Youngest sister, the bossy one, has nudged me to write about our experiences fostering Westies. But first I thought I would introduce one of “the boys,” our beloved Berkley, whom we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t started doing rescue work in the first place.
Berkley is not a rescue dog technically. His former owner contacted a rescue group in a panic because Berkley wasn’t safe in her home any longer. You see, she is a breeder of champion Westies and her number one stud dog, unfixed of course, was becoming dangerously aggressive to poor Berkley, then 9 years old. The night before she contacted our rescue group, Berkley had been attacked by the stud dog and then two of the female dogs had joined in. A vicious dog fight ensued and it was painfully clear she needed to do something. And that’s where we came in.
When we were asked if we were interested in adopting, not fostering, another Westie, we agreed to meet up with Berkley’s owner and bring along our own good little boy, Max, to see how they got along. The first meeting was pretty uneventful; Berkley never even made eye contact with us and hung close to his owner’s leg. But he didn’t do anything aggressive to Max, so we figured why not? And we agreed on a date and time to take him home with us.
Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. We discovered right off the bat that we had one stressed-out little dog entering our pack. He had himself so worked up that he was a panting, drooling mess by the time we got home. Because here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if the dog is coming out of what we think isn’t a good home; to the dog, it’s the only home he knows and we’ve just rocked his world by pulling him out of it. It was going to be a bumpy ride for all of us, especially that first night.
His owner told us that he slept great in his crate; just give him a night-night treat and shut off the lights. He’ll be fine. Yeah, right. The crying and howls and sheer terror that first night shattered that little suggestion into bits. I jumped out of bed after just a few minutes, ran to his crate, grabbed him into my arms, and brought him into our bedroom. And that was that. Berkley was going to be part of us and I’d be the one to decide how he slept from now on.
That first morning I heard moaning from my bedside and I opened my eyes to see him staring up at me from the floor. And as soon as he saw me wake up, his tail began wagging in that whirligig fashion that Westies do when they are overjoyed. And so our little love affair began. Max had always loved Beloved Husband best; now I had “my” dog, too.
Anybody familiar with the Westie breed knows they are full of personality. Each one is his own unique character and Berkley fits that bill perfectly. Now that he has relaxed and feels safe and unthreatened, his true little self has emerged. Yes, he is still a bit neurotic and as he enters his old age (now 14!), he is earning curmudgeon status. But that’s okay, he is entitled.
We joke that Berkley has never been fed before. Or at least that’s how he behaves at meal time. Oh, the carrying on and anticipation as I prepare his meal. If I take too long to mix everything up for him, he will begin clomping his teeth and as a last measure of impatience, bumping my leg with his nose. Hurry up! Then he runs as fast as his little legs will take him to his food station usually going so fast that he skids onto “home plate.” How can you help but laugh? My friend, N, once prepared a leg of lamb for our dinner. As it was roasting away and filling the house with mouthwatering aromas, Berkley lay in front of the oven moaning. Do you get the picture? He is the most loveable little guy imaginable.
Only once did he revert to his old near-hysterical ways. We had rented a mobile home to take a trip up to Michigan and he just about drove me crazy on the drive up and back. Whining, carrying on, panting, you get the picture. When we finally pulled into our own driveway and I opened the back door to let him in, he barged past me. He ran through each room at top-speed, barking his head off in sheer, unmitigated JOY! Now I understood why he was such a mess on the trip – he thought he was being taken away. So he has learned over the years to trust that he will always come home with us. Always.
Yes, when we brought him into our lives, we thought we were pretty darn cool. We would give him a few happy years, take good care of him, and when the time came for him to “go”, we would know we had done our best for him. What were we thinking? We couldn’t love him more if he’d been ours since he was a puppy. Our lives have adapted to him and his to ours. It’s not us and Berkley anymore, it’s just us.
That’s the little secret those of who rescue and foster dogs share: We get so much more than we give. Cliché, yes, but rooted in absolute truth.
I’ll post about our fostering experiences occasionally. Each one was his or her little bright light in our lives – although not always with a happy ending. But that’s okay. Not one of the little Westies we brought into our home left us without a lasting imprint on our hearts. We all strive to do something worthwhile in this life and for us, this experience has been one of the most gratifying imaginable.
Rescue groups abound on-line. Check out your breed of choice or see what your local animal shelter might need. You won’t regret it.