Fostering a Feral Dog
"Feral" dogs are more common than one would think in the rescue world. While some might imagine them as a wild pack of dogs wreaking havoc across a community, they are more often than not are a group of related dogs where breeding got out of control and it's become an issue of extreme hoarding. We have had a variety of feral dogs come into rescue, some come around quicker than others while others have taken years to adopt.
You can read Nichole's experience with her own feral fosters below. A long time volunteer with one of our partner shelters as well as adopter and foster for Copper's Dream.
Shortly after I started volunteering, we had a hoarding case come into the shelter. I connected with a dog and decided to try fostering. She was young, came around quickly, and was adopted two weeks later.
I decided to foster an older dog, Button, who was about 4 years old and came from a hoarding situation. I spent hours every Saturday sitting in her kennel, laying in the hallway, or wherever else she decided to pancake. A few weeks later, Button was on “the list” for failure to thrive. I sobbed. I went to say goodbye. I walked in her kennel, leashed her up, and she walked right out, brave as could be. We walked all around the shelter complex, me crying the entire time. My son suggested we take her home. So we did. Well, she went into heat two days later and broke with giardia... all over my kitchen. We were off to a great start.
She was absolutely feral. She jumped out of her skin at the slightest sound. We can only assume her previous owner only let her outside at night, because she would only go out at night, running laps around the yard for hours until we were hidden out of sight and she would finally come inside. She was terrified to get in the car, had zero recall, and good luck getting her in a crate. This went on for months. I would sometimes hide in the corner behind, waiting for her to run in the door so I could trap her INSIDE the house. The shelter had an adoption event and that morning I was crying, certain someone would adopt her and I would never see her again. She was adopted, by my husband, for Christmas.
I would like to say it was smooth sailing after that, but we had hundreds of setbacks. We rearranged our living room once and she laid in the hallway for 3 days, refusing to come in the room. Three years later, we have a dog that has a strong recall, can be trusted to play fetch off-leash, and brings so much joy to our lives. My husband always says Button can make anyone smile.
33 fosters later, I write this with a feral Copper’s Dream Foster next to me. Mika came to the shelter with 16 other dogs, most of which were completely feral. The day I met Mika, she flinched every time you touched her. I spent 5 hours sitting on the floor reading aloud to her. The more I read, the closer she scooted. Eventually, we were laying on the floor snuggling and she was taking snacks from me. She has been my foster for a couple of months and we have watched her discover toys and enrichment. When she is feeling overwhelmed, a Licki Mat or stuffed Kong usually settles her right down. Simple enrichment activities can improve learning, reduce fear, and improve memory.
For those willing to foster feral dogs, the reward of watching a dog blossom into its best self is absolutely worth the patience involved. Most feral dogs just need another dog, some time, and someone who understands it may take that dog weeks to want to interact with you.
Mom to Copper’s Dream dog Buster Brown
You can follow more of Nichole's foster experiences at @busterpawprints. Currently in rescue we have a few ferals - Mika mentioned above, another from her property Pez and little Cowboy. If interested in taking on the challenge of fostering a feral dog don't hesitate to reach out.
Alyce, Jill and our core volunteers.
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