Leimkuhler: A frightening dog foster failure

Our experience with our first foster dog, Stevie, had been so rewarding — if at times challenging — that, within a month, we were ready to try fostering again.

We had our eye on two large males, both in the 100-pound range, at the vet kennel closest to our home, and we ended up choosing the dog who was younger and slightly smaller.


His name was Rebel. I tried to call the kennel in advance to get more information on him, but due to the agreement the kennel has with the rescue, they were not allowed to discuss any details. All information and communication had to go through a specific point person from the rescue.

When we met Rebel, he was wild and not particularly interested in us. He would not jump into the back of our car and he grumbled when the vet tech assisted him. He paced in the car and tried to jump over the back seats into the front. When we redirected him to the back, he eventually complied but expressed his displeasure.

This happened more than once and with increasing difficulty and agitation. In hindsight, these were red flags and, had we been more experienced fosters, we might have known that the right thing to do was to drive back to the kennel and return him. But we were naïve and assumed that Rebel’s behavior was simply normal transitional anxiety. This incorrect assumption would cost us.

It was an extremely hot day. We walked Rebel in the yard and introduced him to Luna, or nine-year-old female dog. They were not friends. Rebel quickly bullied Luna into submission, declaring his dominance by repeatedly towering over her with a menacing growl until she cowered beneath him.

In the house, Rebel panted and paced. He was uncomfortable on the wood floors, slipped on a few stairs, and seemed wary of the ceiling fans. Two of my girls were headed out that afternoon with their friends. The two friends stopped by and Rebel gave each a quick sniff and resumed his pacing. One of the girls was sitting on the armchair beneath the ceiling fan. Rebel approached and she lifted her hands to pet him.

He glanced up, perhaps catching a glimpse of the spinning ceiling fan above, and in an instant, I saw his ears drop and his lips curl, and then he lunged for the girl. I grabbed his collar and pulled him back, saying “No!”

And then he unleashed his fury on me.

It was a vicious and sustained attack. I ended up at urgent care with multiple deep puncture wounds to both forearms, and bites to my shoulder, chest and leg. At urgent care, the wounds were treated, covered in topical antibiotic ointment, and wrapped in bandages that needed to be redressed daily.

I had an x-ray to rule out broken bones, and nerve damage was suspected as I had lost mobility and sensation in my right hand. I received a tetanus shot, a prescription for oral antibiotics, and an orthopaedic referral. Rebel was seized by animal control, quarantined for 10 days, and eventually euthanized.

Despite what Rebel had done to me, I cried when I heard the news. I felt sad for Rebel and angry at the humans who had managed to neglect, abuse and damage a dog to this extent.

The physical wounds eventually healed. I have full mobility in my hand again, though the damage to my ulnar nerve has left me with a pinky finger that continues to tingle and sometimes burns. The emotional wounds have taken longer.

Later, as I flipped through Rebel’s vet file, I found at least two ominous notations: while at the kennel, he’d lunged at a vet tech, and someone had added a caution sticker recommending a muzzle. Clearly, this was a major oversight. An unfortunate communication gap. Rebel should never have been released from the kennel, and certainly not to a home with children. If the vet staff had been permitted to talk with me about the dog when I called, perhaps they would have opened his file and seen these red flags and warnings before we picked him up.

Too many dogs come and go for one point person to be able to stay on top of it. I shared my thoughts on this with the rescue in hopes that they would make some changes to their process and prevent this from happening to anyone else. Because the bottom line is this: I still believe in the rescue’s mission and purpose, and I believe dogs should be adopted from shelters, not purchased from breeders.

I still wanted to help dogs in need and I knew it would be important for my family’s healing that we have another positive fostering experience. But, next time, I wouldn’t be so naïve. I planned to thoroughly read through the dog’s file in advance, and I wanted to ease back in as a short term foster to a dog that had already been living in a home with a family, not one that was coming directly from the kennel.


Next time, things would be different.

Columnist’s Note: This column is the fifth in a multi-part ode to all the dogs I’ve loved.