I began working with Big Paws of the Ozarks as a foster in 2019. At the time, my kiddos were 6 months old and 3 years old. My family thought I was nuts, but I had always wanted to open our home to dogs in need and asked myself the question that famously gets me into trouble.... "why not?" So we opened our home and the adventure began!
Fast forward to 2022 and my kiddos are in pre-k, one is heading to Kindergarten in the fall (insert sobbing face here), and my role at Big Paws looks quite a bit different. But one thing has remained the same: my family continues to foster.
To date, we've had over 40 dogs in our home (way more than that, but I don't count our occasional litter of puppies or overnight guests). We have had itty bitty, bottle fed puppies all the way up to 150 pound Great Danes. We have poured love, attention, loads of treats, and I've done my fair share of dog related laundry over the past 3 years. Lots of late nights, tears, and very happy goodbyes. I cherish all of the memories my family has created through fostering, but I think I equally cherish the lessons and values it has allowed us to instill along the way.
So here are my top 5 reasons why fostering with young kids is amazing and not insane.
It teaches empathy.
The amazing conversations we've been able to facilitate around why dogs are abandoned, abused, or neglected have been so important. My children have learned that every dog that comes through our door is a unique being with a unique set of needs. It has allowed us to talk about things not always being just fair, but also equitable. My kids have learned that just like people, we all carry our own stories with us and that THAT makes us unique.
We're more active
There's nothing like having a new dog in the house that brings about excitement to get outside. My kids are always looking forward to walking the dog, teaching leash manners, and getting outside for some fetch
My kids are dog savvy
Not to brag, but my kids are VERY good with dogs as a result of fostering. We have a set of rules when new dogs come into the house, and my kiddos have learned so much about reading dog body language and catering to each dog's temperament. My 5 year old loves telling each new adoptive family all about our foster dog: what they like, what they don't, their favorite toys, and where they like to sleep.
It teaches about community service
I think a sense of community and community engagement are so important to instill in young children. Our family talks a lot about how one of our acts of service to our community is fostering dogs. This opens up such rich conversation about all of the other amazing things people are doing to improve our community, and gives my kids a sense of accomplishment. I often hear them telling their friends that they are "dog rescuers" with very proud faces.
We love it
It goes without saying that as an Executive Director of a dog rescue, I LOVE dogs. But being able to share my love of dogs with my family brings me so much joy. Our friends and family are always excited to come over and spend time with our new foster dog, or litter of puppies. Serving voiceless animals gives you such a great sense of accomplishment, and with dogs you truly get to see the impact your family makes. They might come in skittish and leave snuggly. Come in hyper and out of control and leave with better boundaries. Come in chewing everything in sight and leave kennel trained. The list goes on and on.
At the end of the day, our family is able to look back and see the impact we have made in countless dogs' lives, and that right there makes it all worth it. If you've ever thought about fostering PLEASE reach out. I'm always happy to talk about the journey and help families get started with the process.
Written By: Kayla Mayes, Executive Director of Big Paws of the Ozarks