We sat down with Jessica from @carmen.carmen.carmen.chameleon to talk about what it's like to foster dogs and how to be a successful foster parent. Over the years she has fostered both adult dogs and puppies and has a 100% success rate ... and no, she didn't keep any of them. If you're wondering how she did it, this blog is for you!
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
My name is Jessica and I am 25 years old, in medical school and planning on specializing in pediatrics. I live in St. Louis with my husband Taylor, and my 2 dogs Carmen and Beesly. C and B are both rescue dogs from Rescue One in Springfield, MO. I adopted Carmen at the end of my senior year in undergrad, and then Beesly about 2 years later! We weren’t looking to adopt a second dog, but it just so happened that Carmen’s old foster was doing a transport for 2 Bernese Mountain Dog puppies coming into rescue. She remembered we loved the breed, and called us on the way home to let us know. We of course agreed to at least MEET the puppies, and once we were sure Carmen didn’t actively hate her, Beesly was ours. Because Beesly was rescued from a puppy mill and in horrible physical condition (she couldn’t stand up on her own at 4 months,) she stayed in a foster home for about a month after we met her to get healthy enough for adoption.
How did you become a foster parent? Who do you foster through?
I’ve always loved dogs, been passionate about rescue, and wanted to do what I could to help. I started volunteering with Gateway Pet Guardians (IG @gatewaypets) when I moved to St. Louis in 2016, walking shelter dogs. Then I became more involved and started doing photography for the adoptables at GPG. Eventually, I convinced my husband to do a “slumber pawty,” or temporary foster, for a dog whose foster had to go out of town for the weekend. It was a nice way to ease into it without committing to an unknown dog for an unknown amount of time. After a couple slumber pawties, I finally got the go-ahead to do a full time foster. And I loved it, so we kept doing it, with a couple weeks break in between. I think the most important thing is to find a rescue that you believe in. Dogs will come and go, but the policies and people that you work with are permanent.
I’m afraid I’ll want to keep every dog I foster. How are you able to set boundaries?
I immediately fall in love with every foster I bring home. It’s a skill you learn, to love someone so hard, while knowing they’re only here temporarily. I always looked at it like a job, or a competition really, of how fast I could find the perfect home for this specific dog. Of my 17 fosters, the longest foster took 17 days to find a home (and that was my very first one, a 4 year old pittie removed from a hoarding case), which is a very quick turnaround. Because I’m so competitive, I take a lot of pride in finding wonderful homes very quickly. My other secret is that I foster dogs I wouldn’t necessarily adopt. Obviously we love the big fluffies, and GPG mainly has bully breeds. While I adore my fosters, I don’t want to adopt that cuddly of a dog. I need my aloof puppers who don’t always stay in the same room as me. Or that one time I fostered a Belgian Malinois - I think I did a happy dance when he got adopted, and then slept for 10 hours. You learn to love them and still want them to go to their BEST home. And I’m still in contact with all of my adopters, so I get updates on how all my babies doing.
How many dogs have you fostered and do you have a favorite? Photo?
I have fostered 17 dogs since I started in November 2018. My favorite by far was my last foster Maverick, a little black and white fluffy puppy, because he and Beesly adored each other. But each one is so special in their own way (which sounds cliché but it’s so true). Snow went from feral to letting me pet her in a week. Argus was smarter than was reasonable and learned everything so fast. Lena was able to get Carmen to play with her. I think the adoption I’m most proud of is Ordrox, the 5 year old, heartworm positive, black pitbull who was dog selective, a resource guarder (and had bitten 2 dogs, Beesly included) and leash reactive. I found her PERFECT family with a dog brother she adores in 4 days. She hasn’t had a single behavior problem since she’s been in her forever home.
What advice would you give to those looking to become a foster parent?
Just try it. You’ll never feel totally ready. You’ll always be a little scared you’re going to foster fail (aka adopt your foster.) You’ll always wonder if it’s the right time, right dog, right organization. But even if you do it once and never again, you’ve saved a life. Even if you choose to do it once every few months, you’re making a difference. Even if you have a bad experience and have to return a dog, you’ve given the rescue valuable notes about how the dog acts in a certain environment. And if your worst fear is that you foster fail, well, I can think of worse things than a dog finding a family to love them forever. Finding the right organization to foster for is essential, because there are rescues out there that try to use guilt and manipulation to keep a dog in a foster home that just isn’t working. And that just adds stress to the people and the dogs. One thing I love about GPG is their realistic and non-judgmental approach to placing fosters. Not every dog works in every home - and that’s perfectly fine. But at the end of the day, you’re making families. And that is the best feeling. My heart is never happier than when I see my fosters go to their forever home.
- THE FUN STUFF -
How did Carmen and Beesly get their names?
Carmen was named by the rescue, and it was just perfect for her. Our Instagram handle (@carmen.carmen.carmen.chameleon) comes from the Boy George song, “Karma Chameleon” which we sing to her on the daily. Beesly was originally Clementine, but I am a stereotypical person who’s in love with The Office, so she’s named after Pam Beesly.
If you could ask each of your dogs a question, what would you ask?
I would ask Carmen what she wants from me. No, seriously, she is SO hard to read. I’ve spent every day of the last 4 years with her and still can’t tell when she wants me to pet her half the time. For Beesly, I would ask what her secret is to being happy ALL the time. Because if I could bottle that up I think I’d be a billionaire.
What is your favorite Pacific Hound gear?
This might be the hardest question of them all. Obviously I want to say scarves, because we have 20+, but I think the 1.5” wine biothane collars are my actual favorites. They’re so sleek and sturdy, easy to clean, and just go with everything. I use them every day and still get compliments, they don’t show any wear.