There is Always Hope in a Dog’s Eyes – Learning from Foster Dogs

Rescue is not easy. We have had our ups and downs around here. Crazy ups and downs. Some days are fluffy puppies and some days are everything but. If you love dogs like I do, you will understand the stress in pulling apart a fight between two that you love, dogs that are family.

Hope, (our long term foster dog, above right) and Pen (our 3 year old Lab, above left) lived together peacefully for 7 months, and suddenly they couldn’t be near one another. Two visits to the vet with lacerations, Hope had to be sedated and have a few stitches. It was awful.

What happened?? We had 5 fights. First over a toy, then over a piece of hotdog (with Hope’s meds stuffed inside), then over nothing at all, just aggression. I felt desperate, desperate to keep everyone safe. I was reaching out, as others have reached out to me, begging for help. I had to separate these dogs, before someone got hurt again. You feel very alone. You try to be the person that helps whenever you can, but other people have their own issues. They can’t help. You want to scream. You just need a safe place for one dog that has done nothing wrong and loves everyone, but no one steps forward. Then you get a call from a woman in Canada, 2,300 miles away, who wants to help and you cry with relief, but its soooo far away! (Thank you Pamela!) And then suddenly we had a happy ending, a very happy ending. A local foster volunteered to take Hope. They fell in love with her. Our longest resident foster was adopted and everything is calm and happy again. We are so grateful that Hope has found her forever home very close by and we will be able to visit with her.

As with all of the others, this foster dog has taught me so much. Here is Hope’s story and what I’ve learned from her. 

In December 2017, I saw a Facebook post about a dog that needed a home, born partially blind and deaf, living in an outdoor pen. It was cold, very cold, it snowed in New Orleans cold. So, with Take Paws Rescue,  we rescued our beautiful Hope.

Hope has a milky, glass eye. She can see some movement and although she has some hearing loss, she will come when called.  As a puppy, she was being attacked by other dogs. You can clearly see the scars from those attacks. It was not a good life for her.

Hope arrived with a big hug for our family members, grateful, but also terrified.  She had untreated heartworms and had to have several fractured teeth extracted. We got her physically healthy, but Hope was still not emotionally healthy. She was afraid to come in the house. She didn’t know how to climb the steps. She was afraid to be bathed. She would not let us cut her nails or brush her. It was scary. It took time, waiting, coaxing, touching her even when she snapped at you in fear. You could see that just being inside of the house felt strange to her. We let her hang out outside and would carry her in over and over again until she became gradually more comfortable indoors.

What I learned: Patience. Love can fix a lot of things. Trust takes time. 

Over weeks and then months, Hope learned to be an inside dog, learned to climb the stairs, to run to her crate for a treat, to snuggle up on a soft chair and nap. She learned to love being inside, on a soft spot, safe and dry with heat and air conditioning. She loved curling up on a soft chair and napping the day away. Hope would approach us for affection, and then we could carefully touch her, otherwise we kept our hands to ourselves. We learned to always say her name when approaching her, because she was easily startled. More and more, she wanted attention, and touch. Hope had always been nervous about being touched on her head and collar because she couldn’t see well. I made a point of touching her head and face more and more each day. I gave her massages. I could feel her starting to trust me more and more. Hope learned how to be a pet, not an animal in an outdoor cage,  a part of our family. Over time she would really only go outside for short periods, because being an indoor dog is awesome compared to living in an outdoor cage in rain and snow and the intense Louisiana summer heat.

Most of our foster dogs are with us for a few weeks and then they are adopted. Hope is different. She is special. For her we learned to slow down, to be patient. She needed time. Hope was with us through the arrival and departure of 25 other foster guests. She waited patiently as they were each adopted and she wasn’t. She greeted each adoptive family with affection. She was patient too.

A lot of time that Hope was with us, she kept to herself. The other dogs played and she stood aside. We didn’t push her. She watched from a distance, she joined when she wanted to. Every dog is different, and finds their own place within the group.

We have a lot of dog beds in the house. We bought a big round red dog bed with a pocket on top that our dog Ollie (above center) likes to snuggle inside. We call it the dog taco. Every morning, Ollie will tuck himself completely into the taco and at some point Hope would walk over and nose in to find him. They would play a sort of hide and seek. It became their morning routine. We loved to watch Hope finally play! 

Over time, Hope came out of her shell and became more active and outgoing. For the last months that she was with us, Hope would come to me each morning while I was working at my desk and put her paws on my chair. She demanded a short work stoppage. She wanted to be loved on.

It was all going so well – what caused the fights? Usually we see aggression quickly after a new dog arrives here. They are shelter stressed, and or sick, and they don’t know where they fit into our pack.  *I’ve written about dog aggression and how to deal with it in a previous post: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Pen, my writing partner/Labrador Retriever, has been a foster mom/sister figure to 64 different dogs now. She has been amazing. We can see though, that she gets stressed when the foster dogs come and go. It is a lot of change. She is our first dog, and she is very protective of me, of my two children, of my husband, and of the other dogs here. She is the dominant dog.

