Considering fostering a basset hound?
Over the past six years we have fostered five basset hounds - Sonny, Rufus, Jessie and a pair from South Africa, Pluto and Rascal. Each hound comes with its own history, some of which you may find out about, some which you will not. It can be very rewarding helping these hounds, but can also be a trying situation for everyone involved - including family and friends.
What is fostering?
Fostering is providing short term care for a hound (or for multiple hounds). Typically this will be for a few weeks, but can go on for a few months if it takes longer to find a long term ('forever home') placement with a new family. It usually includes carrying all the related costs - food, medicine and your time and care.
With any animal that was pre-homed, there is a history that they bring with them. Hopefully most have come from loving families where a change in their situation has led to their situation. However, some will come from home that was not ideal, where they may have been mistreated. It is important to get as much background information as you can before taking on the responsibility as a foster parent. That said, the experience can be hugely rewarding - often for hounds that have come from difficult situations.
Bassets can have a number of health concerns, regardless of their previous homing background. Try to get their medical history if it is available. Either way, ensure that you get the basset checked out by your local vet within the first couple of weeks. PetMD.com says of their health:
[Bassets are] prone to major health conditions such as Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD), gastric torsion, elbow dysplasia, thrombopathy, entropion, otitis externa, ectropion, glaucoma, von Willebrand's Disease (vWD), and canine hip dysplasia (CHD). Obesity is a common problem in the breed, which can lead to back problems. It may also suffer from patellar luxation. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may recommend eye and hip exams on this breed of dog; platelet tests may help confirm vWD.
Knowing as much as you can early on will help set your expectation in terms of the care (and costs) that might be involved in taking on a re-homed basset.
It is also important to get insurance as soon as possible (this usually costs between £15 and £25 per month, depending on health and age).
Understanding the health of your hound is important as it may be an underlying reason why they are being fostered. Are they in pain, which caused bad or dangerous behaviour? Do they suffer from sort of dementia, which may lead to them having moment of confusion. Are they overweight and, if so, is this a cause or result of an underlying condition? Do they have any allergies?
Unfortunately too many fostering cases are a result of bassets not fitting in with their previous families or their lifestyle.
There are two key sets of social skills that you should try find out about - their history with their human family and how they interact with other dogs. Most hounds have big personalities, enjoying cuddles and generally living up to their reputation as great family dogs. However, there are all kinds of hounds - those with higher energy that bound around playfully through to those that are more reserved and discerning of who they give their attentions.
A key event close to all hounds is feeding time. Observing them early into your relationship with them can be telling. Are the anxious around food? Do they sit outside the kitchen for long periods outside of their usual eating schedule? Are the aggressive with other dogs in the family? These can all be signs of a dog that did not have a predictable feeding schedule or, worse, was not fed regularly. We'll share some suggestions on how to improve this situation in a later post - for now, just note their behaviour around feeding time.
Next, look at how they behave when you take them out for their walk. Do they strain at their leash in an aggressive way when people and/ or other dogs approach? Do they act differently with men, women or kids when out? If you have other hounds, do they 'pack' together and play with them, or do they remain remote? These behaviours can change over time, but paying careful attention early on will alert you to areas to work on.
Lastly, what can you learn about their behaviour from their previous owners - or by observation? Do they like to have their own space, looking for quite away from the family or do they insist on being your shadow, following wherever you go? Do they know how to play appropriately with you and any other dogs? If they have a toy, or area that they like sitting in, do they guard it aggressively from others (hounds or human)? Are their trigger events that distress them - such as door bells or people entering/ leaving the room?
Again, we'll try to provide some suggestions on how to deal with these kinds of issues in future posts. For now, just take note of them and where possible work to reduce any negative impact they may have on your home.
Sonny is the hound we fostered. Although he was rehomed with another hound family, it didn't work out and he came back to us. The reason it didn't work out was because his new family were afraid of him after he had started biting them - including putting one of them in hospital. It was therefore with some trepidation that we agreed to take him back. For Sonny, it's either a case of us or 'the green mile'.
We don't know everything about his history, but he came to us initially very nervous, significantly underweight and hunched over. A previous household had kept him outdoor most of his early life (not something we think is right for British bassets) and there was also an account of a small child riding on his back (very bad, given their long spines).
He was a sweet boy, and it seemed like his new home (with three other hounds) would work out well. Alas, it didn't work out as the couple he went to live with were away from the house for most of the working day, leaving Sonny anxious.
Luckily Laura's business, looking after hounds in our house, means she is home most of the time. This extended time with Sonny has really helped him to relax and become confident of structure and a predictable pattern. We also noticed he had a few episodes of shaking and slobbering, which were diagnosed as minor fits. At the same time, it was suggested he could be suffering from some degree of dementia. Although he is now on daily medication, Laura and I have both been bitten by him.
With hindsight we can usually see what caused him to bite - moving a little quickly around him, touching him when he wasn't expecting it or playing a game with any sort of possession (e.g. tug of war).
He continues to be hard work, but the result is a very rewarding happy hound who is great 90% of the time.
Time to let them go
In closing, we fully endorse the sentiment behind people fostering hounds. We do, however, suggest you do as much as you can to find out about them before they arrive.
Remember also that for the majority of foster parents, the placement is intended to be short term (although even that can go on for a few months...). Your responsibility is to leave them better, happier and more confident in themselves, on their way to their forever family.
Sonny is the exception to our fostering history, with all the other hounds finding happy families. We'll share some of their stories another time.
Finally, it's very rewarding to help a hound find happiness. You have to invest a bit of yourself into the experience and letting go can be difficult. The emotional bond builds quickly and those big basset eyes will burrow deep into your heart. That said, please do go ahead and help where you can. Every hound deserves a loving family. If you can be part of that journey it is worth your time and love.