Karen B. London
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Seeing Previous Guardians
Love in the past and present
His first family could really turn his head!

Many years ago, I acquired a 2½-year old Lab mix from a family who was rehoming him. The conflicts with their other dog had become alarming and had compromised the quality of life for the entire household. My bond with my new dog formed quickly and was strong until he died and beyond.

It’s phenomenal how well dogs can form new attachments and love so many people throughout their lives. Humans can do that, too, though this is far from common in the animal world. I couldn’t help but notice the happiness my dog expressed when we ran into his original family around town, which happened a few times a year.

Whenever he saw them, he went, for lack of a better term, completely bonkers. He jumped straight into the air like he was on a pogo stick, with all four paws nearly five feet off the ground. His face showed pure joy as he greeted them, and they were much the same in their expressions. Though there was so much love on both sides, they chose to place him in a home where he was not at risk of being harmed by fights with their other, older dog. I’m so grateful for that because otherwise he would never have entered my life.

Though my dog was thrilled to see the people he lived with from 8 weeks to 2½ years of age, he never attempted to stay with them. After each reunion, he invariably returned his attention to me and did not hesitate as we walked away. There were no backward glances and he did not seem confused in any way. Though I can’t know exactly what he felt or thought, I can make guesses based on his behavior. I think he was happy to see the people he knew from the past because he loved them. He also loved me and I believe that he naturally felt more connected to me because we were currently spending time together, sharing a home and a life.

I always enjoyed his reaction to his first family because I liked seeing him happy for any reason. I would have been horrified to see him react to them with avoidance, fear or any other negative emotion. A show of indifference would not have been much better as that would have made me wonder if he would be capable of ceasing to care about me, too. It also made me happy because I could see how much it meant to the family to be honored with an over-the-top exuberant greeting from the dog they loved. It had been a heartbreaking decision for them to give him up for the safety of both dogs. They were overjoyed to see that he still loved them, too, and was excited to see them.

How does your dog react to seeing a previous guardian or a foster family? Or, if you were previously the guardian or foster family to a dog you’ve been able to see again, how does the dog act at the reunion?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Rachelle | September 14 2013 |

I had the opportunity this summer to see my last foster dog for the first time since she was adopted last year. She was overjoyed - racing around their yard, howling and whining, then racing back to me for kisses and petting. Her new family took it in stride, seeming to enjoy seeing "our girl" so happy, rather than as any indication that she'd rather live with me. Our girl is now their girl, but took just a tiny piece of my heart with her - and it was such a great experience to see her happy, healthy and thriving. When it was time for me to go, she watched me get in my car, then calmly turned, and went back to her family - she is home, and I'm honored to have helped her get there.

Submitted by Leanne | September 16 2013 |

I was given a beautiful afghan hound that had been the breeders pick of the litter,however he did not mature into the show dog she was hoping for. She loved this boy and knew him well enough to know he would be happier with someone who was able to give him an active life outside the show ring. We would see his breeder at dog shows a few times per year and he was always over the top excited and happy to see her. She would come to see him and sing to him as she had done when he was her pup. He joined in singing in his very loud voice and they did a funny duet which brought smiles and laughter to everyone in view of this spectacle.Although it was obvious that he loved this person there was never any doubt that he knew he wanted to stay with me.

Submitted by JoYouDog | September 16 2013 |

My dog and I were invited for a play date at the home of one of our former foster dogs whom I hadn't seen for a couple of years. I went in the house alone to greet the dog and her family before bringing my dog in to play. This dear dog came up to me as she would to any stranger, gave me a sniff, and immediately stood up on her hind legs and put her front paws on my shoulders and her face in front of mine in a welcoming embrace. Then she put her feet down, but quickly embraced me again. Her family said she has never greeted any other visitor in that fashion. I was thrilled. (Still am.) Then I got my dog and the two had a great reunion chasing each other around the yard, resting, and chasing some more. Our former foster tried to follow us when we left, but I believe she just wanted more play. She has a good life and seems very happy with her devoted family. She had originally come to us sick and neglected and left us a healthy, happy dog. She has richly repaid our modest investment in her well-being.

