My generous colleague, David Fuller, recently fostered a pair of six-week old shepherd crosses that found themselves holed up at the Winnipeg Humane Society.
The WHS foster program is for animals — moms and babies, orphaned kittens or puppies, cats and dogs with minor injuries, dogs that don’t “show” well in a shelter atmosphere and need to be adopted through fostering or cats and dogs that just need a break from the shelter — that are in need of a temporary home.
The shelter on Hurst Way provided David and his young family with the supplies they needed until the pooches are returned to the shelter for adoption.
That day, it turns out, is today. But before they go back, David wanted to share what it was like to have eight additional paws join the ranks of his already busy household. Here’s his account:
There are easier months in Winnipeg to foster puppies than deep-freeze January. But whenever you do it, the rewards and challenges are similar.
Our family first fostered for the Winnipeg Humane Society in summer 2020, when so many of our plans had been cancelled thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Plus, our daughters had been asking us for months.)
It was a lot of work, but the summer weather meant the two five-week-old puppies we were looking after could spend a lot of time outside. It was an exhausting two weeks, but we still miss those little rascals (who were quickly adopted by other families after we returned them to the WHS).
We considered doing it again. My older daughter Fiona set up a daily reminder on our phones that said, “Puppies.” As if we might forget!
But when Omicron hit, cancelling most of our Christmas plans and making for an extended period when we would be working and schooling from home, we decided to foster again. We picked up two six-week-old puppies from the WHS in early January.
Mindy (left) and Sylvie wrestle under the dining room table. (David Fuller / Supplied)
And then the temperatures plunged.
On the plus side, our little fosters, Mindy and Sylvie, were endowed with thick fur. Both are listed as “shepherd” by the WHS, but Mindy, with her round shape and short nose, looks more like a black bear cub.
Mindy explores some snow that may be too deep for her. (David Fuller / Supplied)
Puppies this young need to be taken outside every four hours at least. That means one late-night trip outside around midnight, which my wife Bronwen handles, and an early-morning excursion around 4:30, which I take care of.
In between we take them out as often as we can, to help avoid accidents inside. But with the mercury diving to -29 C, sometimes we were only outside for a minute or two.
Mindy (left) and Sylvie, two six-week-old puppies, explore outside. (David Fuller / Supplied)
Fortunately, our family dog, Dash, a six-year-old Lab cross, is good with small puppies. Sylvie and Mindy absolutely adore him — but they had to learn which boundaries they can cross (chasing him and climbing all over him) and which they can’t (nipping his face with their sharp puppy teeth). A brief, no-nonsense growl from Dash has been enough to set them straight.
Sylvie tries to get at Dash’s face while Mindy stays by his feet. (David Fuller / Supplied)
Our main job is to make sure the puppies are happy, healthy and socializing. Learning how big dogs play is an added bonus. If we can help them start house training and a few other routines, even better. Training them with treats to “come” and “sit” has been a hit.
To help alleviate itchiness, we gave them a bath, after consulting with the WHS foster department. (David Fuller / Supplied)
There are some things we wish they weren’t so clever at. Mindy manages to find whatever small space she can fit into, such as gaps between furniture or underneath the car. Sylvie likes to sneak behind our raised garden, or underneath our deck.
They also love tearing around the house, and it usually takes two of us to keep tabs on them. My younger daughter Nora calls them Thing One and Thing Two, after the Dr. Seuss characters, since they are always up to something.
Sylvie looks down from a snow hill in the yard. (David Fuller / Supplied)
That’s not to say we are always run off our feet. There are plenty of times when the puppies are asleep, sprawled over somebody’s lap or in their arms. Or when they decide to supervise us in the kitchen, and sit like little sphinxes to watch.
Mindy (left) and Sylvie nap on a dog bed. They sleep overnight in a kennel. (Fiona Fuller / Supplied)
Overall, it’s been a great experience — for us, and, we hope, for the puppies. But yes: more than a little exhausting. May we all sleep well at the end of the day.