On the Road with Foster Dogs
Christine Derr was raised in rural Wisconsin, a place where family dogs were relegated to living outside. Looking back on it, she says it seems harsh, but that’s just the way things were done in those days. As a teenager, she would sometimes sneak one of her favorite dogs into her room at night — a harbinger of how her future life would involve taking in dogs left homeless and caring for them until they found a new home – indoors, of course.
As an adult, after Christine settled in northern California, and when she thought she was ready for the responsibility of a dog, she got a Jack Russell Terrier puppy. She says, “I learned so much from Jackson, especially by taking obedience classes with him.” When Jackson was about five years old, she felt she was experienced enough to get a second dog — a one-year-old female Manchester Terrier mix named “Jordan” that she found at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter. A wonderful companion and adventure buddy, Jordan lived to 15 years old.
Over the years that Christine has had her own dogs, she has also developed a commitment to providing volunteer foster care for organizations that help homeless dogs find new homes. Since 2009, her commitment has been to Peace of Mind Dog Rescue (POMDR) in Pacific Grove, Calif. POMDR’s mission is dual: to assist senior people who are at some point unable to take care of their dogs either financially or practically, and to rescue senior dogs from shelters where it would be a drain on the shelters’ resources to prepare them for adoption.
Soon after POMDR was founded in 2009, Christine dug right into playing an instrumental role in POMDR’s mission by taking on the foster care of the very first two senior dogs that POMDR rescued from the local shelter – #1 “Sassy,” a 13-year-old Chihuahua mix, and #2 “Wyatt,” an 8-year-old Dachshund. She fostered the pair for about five months until they were adopted.
Christine says, “People have told me that they could never foster because they would get too attached and be unable to let the dog go.” But, in fact, Christine has had only one “foster failure” – a dog named “Sasha,” who had been turned into the Salinas, Calif., shelter at the age of 12. Sasha became so bonded to Christine that she was inconsolable if left with anyone else, giving Christine little choice but to adopt her. Sasha lived to the age of 20.
How has she managed to avoid adopting all the foster dogs who come her way? Christine says, “I get to see each foster dog find a home that is a perfect match, and at least as good as my home or better.” She adds, “And, honestly, not every foster dog is a good long-term fit in my home.” She’s lost count of the number of foster dogs she’s enabled to find a new home – probably close to a hundred at this point, she thinks. “To see a foster dog find a forever family brings me so much happiness and satisfaction,” she says.
The foster dogs arriving at Christine’s home sometimes have health issues that need attention. Her current foster dog, “Dafne,” a 7-year-old, 8-lb. female Chihuahua (and POMDR rescue #2,388!) has an unusual condition – exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI. The condition is not age-related. Christine says, “I’d never heard of it, but I went online and started doing the research to find out more about it.” She adds, “I always try to help figure out how to approach and resolve such issues.” POMDR is also always there with back-up. Christine says that they are immediately and totally responsive whenever she needs assistance.
Little Dafne is already responding to medication and diet, and has gained much-needed weight. She will require ongoing supplements to her food and regular vet care. Fortunately, dogs with EPI can live long and healthy lives. When Dafne has a prospective adopter, Christine will bring the adopter up to speed on the nature of Dafne’s condition and how to manage it. Both Christine and POMDR will continue to mentor the adopter and provide whatever support is needed. Dafne has a bright future ahead of her with this concerted effort to keep her healthy.
As much love and care as Christine is willing to provide for her foster dogs, she does have one requirement of them: they must be willing and able to go on the road regularly with her and her current resident dogs for hikes and fun-filled adventures. She says, “We camp, stay in pet-friendly hotels or Airbnbs; I rent an RV for longer trips.” Those who don’t hike get to go along in the pup sling. So far, all of her foster dogs have been happily meeting this requirement. (These trips have been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic but will begin again as soon as restrictions are relaxed.)
Christine Derr has a private practice as a licensed Marriage and Family therapist (MFT) and teaches health and wellness classes and yoga at California State University of Monterey Bay (CSUMB).