The photo for today’s post was the result of a photo shoot Sarge and I did in the back yard. He’s wearing our Spark Bandana and he looks insanely handsome. I brushed him and put on the bandana because I wanted him to look his best. We were taking these photos to give him a head shot for his adoption profile on Petfinder.
Pacific Northwest Cattle Dog Rescue is a small, volunteer based non-profit organization. They are a foster based rescue which means all of the dogs in their care live in foster homes where they are part of the family until they find forever homes. It also means that the more people foster, the more dogs can be pulled and transported out of shelters.
I’m falling hard for this rescue because of the dogs we’ve fostered, the volunteers that run it, and also because of Gus’ story. Gus was roughly one and a half when we adopted him. He had been returned or surrendered to various shelters three times before he made it to Seattle Humane and we found him. Australian Cattle Dogs are not for everyone. They take work but the reward is immense and quite frankly addicting.
I’ve never had a relationship with a dog like I do with Gus. A lot of that is due to the vast amount of training we had to go through together to give me the tools I needed to help him with his reactivity issues. I always wonder what he could have been like or been spared if we found him earlier. He has scars all over his face and he had to have extensive dental surgery (9 extractions) because of damage to his teeth and jaw. Big shout out to Columbia City Veterinary Hospital for making that surgery as smooth and positive as possible for our bonkers reactive boy. Australian Cattle Dogs and most working breeds are easily misunderstood. So I’m really grateful that I’m getting to be a part of this network of people who care and advocate for them.
In foster based rescue, foster parents are often in the best position to get great photos of the pet. Pets are in a home environment and have settled in. Their personalities start to shine and you can see it in their eyes. Thats why capturing that personality in a flattering photo can really make a difference in how many people stop scrolling and read about them and consequently how many apply for adoption. Photos which capture the pet’s personality just flat out increase a dog’s odds of finding their people. You can see an example of a photo of Sarge at the shelter. Oh he is still cute as a button but it isn’t his best. Then compare that to his sparkly little eyes in a photo from the backyard session. Big difference.
If you haven’t already - check out these solid tips and tricks for capturing photos and video as a foster parent or even just for fun as a pet parent. My friend Marika of Dirtie Dog Photography is the co-founder of The Limelight Pet Project. The project shines a light on harder to adopt rescue animals and the people who help them in the greater Puget Sound region. Featuring video interviews and photographs of the animals in local news segments, Pet Connection Magazine, and through social media.
Since COVID-19 has changed everything, it is inspiring to see how this project has pivoted. They are now conducting all interviews virtually, and have created video tutorials to help empower foster parents and rescue workers to capture high quality photographic and video content of the pets in their care. Which means these pets can still get featured on Q13 Fox and JoeTV Seattle. In fact, check out this amazing Q13 feature of Tuffy the goat from Puget Sound Goat Rescue.
But back to Sarge. If you have been following along for the previous two days, you might have found yourself asking - if you love Sarge so much why didn’t you keep him? And that, my friend, is an excellent question. So first I’m going to walk you through all the reasons I kept thinking that maybe we should keep him. That maybe he was our dog.
The first is cow paws. Sarge had cow paws. Now cow paws in a term in our household for when dogs have toe beans that are both pink and black. In other words, they have spots on their paw pads. Jack had cow paws. Really amazing big boy cow paws that used to flutter as he lay on his side dreaming that he was running very fast. In case you don’t know who Jack is, he was my heart dog. My best friend of 13 years who recently passed in September and is the inspiration behind us starting to foster.
Now that might sound like an insane reason. And I’m good with that. You see, I remember seeing the bottom of Sarge’s feet one day while he lay next to me and my heart just exploded. Man I missed having cow paws in the house. Sarge let me touch them and inspect the spots and I told him over and over how perfect he was. Again, I’m good with sounding like an insane person.
Next was that Sarge liked to swing one of his front feet around wildly to ask for attention. Many times literally punching me in the face. But we worked on that and transitioned to nudges as a more polite means of requesting pets. Jack used to do that. He was a big dog too. He was 95lbs in his prime and he would swing that leg around and wack you with one of his paws. Years and years later when we did a DNA test, turns out he was 50% boxer. Don’t know how we didn’t see that one coming. But the act of this paw punching it just seemed so wonderfully familiar.
These two seemingly strange details about Sarge held a lot more weight when my sister fell in love with him. In fact my sister told me at least once a day to keep Sarge. She even gave him the name Henry and refused to refer to him by any other name. My sister lives in California so we FaceTime a lot, even more so now that we are both sheltering in place at home. She is an animal lover but not necessarily a dog person. So the fact that she was so sure and so adamant and fell in love with Sarge so hard - it sort of took me aback.
The only other time she had talked about a dog like this was Jack. My family loved that damn dog. Because he was one hell of a dog. In fact, when I think back on it, I remember my sister fell hard for Sarge just seeing his photo. When I told her he was going to be our foster dog, I showed her pictures of him. I told her what we knew about him. Having grown up in Texas, I think she liked that they shared a home state. Her love for him made it hard to ignore the parts of me that were seeing so much of Jack in Sarge.
Gus and Sarge at my work table, asking me to take a break and play
For me these reasons were things that I thought might be “signs” but there were also some pretty obvious reasons. For example Sarge was an intuitive, sweet, loving, smart, handsome-as-all-get-out dog. Who also seemed to really love us. Sarge also fit into our family so well it, it made fostering him so SO easy. Seeing him plop right into our routines and do amazing with our dogs, made me pause. I mean the amount of sweet nap moments and cuddles that happened was insane. I couldn't help but wonder if I was ignoring those "signs". I mean a pandemic broke out and we were both working from home. There really isn’t a better time to bring a new dog into your life when when you can be home to help them adjust and get to know each other.
At some point during fostering Sarge, I learned that Tim, our first foster, had been returned. They had had Tim for less than a month and decided his separation anxiety was too much for them. It broke my heart. My mind worried that what happened to Gus was happening to Tim. It just seemed like a blow to my concept of our first foster being such a success. Should I hold onto Sarge so that that could never even be a possibility for him? It also made me think a lot about expectation setting for people when they adopt a new dog. It takes a dog months to become fully adjusted. But that is for another day. Luckily Tim had an amazing group of people who wouldn’t let what happened to Gus happen to him. So Tim went to be fostered by PNWCDR’s adoption coordinator Deana. And there he was loved while the search started again for his people.
I guess now is the part where I’m going to do my very best to explain, that in spite of everything I said above, I knew we couldn’t keep Sarge. You see, in my heart of hearts I knew that a dog this handsome and young and healthy and simply wonderful would find a home. And not just any home, but an amazing one. I kept having these little dream moments of what that home might look like for him. So for me, in this very particular situation, keeping him felt selfish. Keeping him meant that an amazing home wouldn’t get to love Sarge. Keeping him meant we wouldn’t be able to foster the next amazing dog.
But don’t mistake me, in no way is ‘foster failure’ ever selfish. I think in those situations there is no choice, they are just your dog and you know it. Or maybe you know their best shot at happiness is with you. Or maybe you’ve been fostering them for so long they are family so its just right to make it official. I had to be honest with myself, I felt confident Sarge had a really good shot at finding real happiness out there. Plus in this current pandemic, I also felt confident that there were a lot of people and families looking to adopt.
So we did everything in our power to help Sarge get ready for the moment we would find his people. And we enjoyed every moment.
Stay tuned for more Sarge Stories over the next few days! I’m excited to share more about him and our fostering journey as we get ready for our third foster to arrive.