Foster carers diary: ‘It’s a dog’s life’ – what a difference that can make

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Foster carers diary: ‘It’s a dog’s life’ – what a difference that can make

Foster carers diary a pet dog story

Foster carers diary a pet story

We hope you will enjoy reading about Susie’s foster care experiences. If you have been giving thought to becoming a foster carer, you can see it offers a life of variety, yes, challenge and many memories. If you would like to share your family life with a vulnerable child, who has never known love, stability and a sense of security, you can call us now on 020 8427 3355. Or, alternatively, reach us on 0330 311 2845. Whatever your questions: how to foster a child, types of fostering, how long does it take to become a foster carer and foster carer requirements are just some of the many aspects of fostering and providing a loving, caring home.

Susie, a foster carer, writes…

Friends of mine ask what is the most difficult thing about being a foster carer? There are a whole variety of answers and, of course, they all hinge on each placement. No two children are alike – so the mantra goes…and it’s true. The thing I say is, that although this is true, there is one thing that you can always say stays the same. And that is each child – whatever their age – usually arrives at your home feeling awkward and ill at ease. Even the ones that are angry and resentful. You can’t blame them, of course. It’s tough on these foster kids being shunted around. How well, after all, would adults cope? That’s what I always say.

I have been fostering for nearly eight years now and would just like to pay tribute to the role ‘man’s best friend’ has played in our lives, and the lives of the children we have fostered. Who would have thought a dog could make such a difference…but if you think about it, we are always told that acceptance is one of the biggest issues in foster care: something to always be aware of. A foster child has often had to deal with not being accepted by their own family. And then they have to deal with all the worries of not being accepted by foster carers, who, after all, are always strangers to begin with. We all, whatever age we are, need to feel we are accepted. That’s what being human is all about. Give a home to a dog and you will get an object lesson – as well as an experience of what acceptance is all about. So I would like to share the story of a placement I had back in 2012, and the part played by Chloe our cocker spaniel.

I well remember the summer of that year, we had received an emergency placement late one evening. This time, a young boy of eleven arriving at our house in the small hours of the morning with only the clothes he stood up in. It was sad, we only had him a few days and then he was gone. Off to another foster carer who lived close to his school. My husband and I were becoming a little disillusioned as; back then, we had not been foster carers that long. We were struggling with trying to find ways of making the youngsters we had feel accepted. Just as we wanted to be accepted by them. Then we met Claire at a coffee morning organised for foster carers.

She was very experienced having been fostering for well over ten years. We talked over a coffee, sharing our experiences and the subject of the ‘A’ word came up: ‘Acceptance’. The great thing about meeting other foster carers is that you pretty soon discover that we all face pretty much the same problems. Claire certainly agreed with us that finding ways of making a child feel genuinely accepted were not easy. Yes, it usually came with time, but there was a period when you could see that all children find a struggle. That difficult blend, affecting everyone, of wanting to be accepted, but not trusting enough to accept others. Then she told us that she had had some very special help of the ‘four legged variety’ as a result of her taking in a dog from a refuge. All foster carers are compassionate – it goes with the territory, so we we weren’t surprised to learn Claire loved dogs as well as children.  She told us she had really missed having one about the place after losing her much loved old sheep dog, Bob, who she had owned before going into foster care. 

So at a time in her fostering ‘journey’, as they say, Claire had decided to take a break. For nearly nine months she had no placements. She lived alone: it was during this time she made the decision that it was time to get another dog. ‘Charlie’ a ‘Heinz 57’ variety black mongrel duly arrived after being found abandoned and mistreated. Claire resumed her fostering; but only after organising a vet’s report, which testified ‘Charlie’ had a good temperament and did not pose a risk to children. It was, as Claire said, pretty obvious that Charlie was an old softy always craving affection and wouldn’t – even if he could – have said ‘boo’ to a goose. Claire then told us that the very next placement she had went very differently right from the start compared to all the others…

Michael had arrived at her house one winter’s evening. The door bell rang and Charlie bounded from a chair he had been lying on in an upstairs room. He didn’t bark – the vet had said this may have had something to do with the way he had been mistreated – instead, he had the habit of wagging his tail in a most excitable way and running up and down the stairs repeatedly with his tongue hanging out. Charlie was a natural comic. Anyway, as Claire said, this kind of natural exuberance was probably best kept under wraps as she did not know very much about Michael – apart from the fact he had been moved because his current placement had broken down. So, in preparation, Charlie had been put upstairs and the door shut firmly – or so she thought.

