WAYNESVILLE, Ohio – Big and lanky Boss (Bobo) bounded toward his mom, as his long black and gray, tousled fur swayed from side to side. His tongue darted out to saturate her face. Jaki Waggamon was the first human mom this furry, fun-loving, excitable puppy—who had more than tripled in size—had ever known, and now it was time for him to graduate and move to his new home with his fur-ever family and girl Danielle.
It was the first time that husband and wife, Nick and Jaki Waggamon of Waynesville, Ohio, had experienced the graduation of one of their foster pups. The young couple has been a foster home to two 4 Paws for Ability dogs since February 2012, and intend to be lifetime volunteers, she said.
While currently, they have no children… they do have little ones running around the house.The high school sweethearts and graduates of Ohio Northern University, both jumped headfirst into their careers—and because of their love of traveling, said Jaki, it was difficult to convince her husband that they should have a full-time puppy at home. But fostering a puppy is a happy alternative and compromise. Jaki gets a puppy, and they both still get to travel.
“Puppies are such lovers!” said Jaki. “They’re so little and cute, and they just want you to love them as much as they love you—which they do immediately and unconditionally.”
What started out as her wanting a puppy of her own, turned into a “phenomenal opportunity to do something much more amazing,” said Jaki, who for a while was looking for something she could do to give back, but nothing until 4 Paws for Ability had jumped out at her.
“4 Paws does so much good with the resources they have—it takes a lot of people, time, money, treats, and toys to pull off a single service dog placement.”
“We are fortunate to have such a wonderful thing happening right here in Ohio—people cross the country, and sometimes even the globe to get here, for the opportunity to have an ability-filled life with their service dog partner.”
Fostering soon-to-be service dog puppies has been a learning experience for her and the puppies. The ability to see them experience something new for the first time is by far her favorite part. Take laundry for example… she chuckled.
“So far both of our fosters have been terrified of our laundry hampers—it’s unexplainable to us, but something about them must be very scary for a little puppy. Let’s face it, I’m scared of the dirty laundry pile too, so who can blame them!”
Together, Jaki and her husband have fostered both Focus, a Golden Retriever from the Luxury Car Litter and Boss aka Bobo, a Goldendoodle from the Pirate Litter.
Bobo, her first foster puppy, never wanted her out of his sight, and would lie on her feet until you were ready to move on to the next thing.
Focus, her current pup, is an “adventurous little fellow, who loves to jump up on the ledge by the fireplace and act like he is king of the living room.”
Every day there is something different to laugh and smile about, she said.
“Once Bobo knocked the broom over in the kitchen. When I heard it, I went to find him and he was nowhere to be found—because he put himself in his kennel! Focus knocked down the Christmas tree, but instead of self-mediating, he was climbing into the branches when I found him! Both situations were worthy of a good laugh by all!”
Bobo graduated during the December 2012 class, finding his fur-ever home with his girl Danielle in Vandalia, Ohio.
“It is a beautiful experience. It’s fun to guess what the dog will be trained for in the end, based on the personality and strengths they develop while they’re with you. Nothing beats seeing them at graduation. That’s when the whole picture really comes together,” said the 25-year-old, who described that day as, “amazing, awe-inspiring, beautiful, wonderful, remarkable, overwhelming, incredible, miraculous, extraordinary.”
“I literally cannot describe the joy I felt when I saw Bobo and his family for the first time—it is an understatement to say it was beautiful.”
And as excited as Bobo was to see Jaki and Nick, she said that they could already tell how much he had bonded with his new family.
“We were really blessed—Bobo’s forever momma keeps us well updated with pictures and stories. Again, the joy of this moment is so much more powerful than the brief sadness of sending Bobo back to 4 Paws. The joy is continuously multiplied as we hear about Bobo’s new achievements with his partner. I mean, he gets to go to school… How neat is that?” said Jaki.
As hard as it is, returning the foster puppies to 4 Paws is part of the job that she signed up for, as do all the foster homes.
While it’s what Jaki called, “dreadful, awful, heart-breaking, terrible, horrible, painful, distressing, tear-jerking,” it’s only for a brief moment in the overall scheme of life and what these dogs are meant to go on and do for children with disabilities, she said.
“It would be silly to think that after six months it would be easy to send them back on their way—after all you’re not just housing and feeding a puppy, but loving him and taking him everywhere you go! Even knowing they have a greater purpose, it’s still hard.”
Through that heartache, the best advice she received as a foster mom was from a family who was on their 18th 4 Paws puppy: “Get another one. Who can be sad when they’re busy chasing around a new ball of fur and energy that’s excited to explore their new surroundings?”
So she did.
But Jaki isn’t just giving the puppies something that they need… they are giving her a better understanding of the world and the good that is in it—as well as the unconditional love that a dog can provide in trying times.
“They are cuddle-bugs, and truly loving beings. In an amazing feat of human-like understanding, Focus, the adventurous and hyper puppy, cuddled on the couch with me the whole day after someone broke into my car. Nothing important was taken, but someone was in my driveway in front of my house inside my car—my puppy was apparently grateful for the extra day I spent at home, instead of work, and spent the morning cuddling and doing my favorite tricks.”
Both of her foster puppies have also provided the opportunity to spread education about service dogs and conditions that they might one day assist with like autism, diabetes and seizures. They have also given Jaki new insight to the world we live in, at a time, she said, “when we are seeing and speaking of a broken society, we typically look and find the bad and often only the bad.”
But once again, foster puppies to the rescue!
“On Christmas Eve, my husband and I decided to stop at a church on our travel route between my parents’ and our home. We were greeted by a gentleman that seemed confused when I asked if my service puppy was welcome and said, ‘Of course!’ We sat near a family who was more interested in meeting our puppy and learning about what he would do, than about the fact that there was a dog in their church. We were surprised to hear, ‘and peace be with your little friend,’ when the congregation began greeting those around them. There is good in the world—we just have to be it if we want to see it.”
In the end, Jaki said, fostering is a blessing for her and her husband.
“I wish I were as happy about anything as these foster puppies are when they see me after work. A house with a puppy is a crazy, disorganized, frantic house, but it is a very happy home!”
Fostering puppies, however, is not for everyone Jaki warned.
“It must be said—puppies are a lot of work!”
From scheduling potty breaks and playing to teething and socializing, Jaki said it’s a balancing act that she and her husband somehow manage among the hectic atmosphere that is their home. But that chaotic world of puppy-raising is an experience she wouldn’t give up, however, that doesn’t mean she wishes for just a little help…
“If I were granted one wish, it would be that every puppy was born with the instinct to heel gently next to his human—but instead their instincts seem to be to run and to chase leaves! All of these things take a lot of work and a lot of time. Even so, I’m sure I’d be lost without a puppy romping around!” Jaki laughed.
“If life’s not fun, I don’t think you’re doing right.”
-By Jessica Noll-Korczyk
A brand new, furry, cuddly, ball of energy and excitement who needs love, attention and a warm home… what could be better than a fluffy, jumpy, tongue-hanging-out smiling puppy? Not much compares to being a foster home with 4 Paws for Ability.
If you’re interested in fostering one of the 4 Paws for Ability’s service dogs in-training, contact Karen Shirk at Karen@4PawsForAbility.org.