Leimkuhler: Foster failures become forever families

In August, after fostering three dogs in four months, our family decided to take a break until fall when we would revisit the idea of adopting.

But within days of declaring our fostering hiatus, we learned about a 3-year-old female dog named Belle who had the potential to be a good long-term fit for us. We made an appointment to meet Belle — and possibly adopt her — but the foster cancelled our meeting, claiming that Belle wasn’t ready yet.


Long story short: the foster, who was also on the board of the rescue, broke the rules and kept Belle for herself.

The incident caused a bit of a furor within the rescue organization and, after all we’d been through, the experience left us feeling frustrated and betrayed. We had all but decided to close the book on this fostering/adopting chapter of our lives.

And then Bodhi came along.

I’d seen 7-year-old Bodhi on the rescue’s Facebook Page the day he was liberated from a puppy mill where he’d spent his entire life confined to a kennel as a breeder dog. Apparently he was no longer wanted or needed, so the rescue swooped in to save him, as they so often do for a heartbreaking number of dogs.

I asked my adoption coordinator to keep an eye on this handsome, 95-pound boy for us, and things happened quickly after that.

By the end of the month we were on our way to Virginia to make this boy’s acquaintance. He was sweet and playful, like a big overgrown puppy, and our dog, Luna, seemed to like him too. We took Bodhi for a walk, talked it over as a family, and adopted him on the spot.

There were the usual transitional adjustments to overcome, but within a week Bodhi was fully house-trained and settling in nicely. He doesn’t counter surf, but he does like to chew sometimes, and is particularly fond of small plastic items, like TV remotes and the ends of shoelaces. Bodhi also had to adjust to the wood floors and was afraid of doorways and typical household noises, like the dishwasher or our glass top table being set for dinner.

And Luna, having grown weary of the previous foster dogs who’d bullied her and bossed her around, was a little snarky with him when we first brought him home.

But Bodhi never challenged her. On the contrary, he was very charming and deferential, despite his much larger size.

He is essentially a big, goofy teddy bear who has captured our hearts. He walks like a dream on the leash and is very intelligent and eager to please. Despite the old wives tale that old dogs can’t learn new tricks, Bodhi has already learned sit, down, no, outside, and wait, and is working on shake.

And though we all love him like he’s always been ours, the wounds inflicted by Rebel — the foster dog who attacked me — still run much longer and deeper than we realized.

After bearing witness to Rebel’s attack, one of my daughters began having nightmares. With Bodhi now a permanent member of the family, the memories and trauma she had worked to repress have come flooding back.

Every day we work together to practice replacing negative images with positive ones, and using rational, logical thought to overcome emotional reactions. My daughter journals about her feelings and strives to build trust with Bodhi — who wholeheartedly deserves it and has earned it — and to have positive experiences with him.

She is still wary, but things are slowly moving in the right direction.


The rescue organizations have a tongue-in-cheek expression for instances where a foster family falls for their foster dog and decides to adopt; it’s called a “foster fail.” With regard to Bodhi, I have never been so happy to call myself a failure.

Ultimately, I believe it will not only be our family that has rescued Bodhi, but Bodhi will have also rescued us.

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