Dog Fostering v's Spoon Theory

Dog Fostering v's Spoon Theory

Hello everyone,

Once again I've left a big gap in time since my last blog. If I remember correctly I was full of anticipation about becoming a volunteer for a dog rescue charity that supports older dogs (usually those whose owners have died or gone into care). They are always on the lookout for people to foster these dogs until a permanent home can be found. The poor things just don’t cope in kennels.

Since then, I have been totally obsessed and preoccupied with my new role in life but know that a couple of you expressed an interest in wanting to know how I got on with fostering whilst experiencing such difficulty and pain with walking - I think many of you would also quite like to have a dog for company.

So, here is my experience so far:- I think the easiest way to explain the impact of having a foster dog in my life is to relate it to the “Spoon Theory”

There is no doubt that having Robbie in my life is using up a whole lot more spoons than I had anticipated. For a start, there is his emotional welfare to consider. Robbie had been left at home alone for 3 weeks with just someone popping in to feed him. He was smelly, confused, heartbroken and terribly lost so needed me to be around all the time. It’s surprising how much it takes out of you to be that reassuring person 24/7.

Then there are the usual physical demands. Luckily Robbie is clean but with a dog in the house and nobody else around to help, you are the one who has to get up and let it out early in the morning no matter how you feel on that day. I have often felt that I have used up a whole bunch of spoons just getting downstairs, letting him out, and organising feeding him and the cats without them killing each other.

A dog also brings more housework - muddy paws and dog hair can have a surprisingly rapid impact on the condition of the house. More spoons used up if you want to keep your home looking nice.

Exercise is an on-going problem. Initially a foster dog cannot be let off the lead until you are absolutely sure that it has good recall. In Robbie’s case I can let him off the lead sure in the knowledge that he won’t run away from me but less sure that he will come away from other dogs on command – not all of them are friendly. As I obviously can’t run after him I have to keep him on an extending lead when there are lots of dogs present. This, of course, means that I have to do the walking with him! Sadly he doesn't ever seem to have learned to retrieve a ball otherwise that would be the answer. I'm fortunate, however, in that there are areas nearby with benches every few yards so we bench-hop our way along but, believe me, it is hard, hard work.

This pretty much uses up a whole day’s supply of spoons. I’ve learned that what doesn’t get done before the dog walk certainly isn’t going to get done afterwards – or at least not until I’ve had a sleep or good rest. Obviously not all older dogs will need the same amount of exercise and some may be happy to just potter around the garden. Robbie is Labrador size and is particularly fit for his age (a mixed blessing).

Anyway, this all seems pretty negative in terms of energy use and this is where I feel the Spoon Theory falls down….The spoon theory was designed to demonstrate the limitations that lack of stamina/pain can place on everyday living and as such is a fantastic tool to help our non-RA friends understand the impact of the disease.

It works on the assumption that we have a finite number of spoons available to us each day. These cannot be increased because she “hadn’t figured out a way to get more”. In other words, we are always under the control of our chronic illness. I would argue against that point because I believe that it is possible for us to create an environment which increases the number of spoons available to us. I think that we are not only under the control of our disease but also under the control of our perception of the disease and this allows for flexibility in the number of spoons available to us.

Alannah has demonstrated this with a couple of her recent blogs regarding her swimming and her shoes. Sometimes it is possible to push the boundaries because the sheer joy of doing so can generate a sense of wellbeing that makes more spoons available to us within the constraints of our disease. We can’t measure the affects of our illness purely on limitations, because, by doing so we loose track of our potential. This is why our emotional health is so important to us reaching our potential and why I feel so strongly that there should be a more holistic approach to managing our condition.

I have talked about Robbie in terms of spoon cost but what I haven’t touched on is that he gives me purpose to get up in the morning. Seeing him respond to me and come out of his shell makes the time spent gives me a sense of worth and reward which balances the spoon consumption. Walking is hell and frankly left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t do it - but I AM doing it because I have the drive of another living creatures dependence on me and the cost of that is balanced by me slowly, slowly feeling a little less pain every time.

There are days when I would love to spend the morning in bed, or not go out in the rain and seriously question whether I have done the right thing or taken on too much. It is only temporary though. He will be up for re-homing soon enough.

Would I do it again? Hell yes!!! It gives me spoons.


21 Replies

  • That's a great philosophy and interpretation of the Spoon theory, Judy. Sure, I'd do it again too!


