This article — a personal account of my early experience as a puppy foster — was originally published in the July edition of Iredell Free News Monthly. Print copies are available around town now!
By JAIME GATTON
The Mooresville Scoop
He’s a mutt. There’s nothing special about him.
But just hours before being scheduled for euthanasia because of sudden overcrowding at a South Carolina shelter, Khal lucked up and caught a freedom ride, finding his way that night into my home … and my heart.
The heart part came a little later …
Khal is only my third foster baby from Piedmont Animal Rescue (PAR), and my first two came as a pair when they were just 8 weeks old. It was surprisingly a smooth transition when I introduced the littles — part Chihuahua and part (we think) Jack Russell Terrier — to my two big ol’ Great Pyrenees brothers and their niece, a very spoiled Pyredoodle.
Then came Khal. I met PAR volunteers with him at around 10 p.m. He was one of five dogs scheduled for euthanasia earlier that afternoon. In a Hail Mary attempt to save them, the shelter called PAR and explained that more than 20 dogs had been surrendered to the shelter by their owners that day. This effectively pushed out five dogs that had been there longer and were never claimed or adopted. PAR saved all five that day by securing foster homes with volunteers.
That first night, before I had the opportunity to introduce him to my pack, my kids and I kept Khal crated, and he cried and screamed all. night. long.
With very little sleep, we shuffled out of our bedrooms the next morning, and my daughter — “the dog whisperer” — and I let the big dogs outside to play so we could let Khal out of his crate to stretch and start getting to know his temporary digs.
Y’all, the dog went absolutely wild. He tore through my house like a tornado through a trailer park, scaling furniture and side tables, knocking over drinks, zooming through rooms at lightning speed. And he. did. not. stop. In his crate, he’d scream. In the house, he ran.
I joked with my kids that we should call him “Psycho.” My kids smiled at me nervously. I knew in that moment that I had maybe bitten off more than I could chew, and my kids were thinking the same. This dog was crazy.
I took a deep breath, made myself a big salad for lunch, packed up my laptop and took Khal (aka Psycho) outside. I had a heart-to-heart talk with him and told him to go run anywhere he wanted in our fenced-in backyard to get his ya-yas out. Meanwhile, I’d be eating and working on my computer.
The dog ran in circles like he’d never felt free to run before, jumping over things, leaping through things, circling my legs, jumping on my lap then running off to do it all over again.
And finally, he approached me — exhausted, panting, smiling — and collapsed at my feet. Free. Happy.
And then it hit me: this dog had been in restricted space for God-knows-how-long. He ran like mad when we opened the crate because he had freedom to run: something we take for granted but he always craved — and should have had — but it didn’t seem his lot in life. Instead, he was born to die.
Once I realized that and watched him run recklessly and tirelessly through my yard before lying down at my feet and then jumping onto my lap (where he’s barely moved since), I have adored the dog with every beat of my heart.
If my house and wallet were as big as my heart, he’d stay here. At the time of this writing, he’s been with us a couple weeks, and he’s laying in my lap. (He’s identified me as his resting place at any time — and in any place — I’m sitting.) At this very moment, another family in a different state is deciding if they’ll choose him.
That’s the one-and-only thing that will inspire me to foster again … and probably again and again: Whoever ends up with this incredible companion with a heart the size of Texas will have *chosen* him.
Meanwhile, I will miss his energy — and the way he makes me laugh and love — enormously. His adoration and trust in me are breathtaking and unlike anything I’ve experienced so quickly from a dog before.
It turns out that every, single, little thing about him is so, so very special.
*Update: Khal — now named “Ollie” (interestingly, also my son’s name) — is now with his forever family: the same family that was contemplating choosing him when I was writing this article. Ollie’s a happy Massachusetts resident now, and his parents — not surprisingly — call him the perfect dog.
My kids and I, meanwhile, are now on our 7th foster; one, unfortunately, recently passed away due to a congenital issue. But happier news: it looks like we’re probably about to “foster-fail” with his brother, Wynn. I just can’t bear the thought of parting with him:
PAR depends on support and donations to rescue animals. It also needs people who will open their hearts and homes (temporarily or forever) to these animals who need — and reciprocate — love. Please consider helping. Visit PAR’s website for more information and ways to help.