What I've learned about fostering a dog.


“I mean, that’s like cruel. You’re not home for seven hours a day”

“You’ll get too attached and it will make you more sad than if you just never bothered.”

“I don’t know why you’d ever want to.”

“Dogs are dirty.”

These are all honest responses I’ve received through the years as I’ve rescued and adopted dogs. The biggest obstacle in others thinking seems to be the “why bother” and for someone who is not an animal person, I understand the concept. Then I think, well, why bother showering? Why bother going to work? Why bother anything at all? It’s because in some cases we have to, and in others we need to, and even more so, we want to. It’s what makes us different after all. I wanted to write about my experience fostering in Korea, it has had its ups and downs, of course, and I already feel my heart aching at the prospect of handing him over to someone new. However, the positive far outweighs the good. The joy I have in my heart for Hamlet is so intense, I can’t imagine my life without him. Sure, maybe things would have been “easier” but what about the nights I was alone and having a bad day, who was there to lick my tears and cuddle close to me? Hamlet. What about those lazy sundays when I’m watching TV, who was there to hang low with me? Hamlet. What about all the exercising I’ve been doing, and all the places I’ve seen, taking different routes to keep my life interesting. Would it have been possible? Not without Hamlet. What about the laughs I’ve had, the mini accomplishments that come with shelter dogs overcoming their fears, and all the photo montages and the cute sweaters I’ve been able to purchase. Gone. What would I have done with that time? Probably nothing amazing.

That is not to say, or to guilt anyone to go out there and foster. I will admit, it takes a special person to foster. You are taking battered goods. Something that had the ability to be great, but was thrown around and completely “ruined” from someone else’s misguided or unloving hand. It’s tough, and it has it’s downfalls, but its not impossible and the good far outweighs the bad. Watching a dog trust again, and love again – its the greatest gift.

1) First off, the biggest concern of so many seems to be. “What if I want to go places?”. In my experience, since Korea is such a small country, most weekends, groups of people make their way to different provinces to take in Korea’s culture. You can too. Yes, you can too. The idea that you can’t go anywhere, simply because you have a pet is not true, furthermore – it’s a bit silly. There are SO many alternatives for your pet if you desire to travel. There are great, loving people who can pet sit (yes, it’s for a price.) you can use a vet or a kennel to watch your dog, you could also have a friend or family member. In Korea, some of these are not possible – I understand that, however, if you take the time to think about your options prior to you leaving, it can and has been done. For instance, I have been to Jinju for a weekend and I also spend a weekend in Seoul. In both instances, I gave detailed instructions to foreign coworkers who live in my building. I showed the working of the harness, gave them treats in advance, paid them well, and always had an food on hand with a schedule of his feeding times. Sounds a bit over the top? Perhaps, but Hamlet IS like my baby, so he has a schedule, he has a certain amount of food he needs to eat as he continues his weight loss mission, and he has a certain walk time. I let my pet sitters know well in advance what my expectations are, I’m not afraid to voice it and they are completely understanding. Still seems not possible? I’m also going to Thailand for 10 days. I have someone lined up to watch Hamlet as well.

The difference is that no, you can’t just get off work and hop a bus to leave for the weekend. And if that is how you constantly live your life then you may not want to foster (there’s nothing wrong with that.) However, if you simply know your schedule even a day or two in advance, you can usually find someone you trust to take care of your furbaby.

2) It’s expensive

Sure, it can be. That’s the truth. Sometimes you’ll have a pet with heart defects, parasites, ear problems, genetic abnormalities. However, as a foster that is something you need to consider. However, if your budget does NOT allow you to spend this kind of money, you can always opt to foster a dog that is in a clear health standing. No one is saying you have to go for the worst off dog. The idea is that you find a dog that suits you the best. (That is also saying, not to go for a dog simply because its the cutest one.) I once adopted one of the ugliest dogs I had ever known, but his face made me laugh. I loved him from the age of 8 until I was 18. He was a fantastic pup.

There is always the option as well to look within your community and shelters to see what vets they work with, sometimes you can cut a deal. Aside from that, you can look for fundraisers Sure,it takes work, but it’s worth it.

It can be difficult and because you are a foster, you’re often the inbetweener. You need to pay the money to help a pup, spend the time training a pup and making him acceptable into a family, only to have him taken and enjoyed by another family. All of these things happen, but, without you, none of it would have been possible. Just because you’re not constantly being congratulated or slapped on the shoulder does not mean you’re not making a difference, you are – and it’s a big one. Especially for your pup.

3) Who has the time?