  • Oh how lovely of you to take this on!! It seems to be making quite some positives with you too. Well done you xx

  • Really enjoyed reading your great experience Judy and Clearly explained how it all works with the spoon theory :-)

  • I really enjoyed reading your post, well said & well done. Thank you x

  • What a great thing to do, and so pleased that Robbie has brought a few extra spoons with him. I really do agree about being able to get a few extra from happiness and enjoyment. It's such a strange balance that we have to find, on one hand doing enough to keep us mobile but then not doing too much that empties out not only the spoon drawer but also all the ones tucked away in the cupboard for future use. And really glad that you say that you feel a little less pain every time, so hope that continues and you and Robbie/next fosteree go from strength to strength. Having recently got a dog again after 15 years without one I'm really recognising how rewarding it all is, even when it is cold and wet that wag of a happy tail is so good. Polly

  • Judy what a beautifully expressed post. My two dogs are currently romping all over my bed and the youngster is chewing the older dog's ear playfully. I'm having to reign her in tonight as she gets a bit frisky sometimes and overheats with her long fur. Their walk today was shorter than yesterday's because of the cold wind and she has excessive amounts of energy. My husband and middle son are away just now with the car and I hadn't appreciated just how much I rely on both of them and our car to keep the dogs exercised - I drive to the beach or the coastal footpath and there they can run free off their leads mostly.

    I had to find some extra spoons myself tonight just to stay up long enough to let them out for last night business. It is worth it because, as you say the reward is some extra spoons from the pleasure and health benefits that having a dog brings with it. X

  • What a lovely post Judy. I am tempted but still wary that I can't walk very far yet. But he sounds lovely and certainly seems to be benefitting from your love.

    Gonna use some spoons tomorrow and try a swim. Had two days rest so should be ok! Feet ache from shoes but hey I felt so nice !! Xxxx

  • Judy what a lovely blog and some lovely replies as well. I think your marvelous doing what you do for rehoming aged dogs. I agree with all that you have said. I hear talk about spoons and to be honest i don't get it though i have had it explained to me,i still don't get it. When i am having a good day i do things, when i am not i have to rest end of. Lovely to hear your story Judy.xxxxx

  • Hi Judy what a lovely blog! so true what you get back is worth all the effort and pain, also we do need purpose. I hope you continue to get joy from your foster babies. x

  • I think you are wonderful and brave to do this , you always feel better if you are happy I reckon , brought a tear to my eye as he looks very like my lovely old dog , no longer with us , good for you x

  • Wonderful story Judy, I have 3 dogs,& as you say, if it was'nt for them would it be worth getting up in the mornings? I am very lucky that the RA is pretty much controlled,have the odd "flare",but apart from foot pain & dodgy fingers,I do manage a 30 min walk first thing, & about an hour in the afternoons,I'm pretty much shattered by the end of the a pm walk,but I have started to crochet again,find this is easier than knitting as only one needle, & no weight of the piece,would reccomend it for helping to keep fingers supple. Do hope you will continue to enjoy your doggie fostering,its such a worthwhile thing to do. Best wishes Gillian

  • well done you! i have a dog who gets walked daily and like you sometimes find it hard to get up and go with her but once the walks been done i do usually perk up if not to last for too long!i do struggle with it and am a bit slower these days frustrating a lot for someone whose always been a brisk walker but hey ho! we get a lot from dogs so they are worth the struggle.Take care xxx

  • Wonderful blog Judy! Must admit I did a double take when the photo first come up as Robbie looks very much like my own doggie, Purdey :-) I love her to bits and she is a constant source of joy and cuddles but I still can't manage to walk her yet sadly. She was a rescue dog and pulls very hard on the lead especially when she sees a cat or another dog and I just don't have the strength to hold her back. Thankfully my son, who still lives with me, takes her on her daily walks but I'd love to be able to take her myself again.

    So glad Robbie is proving therapeutic for you, as you are undoubtedly therapeutic for him bless him.

    Well done Judy! :-)

    JoJo xx

  • Have you tried a head halter? I walk a friend's Bernese mountain dog, who weights nearly nine stone and without one there's no way I can hold her if she decides to go anywhere. But with a head halter it's fine, and feels more like walking a chihuahua....

