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What the Heart Wants: Second Foster Failure

Our first foster failure was Meadow, and that decision had everything to do with my husband Mason. But, our second failure was Adriana and that one was all about me.

I met Adriana six years ago when she was a week old. She was living under a bramble patch with seven littermates in one of Springfield, TN’s poorest communities. Her mother, a stray, took care of her pups the best she could. But, she couldn’t protect them from flea infestations, wild animals, and wicked southern thunderstorms. So, when the pups were two weeks old, all eight moved to the Farnival.

The same summer we fostered those eight puppies, I lost Miss Annie, my 15-year-old Yorkshire terrier. Miss Annie was the love of my life, my soul mate, and I was crushed. I was also scared. Losing Miss Annie hurt so much, I was afraid to love like that again. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of it. Then, on a hot August afternoon, things changed. And I learned exactly what Emily Dickinson meant when she said, “The heart wants what the heart wants…”

Laurie Fulsome walked up our gravel driveway with her baby tucked under her arm in the same careless but confident way an athlete carries a ball. During those first couple of seconds, I summed Laurie up as self-assured and athletic, both positive traits for anyone adopting a dog. Adriana and her litter had just turned six weeks old. They wouldn’t leave our care for two more weeks, but initial introductions were underway.

Mason leaned against the railing on our deck, looking completely at ease. As relaxed as he looked, I knew he was logging details from under the brim of his baseball cap. Those brief meetings with potential adopters required making life-changing decisions in a short amount of time. An extra set of discerning eyes always helped. Mason offered Laurie a chair, but she declined, sat on the deck, and plopped her baby down.

“Do you know which puppy you’re thinking about adopting?” I asked. The puppies were snoozing on a dog bed in the living room. All eight of them only took up a quarter of the oblong pillow.

“I’m really in love with that white one I saw on the blog a few days ago,” Laurie said. “Was her name Adriana?”

I heard what she said, but it took me a second to understand. I had to replay her words. Once the meaning settled, panic set in. Adriana. She was talking about Adriana. I knew the photo well. Adriana is sitting in the yard, but the grass is out of focus, a green cloud framing her tiny silhouette. When I first saw the picture, my breath caught. But, I didn’t think my reaction signified anything besides an acknowledgement of her cuteness. I didn’t think it meant I had feelings about her.

At that point, Miss Annie had only been gone for a month. I didn’t want to care about anyone again, especially not a dog. Loving a dog means accepting that one day we’ll lose them. There was no way in hell I was making that kind of commitment again. Right?

Overcome with turmoil, I excused myself and hurried inside. Without considering my actions, I scooped up Adriana, raced down the hallway, and plunked her in their crate. I closed our office door behind me. If Laurie saw Adriana, she would adopt her, and that couldn’t happen. But, I liked Laurie, didn’t I? The very few bits of logic I had left all said that my actions didn’t have anything to do with Laurie. They had everything to do with Adriana. What was I doing?

Forcing myself to move slower, to calm down, I gathered a different puppy named Angie from the pile in the living room and walked outside. For a stranger who only knew them through pictures, the one visible difference between Adriana and Angie was the latter had light brown splotches on her back.

“Here’s Adriana. They one you were asking about.”

“I love her spots,” Laurie said. “You couldn’t see them in the picture.”

“No. You couldn’t,” I answered.

My heart rate slowed after five minutes. After ten, I was confident my little subterfuge would go unnoticed. I’d figure out my feelings later. Maybe, I’d learn to like Laurie so much by the time the pups were ready to leave, I’d change my mind. But not now, because now, when I thought about someone else holding Adriana or feeding her or training her or walking her, I felt nausea.

I wish I could explain why I felt such a special connection with Adriana, but the only word that comes to mind is recognition. I recognized Ade from the moment I saw her, even if I wasn’t ready to admit it.

As though the universe conspired against me, things suddenly got more complicated. Laurie asked if she could go inside to breastfeed her baby. That meant she’d be thirty feet away from Adriana. I didn’t want Laurie any closer to her than she already was, but I couldn’t say no to a nursing mother. With great angst, I showed her into the living room. She situated herself on our couch. The puppies, minus one, slept a few feet away.

