I am so, so excited to bring you this interview which is my very own TWIN SISTER! So ok, I’m a bit biased, but she is an amazing person and has done some incredible things for rescue dogs. Yes, she did send back a novel, but trust me, you’ll want to read this entire interview. So go on, get a cuppa and keep reading below to hear about her experience fostering dogs in Arizona.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Alex and for the past 19 years I have lived in sunny Tucson, Arizona. I live alone with my two littles (what I call my terriers) and a foster dog. I spend a majority of my free time with them. Sadly, playing with my pups doesn’t pay my bills so I work as a legal assistant. The law firm has 3 attorneys, an office manager and a receptionist. It is not a life calling but it pays the bills for now. My goal is to run my own rescue someday, which I already have my non-profit status for. My rescue’s name is Two Roads Dog Rescue. Yes, after Robert Frost’s poem but also because I plan to rescue small terriers and Shepherd mixes.
When did you first start fostering dogs, and what was the reason?
I started fostering dogs back in 2009. It started as a need to find a reason to exercise, which frankly I am not a fan of, but with a dog you must exercise it. I was doing a ton of walking when I attended the University of Arizona but not once I graduated. I did a lot of shopping around for a dog but kept coming up empty handed. To clarify, by shopping I mean looking at various rescue dogs NOT actual shopping in a pet store. Those are puppy mill dogs, more about that later.
One day I was watching a local TV station and there was a rescue looking for a home for a pitbull. I figured looking couldn’t hurt. Me and the dog were not a match energy-wise and I left the rescue lady’s house without a dog. A week later the same rescue lady called me and asked if I would like to foster. I had no idea what that was! In my naivety I went to meet with this lady again to discuss how fostering works, what were the requirements and what I needed to do. To say more than a few words were exchanged between us is being generous. I showed up and she handed me a bowl, leash, foster paperwork and a dog. Off I went! I remember showing up home with the new dog – I was living with my sister at the time – and my sister exclaiming, “What are you doing?!” I had no idea! I was lured into fostering with my first foster dog – a super sweet, blonde and fat Shepherd mix. The rest is history as they say.
How many dogs have you rescued and rehomed?
I am currently on my 28th foster dog! Phew. I wish I could claim I re-homed them all. They were, with the exception of 1, all eventually adopted. One sadly died in my care. We didn’t know she had tick fever, which is treatable, but she went into seizures we couldn’t pull her out of. She was only 4 years old, dumped by her owners in the shelter and the sweetest pup despite all her health issues. She was a heartbreaking case. Others had to be moved into new homes due to behavioral issues I was not equipped to deal with.
Who was your favorite dog?
My favorite dog, I think my sister will agree although she has loved all of my fosters, was Storm. I almost kept her. She was a skinny, scared, tick-infested, mini-Shepherd mix. I named her Storm after the grey on her nose for X-Men. I wanted to name her Ghost because for the first two weeks she moved through the house silently and refused to be in the same room as anyone. I didn’t think Ghost was a good “adopt me” name though. She went from terrified to chasing my forever boy around the yard, leaping over him with such joy and cuddling with me. She was the perfect little girl and I loved her dearly. She did not show well though, often hiding behind me when potential adopters came to meet her. She met about 5 potential adopters and each time hid. I swore if the next home didn’t jive with her I would keep her. It meant no more fostering because my home at that time only allowed two dogs at any given time, but I was willing to give it up for her. Sadly, for me anyway, she literally ran to the car of the next potential adopters. She made her choice and I had to honor it. She was my 15th foster dog and my dream dog. I love my Shepherd mixes.
Who was the most challenging?
My most challenging case that I took on was my “loco” (Spanish for crazy) Loki. Loki is a Belgian Malinois. For those who don’t know the breed they’re like a velociraptor with ADHD. They’re a working breed, generally drug sniffers or K9 partners. I did not know this when I rescued her from the shelter. All I saw was a 40 pound, beautiful Shepherd so sick on the kennel floor she couldn’t stand up. It broke my heart. There is a lot of heartbreak is rescuing. I took her home and nursed her back to health for two weeks. She had a common URI or upper respiratory infection. A majority of shelter dogs get it, it’s like a common cold and treated with antibiotics. Those two weeks were blissful! She was calm, she tired easily, she played with my forever dog and was easy to walk. Once she was over her cold, she was my ADHD velociraptor princess. She became a red zone dog. A red zone dog is an extremely reactive, often aggressive dog who wants to go after other dogs or people. Thankfully the two weeks she spent with my forever dog while she was sick made him exempt from her behaviors.
