June 3, 2002: A routine search on Petfinder.com revealed that a stray Wheaten had been taken to a Burlington County, NJ shelter, not far from my home. I was already fostering another dog for WIN and was not able to take on another, but I notified Gwen and the others at WIN. I agreed to go to the shelter the next day on my lunch hour to gather some more information about the dog.
The next day I went to the shelter and met Dog # 02-05-518, who was without a doubt, a Wheaten. He was approximately 3 to 4 years old, somewhat underweight, but seemed to be otherwise healthy. Someone had recently given him an unflattering haircut, which was definitely not the preferred Wheaten trim. He seemed very friendly and quite anxious to get out of the shelter. I promised him that I would do all I could to get him out of there, filled out an adoption application and waited to see what would happen. The following day, another WIN volunteer sent an e-mail to the shelter inquiring about the dog. She received a reply that the dog’s owner had reclaimed him. It seemed as though this dog’s story had a happy ending, and we all put him out of our minds.
In the meantime, my foster Daisy was adopted on Sunday, June 9th and things were just beginning to get back to normal in my house, when I received a phone call at work from the shelter on the morning of Friday, June 14th. Dog # 02-05-518 was back and they wanted to know if I still wanted to adopt him. After notifying Gwen of this latest development, I made arrangements to take the rest of the day off and headed to the shelter. It turned out that the story about his owners reclaiming him was not true. He had been adopted by an elderly gentleman who quickly realized that he did not have the patience deal with an energetic young Wheaten, so he returned him to the shelter after only one week.
I adopted the dog and named him Toby. On the way home, I took him to the vet for a quick exam and a rabies vaccine. He was very thin, but the exam revealed that he was quite healthy. He was already neutered. His teeth were in desperate need of a cleaning, but that would have to wait for another day. I made an appointment to have him bathed and groomed and then took him home.
Toby got along well with my dogs, but it quickly became apparent that he had been terribly neglected in the past and he demanded constant attention. He proved to be a champion jumper and counter-top surfer. I realized that the best kind of permanent home for him would be one where he did not have to compete with children or other dogs for his owner’s attention. He needed an experienced owner who could afford to spend a lot of time with him. In the meantime, he needed to learn some better house manners, so I started training him to respond to a clicker and enrolled him in a basic obedience course at WonderDogs in nearby Berlin, New Jersey.
St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, must have been watching out for us, because I could not believe my luck when I came across an adoption application from a couple who lived in the next township over from me. They were empty-nesters whose previous Wheaten had been euthanized at age 14. After a period of time without a dog, they were ready take another into their home. I wasted no time in contacting them and arranging a visit for them to come and meet Toby.
Judith and Stephen Dragos liked Toby immediately, but the adoption would have to wait until he had had more obedience training and until after Judith and Stephen returned from a brief out-of-town trip. But finally, the time was right.
On July 28, 2002, six weeks after I had brought Toby home from the shelter, I packed his crate, food, and other belongings into my car and drove him to Judith and Stephen’s house.
Perhaps the most difficult part of fostering is saying good-bye when a dog has been placed. Toby realized that I was leaving him, and his big brown eyes pleaded with me to take him with me. I felt terrible, but I knew that he had found a wonderful new home and that this was the best possible outcome to his story. This was confirmed when I visited the Dragos' home again recently. Toby, now named Fergus, is happy and thriving. He has put on some more weight and his coat is starting to grow out. He has even reached a truce with the family cat, who wasted no time in making it perfectly clear that she was in charge. Fergus has settled in; he was extremely fortunate to find such a wonderful new home. He got off to a rocky start in life, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will be happy and loved for the rest of his life.