I had no idea how much work a puppy can be. Then I fostered three

This First Person column is the experience of Colette Fluet-Howrish, who lives in Edmonton. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I was standing in my youngest child’s bedroom, watching three adorable puppies frolic in the enclosure I had placed them in. The six-week-old littermates had been found abandoned in a cardboard box as wee babes and they had had a big day travelling to our house. Naturally, their little tummies were out of sorts.

There was poop everywhere — on the pee pads, blankets and toys. And, of course, it was all over the puppies, who were happily pooping on each other and spreading it everywhere. As one of them picked up the water bowl and flung it across the pen, I thought, What have I done?

But only briefly because then I had to quickly try to contain the poop situation.

Two days earlier, we had submitted our application to be foster parents with Second Chance Animal Rescue Society, an Edmonton-area non-profit that takes in pets that are unwanted or slated for euthanasia and helps get them into loving homes. 

A woman holds a very young pup, wrapped in a yellow towel, close to her chest.
Fluet-Howrish cuddles a freshly bathed Luna shortly after the three pups arrived into her home in July. (Submitted by Colette Fluet-Howrish)

Our family had thought about fostering for quite a while. With me having some free time this summer and being aware of a great need for foster families, we decided to give it a go. 

My husband and I have had dogs for more than a decade; these days our household includes three teens, two small, middle-aged dogs named Sandy and Grady, and Jelly the cat. Because we adopted our dogs when they were older, I had no idea what caring for three puppies this young would entail. 

But I figured it out fast.

Besides the initial poop management, there were three feedings a day, many loads of laundry and many potty-training trips from the bedroom pen to the backyard.

At first, we carried the puppies out one by one, but later we adopted what we called the “running of the bulls” i.e. herding them down the hallway, through the kitchen, down three steps and out the door.

Every time, it was a chaotic and joyful attempt to make the run pee-free.

Collage of three photos: a black puppy with white nose and paws with a blanket; a brown puppy with white paws lying under a chair; a black puppy with white paws and chest lying on the grass.
The three puppies, shown here about one week after arriving in Fluet-Howrish’s home in July, were abandoned and found in a cardboard box when they were about two weeks old. From left, Pepsi, Brownie and Luna. (Submitted by Colette Fluet-Howrish)

These runs were followed by magical time in the yard, sitting on a picnic blanket with puppies running back and forth between us, wrestling with each other in a big puppy heap before settling in for cuddles with us. We fell in love with each of them: laid-back Brownie, outgoing Pepsi and little sweetheart Luna, who was a mix of both. 

Those idyllic moments were mixed with the reality of helping pets who had been abandoned.

A couple of weeks into fostering them, we learned that the puppies had lice. I immediately pictured baths and lice combs for the household’s five family members and six animals but luckily lice does not transfer from dogs to humans — whew! — and the treatment was a simple ointment applied to the back of the neck. The rescue agency was extremely supportive during this process.

Fostering model canine citizens

Around this time, it really sunk in that a loving human had both of our dogs before we adopted them. When Sandy arrived in Calgary from a shelter in California, she was filthy from head to toe and her hair was patchy and falling out, according to her foster mom. But Cheri took care of Sandy and by the time we got her, she was the beautiful dog that we fell in love with. 

It was my turn to pay it forward, lice and all.

I set out to do my best job as a foster parent so that the puppies would be adoptable and successful when settling into their “furever” homes.

Three dogs, two lying on a kitchen floor and the other sitting attentively, keep their eyes focused on a woman who is standing with them.
During her four weeks spent fostering the puppies, Fluet-Howrish used treats to teach the pups basic obedience skills to help them successfully integrate into their new homes once they were adopted. (Supplied by Colette Fluet-Howrish)

We encouraged calm behaviour, like “four-on-the-floor” to stop them from jumping on people, and using their teeth on toys, not us (a work in progress).

They learned that humans are a source of gentleness and treats. And they learned to respect our two dogs, even as they rapidly outgrew them in size. 

We weren’t sure how our pets would react to having puppies in the house but we were pleasantly surprised how things turned out. The puppies would follow Sandy around the yard, hoping she would play but respecting her boundaries, and they all enjoyed wrestling with our cat (which our cat also enjoyed).

A cat is pinned by a black dog while a small golden dog stands close by.
The rescue pups fit in well with the family’s other pets including Jelly the cat. (Submitted by Colette Fluet-Howrish)

I played a small role in selecting potential adopters who came to meet the puppies in our yard. It was special to see the families immediately fall in love with their puppy, and for me to see that each had found a good-fit home. Seeing energetic Pepsi meet his future dog-brother was especially sweet — I knew he would have a playmate to help him burn all that energy. 

Brownie and Pepsi went home with their new families directly from the vet office after being neutered. We’d had them for a month. 

Luna stayed an extra two weeks before being picked up by her new owner — my sister, Pauline Krikun, who lives five hours away. Tears ran down my cheeks as we sent Luna off, even though we knew we’d see her again.

Two women smile for a photo. One is holding a black-and-white dog.
Colette Fluet-Howrish holds Luna before sending the pup off to live in her new forever home with Fluet-Howrish’s sister, Pauline Krikun. (Submitted by Colette Fluet-Howrish)

Choosing to foster was a commitment to do something without quite knowing how it would work out. 

My husband was surprised how happy I was cleaning up poop and running to keep up with the puppies. I was a little surprised, too. I think growing up on a farm made me well-suited for chores like these, and because the puppies were adorable and so responsive to the time we spent with them, the work was rewarding. 

Fostering reminded me that with the right incentive (namely three hungry puppies whining for their breakfast and threatening to wake up the rest of the household), I can be a morning person. It also left me in awe of people who do this on an ongoing basis and somehow still have jobs. 

Thanks to Pepsi, Brownie and Luna, I learned that once you dip your toe into the world of helping animals in need, it is hard to turn away. Down the road, I know we will foster again. 

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