Last week, I fostered a shelter dog. While spending half a day at the animal shelter looking at bewildered brindle pit bulls, brown chihuahuas with expressive eyes, and shy boxers, I was reminded of my old life working with foster kids. For nearly two years, I was an Outpatient Therapist working at a mental health agency with kids aged 3-18 who were in “the system.”
“The system” refers to DCFS, or the Department of Children and Family Services, a statewide agency devoted to keeping minors safe. They get a bad rap across the board for taking kids away from their parents or investigating worrisome crimes against children. Nobody wants to be part of the system. Kids feel singled out from their peers and parents feel chastised for allowing or committing atrocities against their children. When children are in foster care, they live with foster parents who often get financial assistance from the state.
I used to go to foster homes and do talk therapy with kids and families. It was challenging work; I had long hours and talked about very difficult subjects all day with confused, angry, and sad kids who often wished they could be reunited with their biological families. Most of my clients would not be returned home for two years at least, and some never. This sad truth was processed with the children through play or art therapy in order to make meaning out of the abuse or neglect they incurred. So many of my clients had been victims of sexual and physical abuse. They lived with the dilemma of fear and anger directed at their parents AND deep sadness for how this had happened. Even writing this now makes me nauseous for the inner conflicts these innocent children faced.
Seeing all the sad or mangy doggies and kitties at the shelter reminded me of my previous life. Though the kids didn’t live in an orphanage like Annie, there was an air of wanting to be accepted when talking to them. In other words, the children wanted to find a forever home, a family who would love them as they were. As I walked by sixty or seventy dogs, some bounced and jumped in their small kennels while others howled when people passed by looking for their new pets. It was heartbreaking.
Taking home a subdued, shy boxer who had been let go by his owners, I saw how much love this dog could give. He wanted to please and play, but could not fully express himself in a kennel. Taking him to the park and home to the yard, this pup showed that he was a great listener and needed some TLC. I was falling for him! We got a call only four hours after fostering him. He was up for adoption by a lovely family with two daughters aged 13 and 9. Facilitating the adoption was a great experience. Truly, the family was delighted and the pup looked relieved and comfortable with his new family. It seemed like they were all meant for each other. This was an outcome I hoped for, but rarely encountered, at the agency. It felt rewarding to experience satisfaction and completion of the process with the dog.
I’ll definitely be fostering again, and I encourage you to do the same. Your local animal shelter needs you!
I’m a life coach! Please inquire on the my website: www.CoachingByNinaRubin.com!
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