Pen and Hope got along just fine for a very long time, but the dynamic was changing. Hope was coming out of her shell more and more. She was coming to me for attention more than ever. I think that Pen was a little jealous.

When our neighbors were setting off loud fireworks on 4th of July, Hope was scared. She was in my lap.

In the following days there were more sporadic fireworks, and Hope stayed close to me at all times. She was usually napping in her favorite chair during the day, not following me around for attention. So the routine changed a bit, and I was giving Hope lots of love and attention.

And then there were the toys…Hope had never had toys before. We discovered that she really likes rope toys, and they all ended up in her crate. No matter how many we had, she basically hoarded them all. It didn’t seem to be a problem, because during the day, Hope would nap in her chair and all of the other dogs would play with the toys, nap in her crate, drag the ropes all over the house. Then Hope would wake up, collect them all back to her cage and be happy with them.

The first fight happened over a rope toy.

We saw Pen at one end and Hope at the other, each tugging. We see this behavior all of the time around here. The thing is, Pen is the one that always walks away with the toy. They defer to her. This time, Hope didn’t defer. She wouldn’t give up the toy and they fought. My solution was to take up all of the rope toys. I thought that would solve that problem. Well, it’s not that easy. In the following days, my husband walked into a room where he thought Hope was alone and he gave her her medicine tucked into a little piece of hotdog. Pen was behind him. She was really jealous about the hotdog, and she attacked again. Two large dogs fighting is bad enough, add 4 smaller dogs and its a lot to separate and keep safe. At this point, I knew that we had a big problem.  At first we were keeping Pen and Hope apart generally, but not crated. Hope growled at Pen a few times a day and I distracted and diverted. It sounds easy, just keep them separate, but neither of them wanted to be crated all day, who would? And they were used to doing everything together. When you have multiple dogs, they all go outside together, come in together, nap together, play together, eat at the same time. My house has an open floor plan. It was not easy to keep them apart. 

The third fight happened for no reason at all that we could see, and that is when we completely physically separated them.

What I learned: a pack of dogs has a hierarchy, and the dogs, not the owner, choose who fits where. 

Some dogs are more dominant and others are more submissive. You can observe it in their behavior and in their body language. (Its not an A or B situation. Most dogs fall somewhere in the middle.)

A more dominant dog takes charge. They will take the high ground or just try to look as big as possible. Their body is stiff, ears are up and forward, tail held high and may be curved over the back or wagging in a stiff arc, like a flag.

A more submissive dog is saying, I am not a threat. They want to appear small, and will lower themselves to the ground, ears back, eyes averted, tail tucked. You will often see a submissive dog lie on their back, exposing their belly. A dominant dog will stand over them. 

Socialization is important for dogs, they teach and learn through play, using dominant or submissive body language and trading  off roles. We supervise play fighting all of the time. Shows of dominance include play mounting other dogs, stealing toys, and staring contests. In the photo above, Pen and Hope are playing, Pen is dominant and Hope is submissive. 

If a dominant dog like Pen begins to feel insecure in her position, she may exaggerate her dominance, which can lead to aggression. 

You can clearly let your dogs know that you are in charge, and you can train them, but you can’t change a dog’s position in the pack other than by adding or removing more or less dominant or submissive dogs. Each dog is different, each situation is different. Since we foster so many dogs, the pack dynamic is ever shifting around here, but Pen has seniority. We want harmony and safety, so we have decided to only foster dogs that are smaller than Pen. Does size matter? Sort of. When we get a new foster dog, we never know what we are going to get, but A) smaller dogs tend to defer to larger ones and B) they are easier to pick up and remove from a tense situation or a fight. I know that a Chihuahua or a Dachshund can be just as aggressive as a German Shepherd, but I can’t just grab a big Shepherd and walk away from a problem. I can see that Pen gets insecure around larger dogs, so I won’t try to make her share her home with them. We have had some great fosters who were big dogs, but I don’t want to take unnecessary risks.

What I learned: There is a reason for aggression. Figure out the cause. Ask for help.

If you have problems with aggression with your dogs, I highly suggest two things. First, see your vet. A dog in pain may become aggressive. (One of my former fosters was being attached by another dog in the adoptive home and we found out that the aggressive dog had severe back pain that needed to be treated.) Spaying and neutering also helps everyone to chill out. Those hormones really affect dog behavior. Second, consult a reputable animal behavioralist. Ask for help. An occasional fight is a nuisance, but frequent fights that end in blood make life miserable for everyone involved. Life is too short to be miserable, and dog’s lives are even shorter than ours. We want to provide a calm, happy, safe home. 

