How one challenging rescue dog became a “foster fail”

The role of a foster parent in a dog’s life is to provide that pup with temporary shelter, medical care and love until a permanent home can be found.  That dog is with you for, hopefully,  just a short period of time before going off to a caring forever home. There are times, however, when that foster pup tugs at the heart strings just a bit too much and that short time becomes forever. Yes, it’s called a “foster fail” but in this case, “failure” is a win-win.

Marge and Tom Gallagher have fostered quite a few  CAWS rescue dogs in the 13 years since they’ve lived in Belize, nurturing them until they found or went to already arranged loving new, permanent  homes. But one of those fosters, Ty, a dog who almost didn’t make it at all, never left and became their only foster fail to date.


“Ty was pulled off the street in San Ignacio, skinny, wet, and terrified,” said Marge. “CAWS had trouble catching him because he wouldn’t let anyone near him, snapping if anybody tried to touch him.  They baited him into a crate and shut the door, and carried the crate to a kennel.”


Marge said that Ty’s aggressive behavior didn’t get much better after a few days in the kennel and because CAWS won’t ask anyone to foster such an aggressive dog, Ty would have to be euthanized.


“Tom and I stopped to see him. His story just made us so sad and we’ve rehabbed biters in the past.  We sat with him for a little while, giving him his space.  He seemed very sad and tired and scared, and we felt like he should have a chance.  We also thought he was cute and fluffy and white, so he would be an easily adoptable dog.”

Ty on the day after he came to The Gallagher's home.
Ty today.

Ty’s euthanasia appointment turned into a quick vet check to make sure he didn’t have anything contagious, and the Gallagher’s  brought him to their home  in the same crate in the back of their pickup. 

“We opened the crate in one of our cages, both got snapped at, and just left him to chill with food and water and a dog house.  In the morning, we went out and just sat in the cage, and he came over and put his head on our laps and allowed himself to be patted.  We then took him for a walk with our other dogs, and brought him in the house.”


That was probably the point, Marge recalled, when Ty  became a “foster fail.”


“We played the game for another six weeks or so, taking him to the vet for shots and neutering, and introducing him to lots of people, all of whom he tried to bite.  When we faced up to the fact that he was going to try to bite anyone but us, we gladly accepted the “foster fail” label, and officially and happily made him part of our pack.”


Some of The Gallagher’s fosters have been Foster With End Date (FWED), dogs who just need a safe place in which you can  start teaching them how to be a much loved pet.

Such was the case with Coco.

“Sarah, a wonderful woman from Canada, fell in love with Coco on the street, and CAWS put Coco in our foster care until she was ready to fly,” said Marge. “Coco was in pretty rough shape when she came here.  She was very skinny, had lots of bald patches, and was very skittish.  But, she was also one of the sweetest dogs we have ever met – and we’ve met a lot – and she very quickly responded to good food, medicated baths, and lots and lots of love.”


The Gallagher’s adoration of Coco was so obvious that Sarah offered to cancel the adoption which would have resulted in  another “foster fail.” They declined, acknowledging that to take her was not the point of fostering, especially with a loving new caregiver in place, but Marge says that one of the challenges of fostering both FWED dogs and those that have an indefinite foster term is getting attached.


“I think they’re a little harder because you inevitably get attached.  This is one of the two reasons I can think of as to why you shouldn’t foster; if it’s just too difficult to give them up when they find their forever home, there’s no sense in making your life difficult, or alienating family who might not be so on board with taking on another pet or two.  You have to find a balance between being able to let them go, or accepting the “failure” label without ruining your life.


The second reason to think long and hard before agreeing to foster is that fostering can become a habit.

Coco relaxing at her new home in Canada.

“Even if you don’t become a repeat foster fail, there is such a thing as too many dogs.  It just feels so good to take a frightened, sick, ratty looking dog and turn her into a healthy, confident, lovable companion, that you want to do it over, and over, and over,” said Marge. “You need to know yourself, your family, and your situation well enough to know when enough is enough, and leave someone else to take on the next one.  And, if nobody steps up and the dog is destroyed, you need to be able to live with that.  It’s really, really hard, but you need to do it in order to stay healthy enough to help the ones you can.”

Still, Marge said the rewards are many.

“If you love animals, believe in animal rescue, and want to make a big difference in the lives of both people and animals, please consider fostering.”