Submitted by Lynda Folwick | September 16 2013 |

We adopted a 12-year old hound mix 18 months ago when his owner gave him up due to divorce. Soon after, we discovered he has serious anxiety and other problems that make him a challenge to live with. Still, we'd never abandon him at this stage of his life (unlike his owner). It took just over a year before we saw in his eyes that he really felt like he was home, and I thank Dog he reached that point of safety and security.

His previous owner visits him every few months, and gushes over him for an hour or two. To her credit, she also helps with his big vet bills. He is always happy to see her, but like your dog, after a short time he comes straight back to us. The visits don't seem to upset him afterward, as our behaviorist feared they might (or we wouldn't allow them). It upsets me, though, and sometimes I can barely be civil to her. As much as we love Tyler, no one will ever know him as well as she did, and at this difficult time in his life, we struggle to catch up. Without years of history together, it's harder to know how best to keep him happy and comfortable in his last years.

Submitted by Mary Barnsdale | September 16 2013 |

I rescued a dog whose people had basically moved out of their trash-filled home and returned only a couple of times a week to open some tins of dog food and maybe put out some new rat bait. The owners, when they realized I had the dog, didn't put up any resistance... they apologized for the conditions, and claimed that they were planning to make the house habitable again, move back, and reclaim the dog, but we all knew that was unlikely.

This dog had lived in that house for perhaps nine of his 10 years and had been deeply attached to the teenage boy in the household and super-protective of him. I lived three houses down the block, so when I walked this dog in the neighborhood we frequently passed his old home. I would have expected him to hesitate at his old front walk, or attempt to go to the house, or look for his old people -- but he never did, not once. He didn't acknowledge in any way that he was even familiar with that property. It was like it was dead to him. After 10 months pretty much alone in that hell-hole, knee-deep in garbage and dog poop, this super-bright, super-loyal dog had apparently moved on decisively.

We occasionally saw his former people and he was delighted to see them -- and then made it clear that he was going with me wherever I went. One time the teenager came and sat on my front steps to visit. I was a little nervous, actually... I didn't want the kid to reclaim the dog and lock him back up in their house. At one point, about 20 minutes into the visit, I swung by the screen door and cooed, to the dog, "Hey, there, sweetie, you ready to come in?" And the boy said, glumly, "He's been ready for a while but I've been holding him back."

It was a fascinating study in how perceptive dogs can be about what's good for them, what they enjoy, what choices they maybe have. I think I believed before that that dogs are loyal to the death, even to masters who are cruel to them. (We all read those books as kids, right?) Now I think that's a myth. Given a real choice, I think many dogs will pick what's best for them, just the way cats do.

Submitted by Janet | September 17 2013 |

My dog Cedar was abandoned, and after two years on the streets, despite a rescue group's efforts to catch her, she had to be trapped. I took her in as a foster, but she fit into our household so nicely, loving the dog and cat and me, that she became a Forever Foster. When the trapper came over to bring her official papers, Cedar was just a ball of excitement and jumped all over the trapper. Usually, she is friendly but a bit shy, and has not jumped on anyone but me. She remembered, and it made me so happy that she could show her initial rescuer her gratitude.

Submitted by Kathleen | September 18 2013 |

A few years ago my son and I were washing our car at a local car was when out of nowhere a beagle ran up to us jumped in our car and started kissing us like crazy. We just laughed as a man ran up and said wow he has never pulled away from me like that before. After talking with him we realized that this beagle was one of our first fosters from 3 years prior who had come to us as a severely underfed and neglected puppy we kept him for about 3 months until he was healthy and ready to be adopted at the shelter. It was amazing to us that he remembered us and also heartwarming to see him as a happy adult dog.

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