It was killing us to have to keep Hope in a crate, or alone in a small room, knowing that if someone opened the door she could be attacked. Every doggie bathroom break was stressful. Hope didn’t understand why everything had changed. At first, I didn’t understand why everything had changed. Hope was scared. I was scared. I reached out to two different trainers, both very busy, too busy to provide real immediate help. I believe that with time we could have worked with a trainer to resolve the issue, but unable to get immediate training help, I begged for rescue help.

Here is the really sad thing about animal rescue. We are drowning. There are so many animals in need that we are drowning. Although we are a team, there for each other when help is needed, everyone is drowning. Some people go above and beyond, trying to help others. Most people don’t. It is really hard to deal with somedays. Think how many more we could save if we had each other’s back? If we knew there was someone there to help if we needed it. 

I was pulling my hair out. We love Hope and we wanted her to have a safe, loving, forever home. We had to get her moved. 

What I learned: You have to differentiate each dog, to tell their story, because people do want to help, but there are just so many in need. 

People do care. But when you are in the middle of a crisis, help can’t come fast enough. 

Put in a larger context, every single day animals are abandoned and dropped off at shelters, and often its because the situation for one person or family was overwhelming, and help didn’t come fast enough. A new baby is born into the family, dogs are fighting each other, a job is lost— whatever the reason, the owners need help. Ultimately, we are responsible for these animals, and we can’t give up on them when it gets hard, but we have to protect our children, we have to live somewhere that allows our animals, we have to pay our bills.  We have to ask for help. 

Now here I was, begging for help. 

I told Hope’s story on social media. I knew that someone would respond, and we were able to find her both an interested adopter (although in Canada) and a local foster (who became her adopter.)

Resources for help:

There are a number of resources for help, you just have to look for them and reach out. Some people may not feel equipped to take on a special needs dog, but there are others out there who have been through exactly the same situation and they are happy to help. Here are the groups that I have reached out to for help:

Deaf Dogs Rock This is an organization created to connect deaf dog owners and people who are thinking about adopting a deaf dog with resources and information. features deaf dogs who are in need forever homes. The Deaf Dogs Rock Blog offers Deaf Dog Training Tips and ASL sign video to help people communicate with their deaf dogs.

Blind and Deaf Dog Owners This is a Facebook group is for owners, fosterers and supporters of dogs that are blind and deaf. The aim is to provide support and a place to talk about your dogs and any issues you may face.

Blind/Deaf Shelter Dogs/Kita Angel Network This Facebook group is for any special needs dogs in shelters throughout the US, including but not limited to those with vision and/or hearing issues. Most are in desperate need of quickly finding a forever home or rescue.

Special Needs – Blind,Deaf,Disabled – Rescue Network for Precious Lives This is a Facebook Rescue Network for all special needs animals needing help – Blind, Deaf, Disabled, Injured.

I was determined that Hope would get her happy ending. I am determined that each of my fosters get to happily ever after. 

In the meantime, there is a dog named Bandit whose family moved away in the middle of the night and abandoned him. His kind neighbor took him in, but her landlord wants him gone. The new homeowners don’t want him coming back into what was his yard, so they have put down poison, which is illegal. Bandit was supposed to come here, to be safe, but now I couldn’t take him, because I had my hands so full trying to help Hope, because I’m afraid of not being able to keep everyone safe. **


Multiply Bandit times a thousand. You can’t save them all, you know that, and it’s horrifying. Once you know that people abandon dogs, dump them, and they end up being put to sleep in shelters just because there is no space—it’s horrifying. Thousands and thousands of pets, put to sleep. You know that you can only save one a time and that has to be good enough. Weeks like this, you wonder if you can even save one at a time. 

Weeks like this you feel very alone. You are not alone. Ask for help. 


What I learned: There are bad days. It gets better.

Hope got her happily ever after. A local foster home welcomed her, fell in love with her, and adopted her. I am so incredibly grateful for them! Hope is happy. She is home. Everything worked out and now Hope’s crate at The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs is open so that we can rescue another dog. Pen is happily helping me with our latest foster guests.

What I learned: Be grateful, everyday.

I am grateful fo the rescuers, who do their best against impossible odds.

I am grateful to the adopters, who give my fosters their happily ever after.

I am grateful for my family who have put up with the early mornings, the barking, the chewed up shoes and furniture, the accidents on the floor, the dogs that won’t let you play soccer or basketball outside without trying to eat the ball, the vacations that haven’t happened, the dogs that need constant petting and reassurance. I could not do this without their support.

I am grateful for the dogs who have taught me patience, compassion, and unconditional love so deep that it is profoundly healing. There is no feeling in the world like restoring these lost, abandoned, sick, abused, terrified animals to the status of beloved family pet. They deserve that. They give so much love in return.

So, there are bad days along the way. I hope there aren’t too many. There are so many smiles in between. Save one a ta time. Be grateful.

**We will be welcoming Bandit to The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs this weekend. I can’t wait to learn from him.