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Foster-Dog-In-Hiding: A DINOS Adoption Story

I’ve spent the last few days reading your touching Valentine’s Day Essay Contest entries and I have to say – you guys have not let me down in the crying and laughing department. Your love letters to your dogs got me thinking about a past foster dog of mine, also a DINOS.  After a few years of being out of touch, I just reconnected with his mom and I thought I’d share his story.

This is Buddie. He was my foster dog. I called him The Skipper back then.


When I found him roaming around South Philly he had this collar on. It was zip tied closed and there was a piece of a heavy chain, broken, dangling from the ring. The Skipper had busted loose and into my life.

My landlord didn’t allow dogs, but the Philadelphia shelter system is a tough place for a dog to survive, especially back then, so I just picked him up and drove him home. I filed a “found” report, but with no family stepping forward to claim him, Skip became our foster-dog-in-hiding.

My husband Brian (then boyfriend) and our three cats were not impressed (but not surprised either) by Skip’s arrival. Being a dog walker in Philadelphia meant that I was constantly running into stray dogs and stumbling onto little feral cat colonies. I often brought dogs home for a few hours until I could reunite them with their owners.  And our basement had a secret back room that I used as the Feral Kitten Underground Railroad.

So no one (not even my cats – who started off in that basement room), was shocked that Skip moved in. But they were a little taken aback  when he pooped in our tub that first day, couldn’t be crated, and kept asking to taste the kitties.

My little family sucked it up, so the Skipper could be safe.  Cleaned up and neutered, Skip was pretty awesome and we hoped he’d get scooped up quickly.  But no one came. The ‘Adopt Me’ fliers I posted all over Queen Village showed off his magic ear, but still no callers. Skip remained our foster-dog-in-hiding.  I was terrified that my landlord would discover Skip before I could find him a safe home.

Not long into our time together, I was walking Skip and we bumped into a woman and her dog on the corner. She thought his ear was indeed magic and wanted to know more about him. As we stood talking, I realized that Skip was letting out a long, low growl. And then a bark and lunge at the other dog. It wasn’t over the top, but it was rude and a surprise, so off we went.

I hadn’t made up the name for it then, but my foster-dog-in-hiding was a DINOS.

In those days I walked a few reactive dogs, I read Patricia McConnell’s Feisty Fido a lot, and strictly obeyed leash laws, but I didn’t really get leash reactivity the way I do now. Back then, it was a real surprise that Skip wasn’t cool with other dogs being close by and I quickly realized that finding a family was going to be even tougher than I had imagined.

In a city as densely populated as Philly, with only a few dog parks available for off leash exercise, everyone walks their dogs in close quarters. Leash reactive DINOS are challenging for all of us, but for those that live in cities without backyards or lots of open spaces, they can be really tough. I worried: Who would want to adopt a DINOS in packed city?

Kerry. That’s who. One day Kerry heard about Skip and saw his magic ear and sly, bedroom eyes and emailed me.

If you’ve ever been a foster family, then you know what it feels like when you meet a potential adopter that you think might be a great match. You really hope they’ll like your foster dog and not get freaked out by his behavioral issues. You desperately want them to see all the good things that you see in your foster dog.

But, because you want the match to be the right one, you also want to lay out the more challenging bits, so they understand what they’re committing to take on if they adopt him.  You want them to see the whole picture and be as smitten with the good, the bad, and the bathtub poop as you are.

So, the potential adopter arrives and you’re totally excited and you want to rave and gush and lay out all the problems all at once. Basically, you want to vomit information at them, while gesturing wildly with a scary smile on your face.  That’s what you feel like on the inside, but on the outside you just. try. to. stay. cool.

Like it’s no big thang. Yo, lady, it’s nice if you like him, but no worries if you don’t. No pressure or used car salesman techniques from this foster broad. Love ’em or leave him. Who me, worried? Nah, I’m just chilling with my foster-dog-in-hiding, not worried at all that he might eat my cats or that I’m going to get evicted.

Oh, you like him? And you want to adopt him even though I’m just some weird gal that you’ve never met before and I scooped up this stray dog off Washington Ave? And you heard me when I said he’s not that into other dogs? And you’re really responsible and loving and actually filled out my home-made adoption application with thoughtful answers?