Loki needed to be walked with two leashes any time outside the house. She had a harness and a snoot-loop. A snoot-loop is a head harness with a leash that attaches to a loop around the nose. When a dog growls or gets aggressive you pull up to control the head and snout. I was trained by a professional to use this harness properly. Under no circumstances do I recommend any behavioral training without seeking a proper trainer first. Loki and I spent 4 months training daily, working with a trainer weekly and getting her over her reactiveness. Have you ever gotten annoyed with a child throwing a wild tantrum in public? That was Loki. Every time I walked her when she saw a dog she’d thrash and scream trying to get at it. I got countless dirty looks. It was emotionally and physically exhausting fostering her. I really didn’t think she’d get adopted because of her issues, or for her high energy. This is a breed that only a certain few can handle, so when I got a call from a young cop in Washington state I was thrilled! Ok, not thrilled. More skeptical but after many phone calls and heart to hearts I decided to pack up my velociraptor, drive 9 hours to California to meet him halfway and drop her off. When she left I balled my eyes out for a good 45 minutes. She was and still is, the only foster I have adopted out that made me cry after the departure. I think it was a mixture of that constant mental and physical fatigue finally being over and seeing all my hard work pay off. I am still, six years later, in contact with her adopter and see many photos of her off-leash hiking and hanging out with her doggie siblings, all thanks to the amazing training they’ve done. She was a true success story. I am pleased to say too that he kept her name, Loco Loki.
What’s the most difficult part of fostering dogs?
The most difficult part for me is always between week 2 to week 4. Week 1, the dog is still decompressing, recovering from sickness, and learning the ropes. At week 2 is when their true personalities come out. It’s when they start stretching their wings so to speak and the real work begins. This is the brief window you get to teach the dog right from wrong, no, yes and what is expected of them under your roof. When I had just my foster dog this was easier to control. When I got my forever dog, Tate, it became training him and the new foster to coexist together. As you add more dogs, the more work you have to do to make sure that the old school kids and the new school kid know how to treat each other. For some dogs this comes naturally and some need to be taught again and again. Sometimes, dogs just cannot coexist and need to be shuffled. Some of my fosters came from foster homes that were not working out and some of mine were moved into new foster homes when they didn’t work out in mine. Rescuing is pretty flexible in that sense, assuming there is room to shuffle dogs.
And what’s the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part is a tie for me. The first part is their first sleep. Some of these dogs spend weeks in the shelter before being rescued and the first thing they want to do is curl up in a clean bed, in a quiet home and sleep. It is the most peaceful, heart-warming, and loving moment to witness. This dog that was most likely days from being killed (sorry “euthanized”) who spent uncertain days filled with barking dogs, crowded kennels and hard floors now gets to sleep in a soft, safe space.
The second part is of course the adoption. You get to light up a complete stranger’s life with a new love. It’s like playing matchmaker but the match is for the dog’s whole life. You get to see all your hard work payoff and a dog once destined to die now having a forever home all their own. The few times my dogs have gone to families or grandparents with grandchildren is extra special. To see a kid’s face seeing their new doggie friend is the sweetest, purest emotion. You can feel the love pouring out of them.
What has surprised you the most about fostering dogs?
The ego trip of fosters and pettiness between rescues. You would think, and I thought too, that fosters and rescues were all in it for the love of rescuing animals. Sadly, I have found a lot of rescues bickering with each other over how they run their rescues or their adoptions or whatever else they can find. The same goes for fosters; they fight with the president of the rescue, they leave because of disagreements. There is a lot of backstabbing, name calling and arguing in rescue. Now, it’s not all bad. I have met some wonderful friends through rescue work but I have also been swept up in the drama which burned me out for awhile.
What do you wish people knew about dog ownership, fostering, adopting, etc.?
Please don’t shop! At least in the US any stores that sell puppies will come from puppy mills. This is a horrible, horrible, situation for the parent dogs who get bred until they basically die from zero medical attention, living in their own filth, in a dirty crate. Most parents never see daylight or grass or love. If you cannot come to the breeder’s house, see the parents and meet the whole litter, there is a good chance they’re from a puppy mill. People think they can’t get pure bred dogs from the shelter but the sad truth is that a lot of these cute window puppies wind up in the shelter once they’re no longer cute, develop medical issues the adopter cannot afford or the family finds some other feeble excuse to not keep the dog.
