I never thought that fostering a dog would teach me necessary lessons about emotion.
My boyfriend and I fell in love with Bear, a Chow Chow/ Lab mix, several months back. Bear came from a kill shelter in North Carolina before being transferred to New York. After being transported into the city, he lived at the shelter for two plus years before he moved in with us. We visited him once a week for three months, finally deciding that we were going to foster and hopefully adopt him.
We were told that he was most likely used as a bait dog, as he shows fearful aggression when he comes even remotely close to another dog. He doesn’t like big men and certain children. He feels threatened when we place our hands above his head to pet him. The list of triggers goes on.
Bear’s first day at home was surprisingly relaxing. He was incredibly calm during bath time. It seemed that he was getting acquainted with the space quite smoothly. We found out that he was completely housebroken. It was bedtime that proved to be the most difficult transition for Bear.
As a dog that is scared of other dogs, he was always in a high stress environment where he had to sleep and eat in the presence of other dogs. He barked and growled all throughout the night every time he heard something outside. I interpreted his reactiveness as aggression towards us.
The next day I woke up feeling scared of Bear. I continued to tell my boyfriend that Bear was too aggressive for us to keep. His tail wagging, purple tongue out — all of it didn’t seem to matter.
It was after a very important conversation I had with a friend who had shelter dogs all her life that I realized I was selfishly thinking solely about my emotions, not Bear’s. Bear is the one making this huge transition.
Bear had never been in a home. He had never owned a bed before and only recently found its purpose. He came from an environment where he had to learn to protect himself the best he could, constantly exposed to factors that wouldn’t allow him to do so until he was rescued. He didn’t have a routine or people to call his own.
I didn’t understand that Bear needs time to trust us and adjust on his own terms. A month has passed and Bear has already made so much improvement. He continues to teach me day by day. Who knew how much I’d learn just by fostering a dog?