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Underdog Blog

Foster feature: Jessica Rubenstein works through her dogs’ “quirks”

Ali Legros

By Katie Walsh

For Rural Dog Rescue foster Jessica Rubenstein, her first foster dog was the most difficult one. The little plott hound mix called Lion was “so smart it got her into trouble.”

Lion was so smart, in fact, that she figured out how to unlock her crate from the inside, staging daily prison-break scenarios in Rubenstein’s Northeast D.C. rowhouse.

“So then I got zip ties, and I zip tied the crate, and she broke the zip ties and jumped on the table and bit all the zip ties in half, so I could never zip tie her in again,” she said. “It was the most ridiculous thing!”

However, Lion was such a loving little dog that Rubenstein was willing to forgive her daring daytime escapades. After all, she said, working through her foster dogs’ unique “quirks” is what being a foster is all about.

Rubenstein had been a dog lover long before beginning to foster for Rural Dog Rescue, having grown up watching her grandmother dog-sit for a number of years.

“It’s just kind of always been something that I’ve been around -- dogs coming and going,” she said.

As an adult, Rubenstein also frequently dog-sat. She said she thought a lot about getting her own dog, but she’s not quite at a point in her life where a forever dog is an option since she lives with roommates and doesn’t have a space of her own. Fostering was the next best thing, and so in November 2015 she connected with Rural Dog Rescue and brought Lion home. Since then, she’s cared for six different rescue pups, including Lion.

Rural Dog Rescue presented a perfect fostering opportunity for Rubenstein because of how convenient they make it, she said.

“I like that their adoption events are in the same location every week,” Rubenstein said, referring to the regular Saturday and Sunday adoption events held at pet store Howl to the Chief, 733 8th Street SE. “I don’t have a car, so I can walk there with the dog and back.”

She added that RDR makes it really easy to both start and stop fostering as needed and has other fosters step in to care for the dogs if their foster parents go out of town.

Rubenstein also loves what she calls the “social aspect” of fostering. She has enjoyed walking her foster dogs around town and explaining the foster and adoption process to anyone who may strike up a conversation with her.

“A lot of people have heard of it, but they have no idea that it’s pretty easy to do, and that it’s really rewarding,” she said.

Today, Rubenstein is fostering Pooh, a German shepherd/boxer mix who is getting along famously with her dog and cat foster siblings.  Pooh has been Rubenstein’s longest foster, which is “crazy because she’s such a good dog -- she’s an easy dog.”

Pooh’s adoption listing notes that she’s good with other dogs and enjoys walks and activity just as much as hanging out and cuddling on the couch. She also seems to really love running around in Rubenstein’s sizeable backyard. Though, something that Rubenstein has had to work through with Pooh is her shyness.

“Today I learned that she’s terrified of skateboards. I’ve never had her pull so hard to get away -- she ran right back in the house when one went by,” Rubenstein said. “In terms of fight or flight response, she’s like, flight. When she gets scared she’s like, ‘I’m gonna run away right now,’ so I don’t think that she could ever really be off-leash.”

Even though she’s really enjoying having Pooh around, there will come a day when Rubenstein will be tasked with transferring her to her forever family. While those moments can be bittersweet, Rubenstein tries to keep them in perspective.

“Fostering is kind of a mentality where you’re constantly reminding yourself that the dog’s going home soon,” she said. “Everybody’s always like, ‘How do you not get attached?’ It’s a mentality that you keep: The dog’s going home soon.”

Also important to being a foster is making sure you have the time commitment, Rubenstein said.

“Those first couple days when you bring them home are really crucial, just to put in the time and make sure they recognize that you’re a safe person,” she said. “And really, the only way you get there is putting in the time and being with them.”

Rubenstein makes sure to give her foster dogs space and let them come to her, but she also acts as a disciplinarian, ensuring that they follow a schedule and introducing them to new things slowly. She also recommends taking time to get to know the foster dog, since every dog has a different personality.

But whatever dogs come through her door, Rubenstein said she knows that fostering them will be worth it. She recalled a time when she left town for a day to go to a wedding, and when she returned, her foster dog was so elated he jumped on top of her. Moments of experiencing a foster dog’s love like that are priceless to her.

“I think that’s why I do it,” she said. “If they were in a shelter, they would definitely not have those moments for themselves either.”