Last April I had a lot going on in my life, as many college upperclassmen can relate to. Every day was becoming a challenge, and my anxiety began to creep in and consume me, making even the simplest tasks almost impossible. On one of my particularly bad mornings, I was scouring the internet to find anything to distract me, when I came across a post a friend had shared about three puppies that were found abandoned on the side of the road in Baton Rouge. Seeing this post led me to make one of the best—and most spontaneous—decisions, and one that has changed my life forever and certainly for the better.
It was the cute little brown pup that was tinier than the other two. She looked almost like a baby deer! I learned that she was a two-month- old pit bull, and that she was very shy and liked to sleep a lot. I was no stranger to sleeping a lot, and consider myself to be fairly shy, so it was a perfect match. Within minutes, I had decided that I had to adopt this adorable angel. Happy to have something exciting to look forward to, I booked it to Baton Rouge. The hour-long drive was incredibly nerve-wracking, but nothing mattered when I arrived at the dog park to see a tiny brown pit run up to the fence to greet me. This was my puppy! I entered the park only to remember that I had no experience with dogs. I love animals, but never had much practice taking care of them. I also realized that I had no idea how to hold a puppy. “Go ahead and pick her up! She’s your baby now!” Shit. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life or held something so awkwardly. She was so small and fragile; I didn’t want to risk hurting or dropping her. Never have I felt as much care or concern for something as I did in that moment. Whatever problems and anxieties I had been dealing with were old news as far as I was concerned. I was no longer just in charge of myself anymore, but now I had a whole new precious life that was relying on me to take care of her.
Fast forward almost a year, and I am happy to say that my pup (I named her Callie) is happy and healthy! She’s my best friend, and I can barely remember a time when I did not have her by my side. She has brought me so much joy and unconditional love, helped me cope during hard times, and she always reminds and encourages me to be playful and active. When I have a long day at work or school, she is the one thing that always makes me smile. Having a dog has taught me so much, and having any sort of pet can be a big help if you are struggling with anxiety or depression. I feel so fulfilled and overjoyed that I can provide her with a loving home, take care of her, and make her happy.
This feeling of fulfillment has led me to my most recent animal endeavor. This past October, I signed up to be a part of the Louisiana SPCA’s foster program. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the satisfaction and bliss I felt from helping animals silenced any qualms. I highly recommend fostering if you are someone who is considering adopting an animal. It’s great practice for one day owning your own pet. There is no greater feeling than helping an animal learn to socialize with the world outside of shelter life. So far I have fostered three animals—all puppies—and it has been a blast (I think I may actually have a fostering addiction). Of course they come with their fair share of accidents, but every accident has 100% been a learning experience for both me and the dogs.
Bolt, my first foster, was a pit bull puppy that came to me at only three months old with a very bad burn on his back. I was told that he would need at least a month of fostering while his burn healed, and could also benefit from basic puppy training and socialization. After hearing about Bolt’s story of abuse, there was no way I could say no to this opportunity. I could not imagine anyone who would want to inflict such pain upon such a sweet animal. Bolt was definitely a bit reserved when I first met him, but it was astounding to see how loyal, forgiving, and trusting he was towards me after having gone through so much.
This, I think, is the epitome of what dogs are, especially pit bulls. Pit bull terriers are an extremely misunderstood breed of dog. I myself can say that I had a very unfair opinion of them before I rescued my dog. Surprisingly enough, they are very people-oriented. They are by no means responsible for their bad rep. Abuse and neglect at the hands of certain individuals have given them that bad rep. I feel lucky that Bolt didn’t have a bad demeanor, because he had every cause to. Watching him interact with my dog and learn the ways of a household was such an awesome thing. As Bolt healed, I felt like I was healing too. Inevitably though, you reach the point (which I believe to be the absolute hardest part of fostering) where you must part ways with your foster. Luckily, I had been promoting Bolt a lot in my community, and a dear friend was able to adopt him out to her father. Bolt now has a loving home and still comes over for playdates.
My next foster pup was a tiny, terrified dachshund/lab mix named Tigger. He was only about four pounds when I first got him, and I was fostering him until he was big enough to go up for adoption. I was worried that it3 would take forever for this little guy to adapt to living in a house and being around people and other dogs. He cowered at the sight of anything, wailed when I put him in his crate, and hid under my bed if anyone got too close. The extraordinary thing about fostering a young puppy is how quickly they start to break out of their shell and develop a personality of their own. After a long day hoping he would warm up, I let him chill in his bed and left the room. As soon as I turned my back, I heard the pitter patter of his paws on my wood floor and watched, shocked and thrilled, as he sprinted unbelievably fast into my room, where he proceeded to jump on Callie. Since that moment, Tigger has been nothing but the cutest ball of energy. No longer does he cower beneath anything, human or dog. I was even fortunate enough to take him on a plane with me back to Baltimore during my winter vacation! Again, I have been lucky enough to have another friend adopt one of my fosters. Tigger (now named Stevie) has taken up residence in an Uptown neighborhood, with a pair of the most loving owners who spoil him rotten.
Finally, my most recent foster to date is Roux, the most gentle black pit pup you will ever find. I really enjoyed helping Bolt with his medical needs, and I thought it time to find another animal in need of healing assistance. When I first went to pick up Roux at the SPCA, she was in bad shape. She has a skin condition called Demodetic Mange, which is non-contagious, but leaves the infected animal bald and covered in painful, itchy scabs. She looked absolutely miserable, never making eye contact and barely able to hold herself up. Behind the patchy frightened face though, I could see a dog who just wanted to be loved and relieved of discomfort. I knew that it was going to be a long road to recovery, but I could not wait to see her get better and find her confidence and personality. It’s been about two months of different medications, shots, check ups, special baths, and training, and I am so happy with where she is. She has endured the most drastic transformation of all of my foster dogs. Now, at six months old, you can barely recognize her. She’s almost completely covered with the most beautiful pitch-black fur, and has such an adventurous personality. She is laid back and sweet, but where she used to turn away from people and pets, she now greets them with excitement and runs towards them. Roux even made an appearance at Mardi Gras this year (she caught more beads than I did). Being with this puppy throughout the highs and lows of her recovery made it too hard to say goodbye, so I am pleased to say that I have adopted her into my family!
Never in my life would I have imagined myself making such strong bonds with animals. Taking care of a pet is a big responsibility, so although it may seem fun and cute, that’s not always reality. More often than not, there will be accidents—pee throughout your house, ripped valuables, loud barking and whining—you get the picture. Training is crucial, as well as keeping them healthy with regular visits to the vet and plenty of daily exercise. All of this may seem like too much, but it is so rewarding to chill out and snuggle at the end of a long day with your animal friend. The greatest thing in the world is coming home to my two little gremlins poking their faces out of the window to greet me. There are so many dogs, cats, and other animals in the state of Louisiana that are in need of a good home. Shelters like the SPCA do as much as they can to try and help as many animals as possible, but that is still not enough. Adopting an animal gives you the option to infinitely amplify the love and happiness in your home. Fostering does the same, and it also provides the shelters with more space to bring in new animals. Every shelter that I know of provides you with the food and necessities needed to take care of your foster, so all you need to give is your love and attention. Please consider fostering or adopting an animal today. I can guarantee you will be glad you did.
This column will be dedicated to uncovering all you need and want to know about our furry friends, ranging from information about health, interviews, and more! I also hope to provide readers with a list of shelters and adoptable animals for every month. Paws up! If you are interested in the Louisiana SPCA foster program, contact Allie Mayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit la-spca.org.