    Here's an example...takes a bit of time to work out how to use it, but really helps

  • Gosh, I was really moved by your blog! Like the others have said I think you are doing a wonderful thing, and if it is helping you walk more with the added benefit of extra puppy love then it can only be a win win project. Good luck, may the force be with you. Anne

  • I really enjoyed reading your post this morning , I then read the link you posted to understand the spoons theory , and then read your post again . What an amazing way of explaining the daily struggle we all face . I love my dog ( golden retriever ) but I'm finding that many spoons get used in just her needs let alone my own and the household chores . I guess I've used 9 spoons already and it's only lunch time . But without trying to care for my wonderful dog Belle , I would have no reason to get up and go for that walk would have no one to moan too she really listens and shows so much understanding . And the cuddles and the greetings she shows me are worth every spoon . I suppose we could look at spoons has having different values . Some spoons really won't be worth it some days . Today I let Belle off the lead and ended up with a golden dog that had turned brown after rolling round in the muddy saturated ground she may well of enjoyed herself wagging her tail with excitement . But all I was thinking was this is a nightmare now I'm going to have to get her in the shower . We'll she's to big to carry so after towelling off the mud that I could . Isaid BATH Belle and up the stairs she ran leaving muddy marks the entire length of the hallway and stairs , Oh thank goodness she enjoys bath time and jumps straight in by herself I'm now totally exhausted aching bending over getting her clean . 1 hr later my hubby wakes from his sleep after a 13 hr night shift . What's all this mud every where I hold my head in my hands and burst into tears I'm so sorry I said I just can't get down and clean it explaining the morning I've just had . I guess my spoons are running very low and I know I need some for later . Well hubby sets too cleaning the carpets whilst I sit with a coffee . . Well I think I've had a lesson in the spoons theory and what an interesting lesson it's been . Love Teresa and yes tomorrow I will do it all again xxx

  • This is a really great lesson. Thank you.

  • I have two dogs both Labradors one chocolate eleven yrs this April and a golden eight yrs come June. i walk them but not literally i use a scooter and put one on each arm rest and away we go, they walk or trot at the side of me. We are out for about ihr every morning. Then i do all the rest of my jobs, shopping cleaning and also going to see my father. I do what i can when i can , my garden is all slabbed and easy to clean after the dogs and i have a hose to wash down the slabs when needed . I would be lost without my dogs they are my new babies as my kids say my energy and strength goes on them, but i'm still there for them when needed. I t makes my day very full but i enjoy it i dont like being left out of anything.

    Sending hugs to all and best wishes hoping you are pain free or resting.


  • Great blog - we can push the boundaries if we want to badly enough or if we have to. I think that needs to be said more often. Mind you, I can imagine you might have a teeny-weeny celebration after a few tears when Robbie finds a good permanent home(?)

  • I have just read your spoon theory. I can so relate to what you say. Never heard of it before but makes for interesting reading. When I swim it feels so go. The effort to get myself there is immense. The positive effects gain me extra spoons even if only for that day.

    Living with the companionship of another humanbeing or animal, gives us purpose to our day. No matter how difficult or day, to be there for another strengthens our resolve. To get up, set those feet in motion.

    Well done to you and you new found mate Robbie.

    Beautiful writing, I admire your skills in the English language. Also fulfilling a beautiful gift of giving an old dog another chance.

    They say," you can't teach an old dog new tricks"

    You've proved that statement wrong.

    Kindest regards


  • Thank you all so much for your lovely responses.

    The support I receive here is always magnificent and I truly appreciate it.

    It's strange but I always feel a little guilty if I post something which implies that we can intervene and improve our condition.

    For a start, I think it vaguely suggests that we choose to be ill but, frankly, if anyone were to say that to me I'd feel extremely murderous towards them.

    On the other hand I have no doubt that, in my case, depression influences my perception of my disability and visa versa. I have learned (after 15 years) that If I can do something to divert my attention from the limitations this disease presents to me then it can help me move towards a more positive cycle of thoughts rather than negative downward spiral.

    That sounds terribly trite I know and I hope that no one here thinks that I'm implying that it is easy because it certainly isn't and the reason I'm writing this now is because I'm in a downward slump and attempting to remind myself to keep looking forward.

    Today, could so easily be a 'back to bed' day for me. I binged out on sugar foods yesterday and feel rotten and embarrassed at my inability to stick to the most simple contribution I can make towards easing the pressure on my joints. Having this disease alone can give us such a knock to our sense of self worth that it is not in the least bit helpful to add self blame to the mix as well.

    Luckily, I have you guys to write to and an old dog lying next to me to bring me out of myself. He gets such joy from his walks and that I want to find those extra bits of energy to take him out - even if I do nothing else today xxxx

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