Who has the time? You do. You have the time. There is always time. People are so often saying they don’t have time to work out, they don’t have time to play with their children, or take care of pets. If your job is demanding, and in many cases it can be, it makes it tough – not impossible. If you’re working 14 hour days, then I would advise not to foster a dog. However, working at a hagwon, my hours are atrocious. However, I make myself get up extra early. I take Hamlet for a nice long walk (rain, wind, snow or hail.) After which I feed him, brush him and love him. I take him for an additional walk before I go to work. I leave him with adequate bones and things to chew on. I also have him in two rooms (my bedroom and my living room.) I leave the door to the kitchen off limits. Occasionally, if he is not feeling well, I will leave the door to the bathroom open. (Hamlet is trained, but in any case of unforeseen accidents, he is trained to go there.) I work about nine hours in a day. I live about a half hour away from my work, so I have to power walk home. I rarely go to any after work event, or dinner with the gang. I always tell them, “I need to let my dog out first, then I’ll walk back.” Sure,Hamlet is alone for that time (Aside from the Korean soaps playing) but I think that he is on a nice comfy bed, relaxing, in a warm apartment with lots of water. He has a bunch of space to walk on his own, he’s not in a cage or being walked over or peed on by other dogs. He is his own king of his castle. So when people say to me “I don’t have the time” or “it’s cruel that you leave him at home.” I just personally picture Hamlet and his difficulties at the shelter and the first day at my apartment compared to now, and I know I made the right decision and that he is truly happy. Giving up my time to do that, has been nothing compared to how great I feel at the adjustments he has made.

Hamlet has chewed my socks twice before while he was left alone. It just happened recently and I’m unsure why he did it, but sometimes it can happen. I’ve learned my lesson and never leave socks on my floor. He only chews his bones now. So yes, dogs can chew and they can urinate on your things. The key is to put the things you don’t want chewed or pee’d on, away. If that’s not possible then you need to think of a strategy to avoid another occurrence. (I added an additional 5 minutes to his walk, feeling maybe he had pent up energy and there has not been an incident since.) Aside from that, there is a plethora of items to prevent your dog from peeing on your household items, to puppy pads, to crates, to mini-fences. It’s endless. You’re not alone.

4) Dogs are dirty.

Yep! They can be. Their paws carry dirt, their fur carries dander. They occasionally contract fleas, mites and ticks. However, humans are dirty too. The bacteria that lives underneath fingernails and the amount of dead skin we flake off in the course of a day, it’s not much different.

The key is to keep your dog clean. I’ve bathed Hamlet once in about five months (since it’s Winter) but after we go outside, if its raining, he gets dried off immediately. He has his own little bed and towel, just for him. His feet get washed, his teeth and fur brushed on a regular basis, and my apartment is swept daily. However, I frequently have guests complaining of the hair on their socks (which they portray as dirty) when they come into the apartment. Or how they don’t want to sit on my floor. (no chairs, just mats.) I kind of just shrug my shoulders and tell them, “I sweep everyday, but I can’t get it all.” Usually Hamlet’s on my lap as I explain this. It is not their choice that I have a dog, however, if they’re your friend and understand your commitment, they’ll look past it. As all my friends have done. I even got a special chair and a rack for people to sit on and hang their clothes on. A compromise is always key.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that if I had never fostered Hamlet, my life would have been a void. I don’t know what I would have done without him. He has become my little side kick and he makes me ridiculously happy. His quirky grin, and little short legs have provided me endless entertainment. His wagging tail and trusting eyes have made my heart grow eight sizes too big. He is always excited to greet me, and to give me kisses and cuddles. My same friends who had been put off at first have accepted Hamlet as their own, some of them have walked him, and are always genuinely excited to see him. Half the time now, I see Hamlet laying on them, his hair just falling all over their black pants, and they have silly grins on their face while they’re looking at him. Because, he has that effect. His eyes just radiate love.

Without me, Hamlet would have never known how to conquer stairs. Without me, he wouldn’t have learned that every time he is pet, doesn’t mean he is going to get hit. Without me, he wouldn’t have been able to be approached by three men of which he didn’t know, and not growl. That is just me, without his rescuer, Deborah or Mrs. Jung, Hamlet would have been in a completely different place in his life.

We have all played a part in his journey, and there is a beauty in that.

Please consider the greatness of fostering before you submerge yourself in the what ifs. Anything is possible.

Tags: love, trust, commitment, fundraising, fostering


marlajoy's picture

Awesome, thanks. :)

deborah's picture

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing and for all you're doing for Hamlet! Remember that night when we were trying to get him into the carrier to go home with you? What a long way he has come!

Sofia's picture

And Thank You to Park Hyun Joo who have done a lot for Halmet as well.

annemariew's picture

Beautiful article. Since I love Hamlet and know some of what he's been thru, even sweeter. Thanks for being an amazing foster.

sylvia's picture

What a great article!! Thank you for writing and sharing it with us. Most of all, thank you for being such a thoughful foster mom for Hamlet =)