Yes, you can have him. Now excuse me while I burst into tears. Please help me from drowning in my own snot.

Meeting Kerry went something like that.

So Skip went to live with Kerry and became Buddie. And they went running through the city together and worked on his leash reactivity and even let me come visit them sometimes. Buddie made friends with Kerry’s mom’s dog and they sent me photos. It was a good adoption. I can’t tell you how lucky I was and am that this worked out for Skip/Bud.  In a city with that many dogs, happy endings are hard-won, especially for DINOS.

It’s been about six years since then. I moved to Maine and eventually lost touch with Kerry, but never forgot them.  And I often wondered, after hundreds of adoptions since that one (through my work in a shelter): Does Kerry still have him? What are the chances that this was a lifetime adoption? After you do enough of them, you learn that even the best adoptions don’t always stick  and dogs you never thought you’d see again, show up back at the shelter for another turn on the kennel floor. I hoped that Buddie was ok.

And then, out of the blue the other day, I got an email from Kerry.  And it turned out that all my fears, that this DINOS adoption wouldn’t last, were for nothing.  Here’s what she wrote:

“He is such a huge blessing, Jessica.  He is still a bit anxious when I leave and in the car, but much better than the beginning. He has gotten to the point where he can tolerate other dogs nearby…he still goes crazy over cats and squirrels, can leap over 6-foot fences and has that lovable one-ear trick! He’s the same dog you rescued – so loyal, playful, caring and sweet. I just adore him and can’t imagine my life without him. I really do think about you often and feel grateful for you and the fact you brought this extraordinary friend into my life. “

This is a foster mom’s dream for her foster-dog-in-hiding.

Thank you Kerry. Thank you for loving Buddie as much as I had dreamed someone might, if only we were lucky enough to find them. Thank you for helping Buddie to beat the odds and make it into a family that loves him for who he is. Thank you for rushing him to the ER to have life-saving surgery last year. Thank you for giving him the family he was hoping to find on that day he busted his chain and went in search of something better.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And for anyone out there that is fostering or caring for a DINOS in a shelter, I want you to know: There are good people out there that will love these dogs, despite their quirks. For all the sad stuff, the returns over tiny issues, the adoptions that don’t work out, there are dedicated, loving families that will do the work. There are DINOS-friendly families out there.  To everyone caring for a Foster-Adoptable-DINOS, keep your head up! There just might be a Kerry right around the corner.

I love you Buddie-out-in-the-open. 


  1. Awesome….you had me at “Please help me from drowning in my own snot.” I SO get it! I’ve had an epileptic foster so I know fully what it is to …”want to vomit information at them, while gesturing wildly with a scary smile on your face.”

    What a great story! I LOVE the ones with the happy endings:-)

    February 8, 2012
  2. Hope springs eternal that’s for sure.

    February 8, 2012
  3. Jessica, you are a brilliant writer – you capture the essence of it all so purr-fectly
    I had a similar experience with some juvenile kitten(s) I fostered. The S is in brackets for a reason – you see one day I noticed after returning home from visiting the neighbours, my two dogs showing extreme interest in a large bush/small tree at the end of our driveway. On investigation I noticed a Ginger Tabby cat sitting in the middle benignly looking down on my boys.
    I took the boys inside so the cat could come down and perhaps return to its home. After some time it still had not come down from its perch so I climbed up and helped it down. As I put it down, I discovered it was a he of about 3 months old. I tried to shoo him away but he happily, purr-ingly (dam it – not allowed to use that tactic!) followed up our driveway.
    I had to go out that evening so I placed him in our cat run (he was not impressed with that) – closing it off so my cat couldn’t reach him. On my return a comedy of errors followed, culminating in this kitty locking himself in my car with the keys in it. The Auto Rescue people thought that was a great joke!
    Anyway, Max, as we decided to call him, settled into our household, and our hearts, well. Four weeks latter, one evening I went outside, leaving Max inside, when to my utter confusion I spied a Ginger streak fly across the backyard. Turning around, I could see Max peering at me through the glass door. Looking further into the garden I found another ginger tabby kitty. Although the little thing was frightened I was able to capture the little soul easily with the promise of food – it was obvious to me this was Max’s sibling, emaciated, clearly these two kittens had been dumped outside our property four weeks earlier – I only hope it was just two!
    Mimi (this one was a girl) had a similar “purr-sonality” to Max, but she was nervous for obvious reasons. My cat labelled her a victim and would attack her – her brother Max would gallantly step in to protect her.
    Circumstances saw us with yet another cat – we had too many now. As a Veterinary Nurse, my clients will sometimes ask me to help find them a new pet after they loose a furry member of their family. One such client did so, I offered her Max, even though we really wanted to keep him, but we needed to get the numbers down, and he was the best prospect. When it came closer to the time for my client to pick up her new cat, I tentatively asked if she would mind taking his sister Mimi. I explained her life in my house was difficult because my cat was always picking on her and making her life miserable – I had to get her out of our house for her to have any chance, I could see her potential but my cat was stifling her, and the best place for her was with her brother.
    The client agreed, and was off to a bad start with Mimi, as she bit her new owner when being picked up, but she had just had desexing surgery, so was a bit sore.
    The new mummy took great delight in telling me how Max cared for his sister during the transition. Mimi would hide under the bed, so Max would take her food or toys. He was and is such a gorgeous cat and so has blossomed to her full potential as I knew she would.
    It is now several years since the adoption and the new mummy is so delighted with the antics of her two new charges, and an extra one that decided this was a good spot to hang up the boots to stay!
    I know it’s not about DINO’s but it was about a CINO’s! Mimi needed her space (away from my cat) to thrive.