My heart was beating so loudly, it took a few minutes to hear Adriana’s cries. Once I heard them, I couldn’t hear anything else. Who could blame her? I had ripped Adriana away from a warm mound of slumbering bliss and locked her alone in our office. Her tiny whimpers sailed through the hallway and into our living room. They were so clear it was like a speaker hung over our heads.

Laurie looked at me with a puzzled expression. I responded with a shrug, hoping Ade would stop before I had to lie. But she didn’t. Instead, her whines only got stronger, each piercing cry evidence of my ruse.

“One of the pups doesn’t feel well,” I said. Sitting on that couch, lying through my teeth, I rationalized my anxiety about Laurie like this: she was raising a baby. She wouldn’t have the time or energy for a puppy. Yet, some part of me knew if she wanted to adopt any other one, I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes.

Mason walked into the living room. “Who is screaming?”

“Angie doesn’t feel good,” I said.

“Angie is right-“ He started, but I cut him off with a single look. A moment passed between us, a moment of understanding that only happens between people who intimately know each other’s body language. Mason understood long before I did that I had fallen in love with Adriana.

“Huh,” he said, a smile hovering at the corners of his mouth. “She seemed fine a few minutes ago.

“She must have gotten hold of something,” I said.

“Must have,” he said.

It took two more weeks to admit what my heart wanted. But once I did, we adopted Adriana. She became our second foster failure.

Farnival Update: Never Say Never

Adriana and Meadow

I started this blog as way to raise awareness for the animal overpopulation problem in rural Tennessee. When I stopped fostering, I thought I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I was wrong. Over the past three years, I encountered situations unique to being a dog mom, so unique that I composed blog posts in my head, scrawled notes across that invisible notepad addressed to every dog-loving freak out there. For instance, one day I stared at my mutt’s nose sweat swirled across the Honda’s windows and instantly thought, that’s art. On another occasion, I pulled a tick out of Meadow’s clenched butthole with a pair of tweezers and thought, who could possibly understand?  Needless to say, I really missed y’all.

There is never any one reason for a big life change. In retrospect I can’t pin the end of our fostering days on Loubie alone. A big problem with doing any kind of rescue work is that it doesn’t pay. After fostering 30 dogs in two years, I had 53 bucks in my savings account. I had to return to a full-time paying job. So, besides being a dog mom to four fantastic, hilarious, and complicated rescue mutts, I’m an assistant director on a television crew that travels over 100 days a year with the NHRA Drag Racing Tour. Balancing a career in television sports with my pack presents a whole other set of issues we’ll address in the months to come. Have you ever had problems finding the right dog-sitter? Have you ever missed your dogs so much you walk through pet stores just for the smell?

Also coming up: we’ll check in with our friends at ICHBA, interview a lionfish hunter from the Florida Keys, and visit the Puget Sound Goat Rescue, where I’ll introduce you to Rosebud, a three-legged goat.

FYI: At the Farnival we treat animals with as much respect as humans and make no apologies for it.

Dog Hair is Everywhere


I can’t cook for poop, so don’t get your hopes up, but I do occasionally prepare a few dishes. A broccoli, ricotta, and onion quiche is one of them. Yesterday, I spent thirty minutes shredding the Parmesan, chopping the broccoli and onions, whipping the ricotta and eggs. The dish baked for 55 minutes, then cooled for ten. When it was ready, I stabbed a big piece with my fork and analyzed the creamy mixture stuffed with vibrant green broccoli (cooked el dente) and sweet juicy onions. The crust was toasted to perfection. The smell alone made me salivate.

Right before I took the first bite, I saw a piece of dog hair baked into the egg concoction. The single strand was longish and light, meaning it was either Meadow’s or Floyd’s. It was too long to be Adriana’s and too pale to be Sara’s. It could easily have belonged to any of them because all our mutts shed. We saved all four from some roadside or other, in some stage of desperation. A human might think the least they could do is keep their fur to themselves for one bloody season. But, it never stops. It falls like snow not rain, continuously, softly layering every surface through every season. Clean sheets, mopped floors, and vacuumed rugs last seconds, not hours.

