Longtime volunteer Kathy King recounts the story of Sophie, her first foster dog.
The power of Kathy’s story earned her a nomination at the World Dog Expo Rescue Awards. She’s one of four finalists in the Foster Story of the Year category, which includes Patrick Stewart and his foster dog Ginger! The winner will be announced on June 7th. In the meantime, enjoy.
There she was, wriggling with joy, the day we picked her up. It felt like Christmas! My brother Conrad and I were new volunteers, working different shifts, so fostering seemed a good fit. We had no preference to whom we went home with.
“Whoever needs to get out next!” I naively blurted.
The fence fighter. Rhodesian Ridgeback/Queensland Heeler. She was stirring things up in the kennel.
Once at home it became clear that other dogs were a trial to her. Walks in my neighborhood were a nightmare. I had another volunteer come out within the week to show me a few moves on correction, but my handling skills were poor at best.
So, I enrolled us into a dog training class. Private. Smart girl, learned a few tricks, and the clicking for treats did seem to connect her momentarily with us.
But walking her daily, morning and night, was grueling. Conrad was beside himself trying to control her, and refused to use the clicker, so I took over all walking. We visited all the many parks, and passed dog upon dog, in all the drama we could muster.
I got a wonderful face plant when dragged several yards. I guess that the full-sized poodle was too much. Sophie was such a powerful pup! I was completely convinced she would be able to choose on her own, to not attack.
About five months into the experiment of who would give in first, I got a call at work. Conrad walked out the gate with her on his heels. She scuffled with a dog walking by, who was led on the leash by a child.
The child was fine, as was the husky Sophie attacked. Just caught a tooth in his inner thigh.
I took her back to the kennel that night.
The experience devastated me. It shook me to the core. The child so close to danger, and I was exhausted with all the time and effort put towards Sophie.
A month goes by, and a volunteer trainer asks if I will take Sophie back with her help. I am sure the first answer was no. But sure enough, I eventually take her back. The trainer agrees to help.
First walk with the trainer, we could not find one other dog on a path to save our lives.
“OK”, I say, “we will just go out again together later.”
But within a day I get a call. Someone is looking for a “cattle dog”, and could I bring Sophie to an adoption event that weekend to meet them?
All I felt was foreboding. This dog was not ready.
The Sophie, the prospective owner, and I meet and greet on a good walk. The prospective owner is unsure, and asks lots of questions. I tell her everything I can. Later I get a call. The home check went well, and she got the adoption!
Still no joy in my heart. I am to drop her off the next day.
So, I take her to a park I haven’t been to in a while, for one last walk. It has hiking trails around the edges and I think she will enjoy it.
But when the trail ends, it opens into the center field that is now been converted to an off-leash dog park!
My fear is compounded by the pit bull charging our way full steam.
Now a professional with hand signs, I put up a stop and ask the owner to leash his dog.
His reply isn’t worth repeating, and it went on from there. He clearly wanted a dog fight, and I had no doubt Sophie would eat his dog.
But she was unfazed, in fact very calm. We walked through the bedlam of dogs, and at the very end I asked another person if he could leash his dogs. Again, to no effect. But this time the dog went right up to Sophie, completely walking down her body, shoulder to flank, and nothing happened!
Nothing, other than her looking at me. She had been looking to me since she came home from the kennel. Since I gave her my second chance. She DID understand.
Success at Last
The next day, I met the trainer at Sophie’s new home. A beautiful house in a great neighborhood with a park. Once inside Sophie started to follow the owner around, it was perfect. Then the trainer has her sit, lay down, and roll over like a Lassie body double!
I was shocked. After a bit, I said my goodbyes and snuck out when Sophie was distracted. It was a satisfaction you cannot feel unless you overcome obstacles, and I know that we both had won.
She won BIG.
If you would like to foster a dog and make a difference in the life of an animal, visit our foster page.