The front door opened and there was a boy of thirteen looking nervous and lost. Claire, the social worker and Michael all trooped into the front room. As the conversation started with the social worker filling in some background details, Charlie could be heard jumping up and down from the chair in the bedroom – then running back and forth to the door. As he wasn’t barking, it wasn’t obvious what the cause of the commotion was, so Michael said “what’s that noise”…Claire  told us she remembered saying something like “that’s my new dog, Charlie, who came to stay with me after being left all alone in the world.” Just as she finished saying this, Charlie somehow managed to push open the door and bounded down the stairs running into the front room with what looked like a broad grin on his face. He was so pleased to be there that he ran around the room with his tail wagging so much that it knocked over a vase of flowers. Claire said she remembered Michael found this hugely entertaining and couldn’t help laughing out loud. Charlie then promptly rolled over onto his back, all four legs in the air, with his tail still wagging…Michael asked if he could give Charlie a pat, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Claire said what Michael told her later had stayed with her always. It was the first placement he had been to where there had been a pet of any sort. And he had the idea straight away that Charlie was welcoming him – and he had never felt welcome anywhere before.

That first evening, and continuing thereafter, Charlie made a great fuss of him – “Two kindred spirits” Claire thought. She said what was so good was that their conversation about Charlie, provided a way for Michael to get to know her and things about her life. And especially memorable for Michael was the ‘instant acceptance’ he got from Charlie. Since then Charlie, with his bouncy nature, had always proved invaluable: youngsters couldn’t help being captivated by him and his antics. A four legged ‘ice breaker’ if ever there was one.

After that coffee morning, Claire’s story made a big impression on my husband and me. So when we got back we more or less instantly resolved to get a dog. The only difference was that we thought it best to get a puppy. That way we would not have any concerns about a troubled past and unsuitable temperament. We thought that a dog could be an ‘instant friend’ where words did not get in the way in this first crucial hours and days of a placement. And now, six years on Chloe, our cocker spaniel, has welcomed a good few youngsters into our home – or as she probably thinks – her home.

So back to Christmas 2012: Chloe was no longer a puppy. She was house trained, a bundle of energy and we were expecting our next placement. We had high hopes and we were not disappointed: Jane arrived two weeks before Christmas  – when she walked through our front door, she was a sad looking eight year old with only a few possessions in a carrier bag. But we were prepared: we had bought Chloe her own dog bed which had her name on it. It was also home to a rubber bone and half chewed slipper. This bed had pride of place in our living room – right in front of the television set. We had noticed Chloe liked to look at the television – attracted by the movement on screen. This meant she liked to sit there watching – her eyes darting about. It always looked comical, and it certainly immediately struck Jane as being very funny.

When a child first arrives, it can feel awkward for everyone. Those first few minutes can feel like hours. But Chloe could always be relied upon to provide the very best in entertainment and distraction therapy. In her head, she was always the main event – always on the look out for the chance to be taken for a walk. Of course, as soon as Jane had been shown her room, it was time to choose a snack for Chloe. And no ordinary snack either. We had special flavoured chews that cleaned a dogs teeth as well as keeping their gums healthy. A nice ‘sideways lesson’ in the importance of children cleaning their teeth regularly.

Jane was a quiet little girl – with her own sad story – having been parted from her siblings. But that first evening, we could sense the ice melting because Chloe; apart from anyone else, had ‘decided’  that was how it was going to be. Jane is with us still. She and Chloe are inseparable friends. We have had other children come to stay over the years and nearly all have been captivated by Chloe. Jane is a long term placement with us and she has learnt valuable lessons in the importance of sharing – for after all Chloe belongs to us all. And, for a time at least, for all the children we share our home with.

Looking back, we have much to be grateful to Claire for. And of course to her dog Charlie and our own  very special Chloe. As do all the children we have fostered. Caring for a dog is itself a lesson in caring – and also one in responsibility. Dogs have to be walked and looked after properly. They are  a member of the family – and one that is uniquely non-judgmental and always pleased to see you. They provide a focus for conversation and a comfort when things are not going so well. And they very definitely have their own personalities. For a foster child they can provide companionship and; when cared for lovingly, provide an object lesson in what trust is all about.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

We hope you will enjoy reading about Susie’s experiences. If you have been giving thought to becoming a foster carer, you can see it offers a life of variety, yes, challenge and many memories. If you would like to share your family life with a vulnerable child, who has never known love, stability and a sense of security, you can call us now on 020 8427 3355. Or, alternatively, 0330 311 2845 is our National Line. You can also look us up on Facebook which gives another angle on what life is all about in our rich and varied Rainbow community:

We have a dedicated news page on our website where you can read about all the latest stories about foster care. Simply visit:

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