Mason and I battle it, still. We installed hardwood and tile floors, exchanged our comfy cloth couch and “big-ass” chair for leather. We sweep five times a week, bathe the dogs monthly, and brush them weekly. But the futility of our efforts stared at me from a quiche I spent almost two hours cooking. I paused for less than a second, less time than it took for another strand of dog hair to land somewhere, then shoved the bite into my mouth. I told myself if I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t have known anyway. Besides, it didn’t change the taste at all.

A Foster Failure Defined

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(Meadow Soprano Armstrong, Our first foster failure)

I’ve had several people write and ask what it means to be a foster failure. I found this hilarious but very accurate definition on the website Black Dog, Second Chance:

“Wanted: Foster Failures

Qualifications: Applicant must have a desire to love and help animals.

Salary and Benefits: Paid in dog kisses

Job Description: So what is a Foster Failure anyway? Simply put, it is a foster who has failed, miserably! No, it’s not what you are thinking. Here at BDSC, we LOVE Foster Failures. So much so, that we coined the phrase. A Foster Failure is a loving foster who just fell madly in love, head over heels, smitten with their foster dog and, well, decided they just couldn’t part ways so decided to adopt. We have quite a club going and we are always looking for new members. We’d love for you to join us! And ya know what the best part is? After you adopt your foster dog, you can still continue to help other dogs in need!”

Happy Birthday to My Foster Failure

DSC_0717-1024x678(Adriana La Cerva, June 2014)

DSC_0051(Adriana La Cerva Armstrong, June 2015)

Adriana La Cerva Armstrong a.k.a. Ade was born on June 3, 2014. It’s ironic that she was born to a feral mutt in a bramble bush on Smith Street, yet I know the exact day her eyes opened. I met her when she was one week old, living in a muddy, trash-littered backyard with her seven litter mates. She’s been in my life ever since. It took three weeks of fostering her before I fell in love and decided to adopt her, officially earning the title of foster failure.

I had big dreams for Adriana, meaning I thought she’d turn into a sixty-plus-pound dog, but she weighs twenty-eight pounds soaking wet. Somehow, I always end up with the runts.

As far as personality, she’s pure tomboy, spending most afternoons outside digging for worms, hunting moles, chewing up sticks, or roughhousing. Although she’s tight with everyone in the pack, she wrestles with the biggest dogs the most. She holds her own, too. Mason and I have watched her drag Rosie, a dog double her size, across the floor by the collar multiple times.


Even with all her tomboy ways, she still has moments of pure sweetness. She likes crawling up in laundry fresh from the dryer or cuddling for naps with any cat, human, or canine. At night she sleeps under the covers, worming her way between Mason and I, so that when we wake up she’s squashed between us. Throughout the day, she’ll peek her head into the office to check on me. I think she has grave concerns about my stationary work. At times she stops to lick my toes or nibble on my finger, as though inviting me to play. I’ve never seen her hurt anything besides flies and moles.

Ade isn’t perfect by any means. Even though I’ve been socializing her since she was six weeks old, she’s still timid around people, probably because we live in the middle of nowhere and don’t see a lot of humans unless we drive to town. She’s great on a leash if I’m walking her, but she’ll take advantage of any poor sucker that doesn’t act like a leader. She barks more than we want.

I think what I love the most about Ade is her independence. Moments like right now, late afternoon, cloudy, and humid. All other six dogs are asleep by my feet or on the couch with Mason watching a NCIS rerun, but not Ade. Through my office window, I see her wandering the fence line, stopping to munch on a chestnut or eat the wild blackberries growing through the chain links. Occasionally, she’ll come across a forgotten tennis ball or rope toy, snatch it up and sprint across the yard, having the time of her life. I couldn’t have asked for a better companion. Adriana is living proof that sometimes being a foster failure is worth it.