing. 

The team was very encouraging, cheering me on with the little successes, sympathetic when I had a rough night (having survived on a few days of less than 5 hours of sleep) and giving suggestions and advice when I was having behavioral issues with J. And all these, they did it out of genuine desire to help these street dogs and out of love. 

My personal opinion is that if you are considering having a dog, do look into adoption instead of buying. Give these dogs a chance. In doing so, you are also giving yourself and your family a different chance at happiness too. :) Perhaps, just like my family, you will have a new "bundle" of joy, endless puppy kisses and a lifetime companion. 

My 7YO daughter who is in charge of showering Jaime lately said, "You know Mama, when we adopt, we do not save just 1 life. We save 2 - Jaime's as well as another street dog which now has a space at the shelter." I cannot be a prouder mum - to both the kiddo and the furkid, who have both come a long way. :)

(Our fostering journey has impacted all of us in different ways, including the kiddo. She decided to do an "outreach" in her own way - she wanted to talk about street dogs, adoption and SOSD for her "Show and Tell" in school.)

(Jaime having a ball of a time with my BFF at Botanic Gardens)

PS: We visited SOSD's Shelter a few months back and you can read about it here

Disclaimer: This is neither a sponsored post nor were we compensated for it. All opinions expressed are entirely ours though the dogs that you see on their website and at the adoption drives can be yours. :) You can visit the adoption page hereThe family and I are not responsible for any puppy kisses, love at first sight experiences and the Oxytocin surge when you visit the adoption drives. :) To keep abreast of some of these Adoption Drives, you can follow SOSD on their Facebook page. If you are adopting / have adopted a Singapore Special, you may also like to join Singapore Specials Club Facebook page where there's plenty of tips, sharing and doggie photos to smile and coo over. ) 

If you have enjoyed this post, please follow me on my Facebook Page where I share my parenting thoughts (both to the kiddo and my furkid, food photos (be prepared for tons of them!), early shout outs for giveaways and interact with you, my readers! You can also follow me on Pinterest and Instagram 

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