Puppy roommates: fostering dogs in college

By Lillian Frazier

I KNEW I wanted a dog. Now, I know what you may be thinking: “She has no idea what she’s getting herself into.” And yet, I had thought of getting one for a while. My family has dogs, and I thought my semester schedule would be perfect, given that I only had one in-person class. The small “what if” idea had grown over the months into a steady flame of interest. After looking around online, I saw a meet-and-greet opportunity from a nonprofit called Animal Rescue Farm (ARF) of Mercer. So, one Sunday afternoon, I rounded up my sister and a friend, and off we went to PetSmart. I went on my way with a burning flame of optimistic naivete only a 20-something-year-old could carry. Needless to say, that flame was quickly extinguished by ARF volunteer, Sandra, who listened to my current situation and said “absolutely not.” 

To be fair, she was justified. You see, she had a son who got a dog when he was in college, and like me, thought it was a great idea. Unfortunately, in the process of finding a job and starting his “adult life,” Sandra ended up taking care of the dog which ultimately ended up as her own. “But,” she said, “Have you ever considered fostering?” Fostering? Now that was an idea. “You can help socialize the puppies, learn about dog care and only be responsible for them for about 2 weeks, or until they get adopted,” said Sandra.

A few weeks later, our first guest was delivered. Blue was a 50-pound, 5-month-old Harlequin Great Dane — so much for a slow transition. The hefty pup came bounding up to our one-bedroom apartment only to be stumped at the challenge he faced at the door. You see, we live in a second floor apartment and “little” Blue could not for the life of him gather the courage to tackle the feat. So, for the first few days, he received the royal treatment of being carried up and down the stairs, a lovely experience at three in the morning, I assure you. What a sweetheart he was. Blue was a big goofball who loved stealing all the couch space and playing with a purple monkey stuffed animal we called “Mr. Monkey Man.” Blue often visited campus and was willing to hangout on the Student Recreation Center (SRC) patio enjoying the sun. After a few weeks, he found a loving home, and soon enough we had a new guest at Hotel Frazier.

Bundy was a black-tan Coonhound German Shepherd mix whose litter was named after serial killers — interesting, but who am I to judge? Regardless of his name’s backstory, the only thing killer about him was his cuteness. Bundy loved to cuddle and explore outside. After a week or so, little Bundy needed to take care of some business — getting neutered. So, while Bundy was getting neutered his littermate Judy, named after Judy Buenoano, came for a stay. 

Judy had an eventful first night. Coming from the farm where many of the newly rescued puppies are held, Judy was in need of a bath, which is not out of the ordinary. What was out of the ordinary were the over two dozen ticks she was covered in, which we later learned was most likely from the fresh deer they are fed on the farm. One short bath turned into the ultimate spa experience for the shy girl until she was squeaky clean and tick free. Judy was a bit different from the other pups we had cared for — bless her heart, she could not seem to walk in a straight line and often stumbled about. This did not stop her from always carrying a puppy smile and holding the textbook definition of puppy-dog eyes ensuring any accident she had was easily forgivable, surely such an adorable pup could do no wrong, it must have been someone else’s fault.

Our most recent pups included Waffles, an 8-month-old Dutch Shepherd mix with lots of energy, and Alita, a 4-month-old Australian Shepherd with a sassy personality. Waffles was fun because she was at an age where she could learn tricks. By the time she left us, she had mastered the ability to sit, lay and high-five. Alita was our longest guest, staying for almost a month. A popular campus visitor, Alita enjoyed all of the attention Rider showered her with. 

Fostering puppies certainly provides an array of learning experiences. Patience is a must: often the pups are scared and confused when they first come to stay. It takes a few days for their true personalities to come out. For some, housetraining was not a learned skill yet, so you had to be on the watch at all hours of the day, even at three in the morning. Of course accidents happen, but it is important to forgive and forget as they are trying their best to adapt just as you are trying to. Diligence is also necessary. Puppies have lots of energy and need to be walked often regardless of your schedule or mood. I actually found the walks to be a great mindfulness exercise, particularly the ones late at night. I would finish up my day’s activities and then take the pup for a walk around 10 or 11:30 p.m. After which, sleep came easy for both the dog and me. 

People often ask, “Isn’t it hard giving them up?” To some degree, yes, but for the most part, no. Ultimately, these puppies are going to great homes that can provide them the love and space they need to be happy. I am happy with the part I play in the process. While our time together is short, I can provide the pups a caring environment where they learn to socialize and play. Realistically, a one-bedroom apartment is too small for the types of dogs we have looked after (the zoomies, a burst of energy, have taken out a bookshelf or two). I have found real joy in looking after these dogs and feel a sense of pride whenever we return them to get adopted. They come to us shy and nervous and leave happy and playful — perfect for their new life. 

While it’s initially not what I had planned, fostering turned out to be a great opportunity. I highly recommend college students who have the facilities to consider trying it. There are always puppies in need of a home. If you are interested in fostering or adopting, I encourage you to reach out to ARF of Mercer on Instagram or via email (arfofmercer@gmail.com). Using donations and adoption funds, the nonprofit works to fight dog and cat abandonment by neutering/spaying, chipping and finding homes for the animals. The rescue ensures the animals go to a fitting home by extensively vetting each applicant to find the right fit for both the potential owner and the animal.

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