ARF: Foster Failure, A Couch for Cocoa

by Wendy Hunter
Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF shares with KRL their animal rescue adventures every month. You can learn more about them on their website.

Ambitious failure, magnificent failure, is a very good thing.
- Guy Kawasaki

It’s fair to say that most of us have failed miserably at something. For me, it was water-skiing. When I was a kid in the summer, my family would pile into our station wagon for the twelve hour drive to Redding to visit my cousins. Okay, it wasn’t THAT many hours, but it felt like it stuck in the back seat between my squabbling siblings. My aunt and uncle had a small boat that we’d pack up with snacks and sodas for a day trip to Whiskeytown.

Everyone enjoyed strapping on skis and being towed around the clear blue lake, their wild hair blowing around like a California tourism commercial. Except me. I never got it. I’d get frustrated and immediately give up after a few lackluster tries. There’s a classic Polaroid of me sitting on the sandy bank, chin in my hand, miserably scowling at the camera. In high school, my two best (male) friends talked me into giving it another go. I didn’t do much better. I got up a couple times, but eventually lost my footing and rolled around like a soggy tumbleweed, until I face-planted into the unforgiving water. The boys talked about this adventure for years, though not about my lack of grace under pressure. Instead, they regaled people about my formidable use of swear words, which poured freely from my mouth like a seasoned sailor. “Arrrghhh, take these **** skis and throw them overboard!”

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In the world of fostering dogs, failing is something that’s never frowned upon. It’s terrific when a dog becomes a foster failure, because it means he will be adopted by his foster family. Fostering serves many purposes, and gives dogs a fighting chance to grow into an adoptable pet. Fostering also frees up limited shelter space for other dogs in need. When dogs are not acclimating to a shelter environment, a foster family can be a great alternative. They get used to living in a household, engaging with family members, and overcoming any fears or trauma they may have endured. Some dogs may have spent their lives outdoors, and are unfamiliar with navigating a slippery hardwood floor, or the sounds of kitchen appliances and really scary vacuum cleaners. What IS that thing? And why is it eating my leftover kibble? After becoming comfortable in this new environment, a foster dog’s true personality begins to shine, and that shy white Poodle at the pound may transform into your favorite Frisbee friend. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to welcome a rescue dog into your home, then grab your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, sit back, and enjoy. I’m here to share some firsthand experience, hoping that you’ll think about doing some fostering of your own. Hmmm, you better make that a double-shot…

Wendy's parents with ARF foster dog Cocoa
You might recall that I live with my parents, and a couple of finches named Harry and Sally. A gift from my sister, she thought they’d be something for my mom to enjoy in lieu of a dog. They’re fun to watch, but it’s really tough finding tiny little leashes for them. My parents used to have the loveliest English bulldog, but that’s been years ago. So earlier this year, mom and I convince dad that fostering a dog would be a good idea. It all began when I brought home “Sophie,” a tiny Yorkshire terrier. She showered my mom with kisses and cuddles. Unfortunately, she rained on my dad’s parade every day. She loved napping on mom’s lap, but if dad reached over to pet her, she went for his fingers like a ravenous snapping turtle. Sophie grew increasingly protective anytime dad came around. She barked when he walked in the door. She barked if he talked to her. She barked if he burped, breathed, or blinked. Sophie had a good appetite, but a bad habit of begging at the table. Other than that, she was adorable. When mom took her out to the backyard, she watched Sophie like a hawk, but only because we HAVE an actual hawk that occasionally shows up. Mom was always terrified the giant raptor would swoop down and carry Sophie away for lunch. I sometimes wonder if dad was secretly rooting for that bird…

Eventually, the great Sophie experiment came to an end. She obviously didn’t like men, and perhaps she was mistreated by one in the past. My dad sure gave it the old college try, though, trying to make friends by giving her snacks and encouragement. But, it was not to be, and after some time and several weepy family discussions, I took Sophie back to ARF. She eventually hitched a ride to Oregon in the Heaven Can Wait van, where she was later adopted. I bet she’s curled up by a sliding glass door right now, tormenting the circling birds of prey.

That was back in February and the idea of getting another dog was put on the back burner. Until last weekend, when the seed of a plan began to blossom in my head. Along with the devious mind of my fellow volunteer, Mindi, we synchronized our watches for one secretive Mission Impossible. Knowing mom wanted another dog, Mindi offered a foolproof suggestion; how about Cocoa? She’s house and kennel trained, she’s quiet, she’s sweet, and she loves everyone. Huzzah! And so we put our evil plan into motion, determined not only to fail, but to foster fail. Now, if only we could get Tom Cruise on board…

Speaking of celebrities, let’s talk about Miss Cocoa, the star of our show. She might not be the first dog that catches your eye at ARF, but only because she looks so, well, unremarkable. And by that I mean she’s a medium brown dog. We have a whole bunch of medium brown dogs at ARF. With her long body and floppy ears, Cocoa just might be part Dachshund. Favorite hobby? Lap lounging. Case in point; when I brought her out to meet my parents, she strolled right over to my dad and jumped in his lap. Now I know what you’re thinking: how the heck did she coerce her dad into fostering again? To be honest, I just suggested it one night. Okay, there may have been a couple beers involved, but I’m not one to tell tales out of school. The first thing Cocoa did upon arriving at our house, was to promptly run head first into the screen door. Welcome to your new home! We spent the rest of that sunny afternoon watching our new visitor investigate the yard, sticking her nose into potted plants, and scouting the perimeter of the fence. It took her awhile to step foot onto the grass, but Cocoa eventually stuck in a brave toe, one at a time. That night, she ate some dinner, and calmly watched from the den when it was our turn. She still hasn’t entered the kitchen on her own, but everything’s still new. Maybe when she discovers all the crumbs underneath dad’s chair, she’ll change her mind…

It’s certainly been an interesting journey with Cocoa this past week, and I’ve learned a lot about her. It’s sort of like having a new roommate, and getting used to all their little quirks. For example, Cocoa has no interest in exploring the rest of the house; the den is her domain. She’s extremely attached to my dad, and will follow him from couch to couch, plopping herself on his lap. Although that first day, she fell asleep with my mom on the rocker; snoozing is a big thing for Cocoa. She enjoys Costco canned chicken, and gets all worked up when she smells it. She likes being held…a lot. And that whole non-barking thing? Uh, no…she has definitely found her voice. A couple nights ago, I allowed her to sleep in my bed, just for the heck of it. I got up about 1:30 a.m. to use the bathroom, when I suddenly heard some barking. I ran back to my room and apprehensively flipped on the light, only to find Cocoa barking at her own reflection in the mirrored doors of my closet. Heavy sigh. Whether or not this adventure turns into a foster fail has yet to be determined, it’s still early in the game. I’m hoping we fail. I’m hoping we fail big time. Because this failure is going to feel a whole lot better than that face-plant…

We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.
- Amos Bronson Alcott

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section on Kings River Life, and the Pets section here on KRL News & Reviews. Check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from ARF. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue. Learn more about ARF on their website.

Wendy Hunter has been volunteering with ARF for four years. She grew up in Fresno and recently became an Office Assistant with Fresno County. She has been writing all of her life, though never professionally, and currently writes personalized poetry for birthdays, weddings, pet remembrances, etc.