    February 8, 2012
    • Thanks Gillian! Some of the kittens I fostered/adopted out were CINOS too, so I can relate! I’m glad Mimi and Max went home together – nice work!!

      February 9, 2012
  4. My current foster, diabetic and going blind, is a DINOS, as are my own two dogs. Every time I get a bit of interest in her I go through this mental torment over how much information to give. I know so many other people have lived with and understand the DINOS mindset, but there are so many others who hear “leash reactive” and run for the hills. So far no one has wanted to take on the challenge, but I know when I find her forever family they’ll understand and love her for who she is, space-needing and all.

    February 8, 2012
    • Thank you for giving your foster DINOS a safe place to land while you both wait for their family to arrive. And no matter what happens in the end, you’ve changed this foster dog’s life for the better. Big hugs to you both!

      February 9, 2012
  5. Dee #

    Definate tears, thanks so much for sharing this. I love it for so many reasons. Did I say thanks for sharing? I agree that this line got me too…you had me at “Please help me from drowning in my own snot.”

    February 8, 2012
  6. Have you considered entering your own contest? : )

    A woman a lot like you made our family possible. I just don’t know the right words to express the gratitude I feel to the people who see the potential in a scraggly, aggressive mutt and take the time to help us find each other. So I’ll just make do with this: You (and all Foster Families). Are. Awesome.

    February 8, 2012
  7. Fantastic story, I’m glad that you shared it!

    February 9, 2012
  8. OMG, I am in tears (almost). What a poignant story, especially since February is not only Valentine’s Day but also Responsible Dog Owner’s Month. Buddy/Kerry hit the jackpot with one another, all made possible by “DINO” like you. Hat’s off, and did I tell you (again) how much I love your blog? All the best, Sue Yellen

    February 13, 2012
  9. Love, love, love this and am feeling quite overjoyed that I found your blog! I spent a better part of last night explaining to my dog that he is a DINO and he(we) is not alone! Love!

    February 16, 2012
    • When I read your Valentine’s Day post, I was wondering if he was a DINOS! So glad you found the gang here – we’re on Facebook too : )

      February 16, 2012
  10. Thank you for this post! Our current foster, Cooper, is a DINOS. He’s been with us for six months with very little interest. Some days I feel like he’ll be with us forever. I cry sometimes thinking about it, believing that we’re failing him because the training to help him get over his issues isn’t going as well as we’d like it to be…because Cooper is AMAZING. He’s the most loving, loyal, happy dog and he deserves the whole world. You give me hope that his perfect furever family is still out there somewhere, searching for him.

    July 22, 2012
    • I think his family is out there. It just takes forever sometimes. How lucky of Cooper to have landed in your loving, responsible, dedicated family while he waits to be adopted. Sending you tons of love and some luck! – Jessica

      July 22, 2012

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