With summer upon us, many parents are looking for useful activities to keep kids busy. Some very close friends of ours lost two of their dogs about a month before school ended and I was surprised by how hard my boys took it, especially my oldest son. We have a 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Piper, who is, without a doubt, my little lap dog. She was a wedding present given to us four years before my first son was born so my boys had never experienced puppyhood. That all changed when I saw an ad on Facebook from a rescue league asking people to consider fostering dogs and puppies and I thought this might be a good experience for our family.
The rescue would give us everything we needed: dog food, a crate, puppy pads, treats, and toys. We were asked to foster two puppies so they would remain socialized with other dogs and that we keep them until they were old enough to receive their full round of vaccinations (around 12 weeks). Cases of parvovirus have been unusually high in our area and having unvaccinated puppies in an overcrowded facility is a certain death sentence.
Our job as a foster family was simple – give them a safe environment with lots of love and attention so they would be well socialized around people and to enjoy their overwhelming puppy cuteness!
A few days after I filled out the online foster application, a representative named Nina came to our house to make sure it was a suitable environment. She and I then went straight to the animal shelter to choose two puppies. The boys were ecstatic when they came home from school that day! They couldn’t believe we had just talked about fostering puppies and now, here they were, the cutest little things they’d ever seen. Honestly, neither could I. I told the boys we had to name the puppies as soon as possible and my middle son quickly chose the names Susan and Flower.
Puppies are a lot of work, but this was a great experience for many reasons.
The boys learned to be firm with the puppies and that it was okay and necessary to gently set boundaries so no one accidentally got hurt, including them.
They learned a hard, fast lesson to pick up books and toys without being asked if they didn’t want anything chewed up and destroyed.
They thought it was heartbreaking the way the puppies cried when they got locked in their crate at first, but the boys saw how within just a few nights of a regular schedule (feeding, walking, and plenty of play and exercise), the puppies became happy to climb into their safe little crate and sleep all night.
The most unexpected lesson came when Susan let out some deafening yelps when Flower was mauling her ear. The boys were horrified. My oldest son shouted at them to stop, my middle son banged on their crate, and the youngest covered his ears and ran out of the room with tears in his eyes. I knew this was just normal puppy play, but I pointed out to my boys this was exactly how upsetting it was when they fought with each other. I felt sad for whoever got hurt and angry at whoever was being the bully. I could tell by the look they gave each other that they had never thought of it that way.
Fostering puppies was a challenging and rewarding experience for my family, but Piper was thrilled when it was over. Though we decided not to keep the puppies past 12 weeks, they turned out to be the perfect match for my son’s art teacher and her family. These two sweet girls will now go to their forever home fully vaccinated and ready to be spayed.
As I recount my family’s story, I remember a friend who purchased chicks from a farm supply store. If a month of puppies seems like a lot (and it can be for most families with young children), there are other options for introducing kids to animals. My friend kept those sweet little birds under a heat lamp in a plastic kiddie pool on her dining room table. Her kids had so much fun holding and caring for them. Then after a very short two weeks, the chicks were ready to go to their permanent home at the local chicken farm. Or, if you have very young children, how about ordering caterpillars for the wonder and joy of watching them transform into beautiful butterflies?
Fostering animals provides kids with a challenging, unpredictable opportunity to take on responsibility. In return, the whole family will be rewarded with fun memories that will last a lifetime.