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.