I apologize in advance if this isn’t something you expected or wanted to read. But it’s something I needed to write.
Last summer I reluctantly agreed to be a foster for the New Orleans Lab Rescue (NOLA). My friend Pam, who is on the board, coerced Shawn and me into fostering one of 9 puppies they had pulled from a shelter in New York state and brought across the border to Ontario. We weren’t really looking to foster, as the last time we fostered we “failed” and kept Rocky, but as a favour to a friend we said yes. Plus the puppies were super adorable, and it was hilarious to see all of them pile onto each other and chase each other.
We ended up with a little yellow girl, nicknamed Dainty.
She was very smart and got along well with Scout, although Scout gets along well with everything. Rocky doesn’t “do” puppies, so he took a bit longer to warm up to her but was a tolerant, if not gracious, host. She stayed with us for only a week – my Facebook pleading and endless picture posting worked, and she was adopted by a girl I knew from my gym. They loved her from the first moment they saw her, and when we saw the family with Dainty (now Izzie) we just knew it was meant to be. Successful fostering. I didn’t even cry as we drove away, because really, it was the perfect home and she’d been with us for such a short time. End of fostering story.
Flash forward a couple of weeks, and I came across a posting on the NOLA Facebook page about a blind 8 month old yellow lab that needed to be pulled from a shelter in New York. Pam had commented that if she could find a foster home for him they’d be able to pull him, otherwise we had to hope that one of the other rescue groups in the area would step up to help him. I took one look at his face and my heart stopped.
His resemblance to Rocky was just uncanny, and his carefree grin and kind eyes spoke to a wonderful soul in that furry body. I had to help him.
I instantly sent a text to Shawn, along with Bubba’s picture, asking if he was ready for us to foster again. “He’s just a puppy, we shouldn’t have him for a super long time.” He, too, was struck by the similarities between Bubba and Rocky, and agreed to go along with my plan. I shot Pam a message, who was surprised, although grateful. We had originally not wanted to foster any male dogs, as Rocky seems to get along better with females, and a dog that age could make things a lot more difficult in our house. Still, I had to try.
Bubba was pulled from the shelter and spent a week with a fellow foster in New York before Pam drove across the border to get him the long weekend in September. We picked up him from her place that Sunday, and the chaos began. Going from one dog to two is one thing, but going from 2 to 3 is a whole other ballgame. I’d forgotten what kind of energy an 8 month old Lab puppy has, and he brought out the puppy in both Scout and Rocky. There were endless three dog wrestling matches in our small living room, and the walls have scars to prove it. It was triple the work now to bring the dogs to work. Oh, and Bubba had separation issues, which meant barking and throwing himself at the glass door of the run. And barking at home. And barking at the other dogs when they were playing. There was a lot of barking.
There really isn’t much of a difference between a dog born blind and a dog born with sight. A dog doesn’t know he’s blind; he just thinks that this is how the world is supposed to be, and adapts to it. The other dogs don’t know he’s blind and can’t tell him as much, so they all continue on with their dog lives and no one is the wiser. It is amazing to watch Bubba navigate through the house. He can jump on the couch, play keep away around the coffee table, and chase the cats just like the other dogs can. If it wasn’t for his tendency to occasionally walk into walls or other object he didn’t expect, you’d never know he couldn’t see.
There were a few applications for Bubba initially, but none we felt was the right fit. Then came the “dream” application – a woman with two sons, who had had a blind lab before. Score! The home visit went well, and after 5 weeks with us, on Thanksgiving weekend (that’s Canadian Thanksgiving folks) his new family came to pick him up. He jumped into the car and settled into his new boys’ laps like he’d been doing it forever. And this time, I did cry. But only a little. And so our fostering story was over. Or so we thought.
Over the next month I corresponded with his new “mom” numerous times about various behavioural issues she was having with him, things he hadn’t displayed in the time we’d had him. They started going to a trainer that Pam knew, and everything seemed to be going well. Until I got a message from Pam that they couldn’t deal with his issues any longer, and although they loved him, they weren’t prepared to train a young dog.
Blind or not, a 9 month old lab puppy is not the kind of dog you can just snap a leash to and expect them to behave. We were all devastated, and felt that we had let Bubba down. Shawn and I agreed that we couldn’t let him go to another foster home and went to pick him up. He was still the same old Bubba, goofy and crazy and still just as soft as ever. He definitely seemed to remember us. When we got him home, after an initial scuffle with Rocky (YOU AGAIN?), it was like he had never left. He knew where everything was, he moved around the furniture like he hadn’t been away for over a month, and he even remembered the dinner time routine and where we had kept his crate before. It broke my heart a little, to think that he had all these memories of our home stored in his tiny little brain, and that we had sent him away in the first place.
The search for his forever home began again. Everyone kept telling us that maybe this was a sign, maybe we should keep him. But as much as I loved him (and still love him), he’s not supposed to be our dog. I would love for him to always be here, but there is a lot of stress both time and financially with another big dog in the house. Anyway…
Again, the perfect application came in. A young woman who lived maybe 10 minutes from our house had a 2 year old yellow lab, and wanted another to keep both her and her current dog company. I did the home visit on my own, and after talking with her for minutes felt completely comfortable handing my Bubba over to her. She was dog smart and understood what a lab puppy was like. She wasn’t attracted to him because of his disability unlike so many of the other applications had been, but she was aware of it and was prepared to take it on. It was the absolute perfect match – it was like adopting to myself. And this time, again, I didn’t cry – because it really, truly, was the perfect home for him.
We went and visited Bubba a couple of weeks after he was adopted and it was awesome to see how much he loved his new brother and his new home. It reaffirmed what I’d known from the start – that this was the ideal situation for him. But life doesn’t always, or really ever, go as smoothly as we’d planned.
I will finish this later today. But for now I need to go back to sleep…