Along those lines, of adoption fee vs buying a dog, people often get a bit upset about the difference. When you go to the store you’re paying (for example) $600 for a puppy. It may or may not come fixed, or with shots. You’re basically paying for the title, i.e. Poodle, German Shepherd, Pug.. so on. That’s it. Now compared to an adoption fee that’s generally around $125-$250. People seem to get upset a lot over this price because they see title equaling more and mutt equaling free. I wish I was making this up! For an adoption fee, and what I explain all the time, is what comes with it; the dog is fully vetted meaning they’re fixed, micro-chipped, and up to date on required shots. Ok, so that may not equal the $125-$250 fee but there is more. An adoption fee means the dog has spent a considerable time in a home, the foster parent can tell you their energy level, likes/dislikes, quirks and any other questions you may have. Keep in mind we, the foster parent(s) are not paid to take care of these dogs. If you’re buying a dog, that’s pure profit back to the puppy mill to better the person, not the dog. Also, some of the fosters can cost thousands in medical bills which depletes the rescues’ funds. So while dog A may only cost the rescue $50 to make adoptable, dog B can cost them $3,500 to make adoptable. The $125-$250 fee covers all the dogs. None of the money goes into the pockets of the rescuers.
On fostering, I hear a lot of people say, “I could never do it. I would get too attached!” That’s fine, we nickname those who adopt their fosters, “foster-failures.” It’s a term of endearment. I have not foster failed but I know the feeling of wanting to keep the dog. The mindset that I am in, that I recommend all fosters be in, is that keeping one dog is one less you can save. If you keep a space open, that’s another life you can save. You also get the reward of setting up that dog with the perfect home. Once you get a taste of that you won’t want to stop. Also, no two rescues are the same. Shop around! Ask the rescue about what is expected of their fosters, of their adoption process, what dog training they have, any question that pops in your head. You want to make sure they’re as willing to work with you as you are with them. Some rescues specialize in breeds, other big dogs, bully breeds.. so on. I am thankfully with a rescue that lets me rescue whatever dog I choose.
You have two adorable forever dogs – tell us about them
Tater Tot and Snapdragon! What a joy they are. Tater Tot, AKA Tate, I got 8 years ago from a local rescue. He is a silky terrier poodle mutt with so much grumpiness in him I wonder how it all fits in that head of his. It took him 6 months of living with me to finally sleep in my bed. He avoided me and I cried the first week after adopting him because he was so aloof. It took me two years to housebreak him. He and I are matched in our stubbornness thankfully. He isn’t forthcoming with the love and bounciness but he eventually got around to loving me and that’s all that matters. He helped me rehabilitate many of my foster dogs. He showed them how to play, who was in charge (hint, not me), and the best sun spots for napping. It got to a point though where I could tell fostering dogs was taking a toll on him. It’s hard on a single dog to make friends and then 2-6 months later that dog is forever gone. That is where Snapdragon came into the picture.
Snapdragon, or Snapple for short, is the anti-Tate. She is the super friendly, super loving, lick-you-to-death kind of pup. She is a black and white Jack Russel mix with boundless energy. When I adopted her I was told she was a year old, but she practically doubled her size though so I would say she was more like 6 months old. She is around 3 years old now. I instantly loved her because she saw Tate’s grumpy, get out of my face attitude, more as an invite to try harder to play than a deterrent. The more he grumbled at her the more she’d dart back and forth biting his ears and back legs. How could I say no to that? They do play tug-o-war and the occasional game of chase now. She is the kind of dog everyone instantly wants to love on and she eats up the attention! We do dog agility at the weekend to give Tate a break and to help spend some of that boundless energy of hers. Dog agility, for those not familiar, is a dog sport where you train you dog to go over jumps, through tunnels, over dog walks and various other obstacles. People do it competitively but we just do it for fun. She is extremely smart and learns a new trick in 5 minutes, Tate… not so much. He tries though.
Enough about dogs – what are your favorite foods?
Anything my sister makes for me! If you’re talking more products I enjoy Chao Slices for cheese, particularly the Tomato Cayenne Chao one. It’s surprisingly hard to find good vegan cheese in the States. I am super jealous of all the Linda McCartney food my sister gets in the UK. The food looks so good. We do have Gardein here, which makes a too-convincing vegan fish and crabless-crab cake. I think the best vegan foods are home-cooked though. Have you ever tried vegan taco pizza? If you haven’t I suggest dropping everything, going to the recipe section at the Vegan Twist and making it right now! The only vegan food I couldn’t master making from scratch were Tater Tots. I absolutely love them. In case you missed me naming my dog after my favorite food. Yum!
Finally, how awesome is your twin sister? 😉
Next question, please? I can totally hear her grumbling, “Mmm” at me right now as I said that! Hehe. I would say she’s a 10 out of 10, the bees knees! I’m really proud of all the work she has done advocating for veganism, animal rights and educating the public on why it’s important not to eat meat. It’s a tough job but she has done well! She also has some fabulous recipes on her website to help people explore the expansive world of vegan food. I miss her daily but Snapchat keeps us entertained. Is it too soon to be asking if it’s Christmas yet? That’s when she visits.
Aw – love my twin 🙂 So there you have it. Probably one of my longest Q&A interviews ever but hopefully you enjoyed it as much as I did! Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about fostering or adopting dogs and I’m sure Alex would be happy to help answer them!