First-time dog foster volunteer helps puppy heal

Bunny the puppy in her foster home
An energetic puppy with a broken leg receives crate rest and lots of love in her foster home.
By Karen Asp

Putting a dog on crate rest, whether for illness or injury, can be hard enough when it’s your own pup. Now imagine you’re fostering your first dog — an energetic puppy at that — who requires strict crate rest.

When presented with the opportunity to foster 3-month-old puppy Bunny, who needed mending from a broken leg, Dakota Jones didn’t hesitate. A longtime kitten foster volunteer, Dakota had earned a reputation at Best Friends in Salt Lake City for taking on animals with medical issues. Many of her foster cats have had the potentially life-threatening feline panleukopenia virus, and one even required a feeding tube.

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With the help of Best Friends staff, Dakota proved herself a creative first-time dog foster caregiver. It was no small feat, given that Bunny was full of typical puppy energy but needed to keep her broken leg still to heal.

Puppy prescribed crate rest

A good Samaritan found Bunny on a busy street with an injured front left leg and took her to an emergency veterinary hospital. The suspicion was that she’d been hit by a car. Vets found she had a broken leg, which they put in a cast to allow it to heal.

The next day, the black-and-white pup with enormous ears (that rival actual bunny ears) arrived at Best Friends in Salt Lake City to begin her healing process. Her prescription? Crate rest and a lot of it, which wasn’t easy for this young, rambunctious girl. “She was only 3 months old, so she had to spend those formative puppy months stuck in a crate,” says Roxanne Conowitch, Best Friends lifesaving outcomes coordinator.

A foster home would allow Bunny to heal in a calm environment and learn about navigating the world during such a formative time in her young life. And Dakota was up for the task.

Keeping an energetic puppy calm

At her foster home, Bunny could take bathroom breaks but was restricted from taking walks and actively playing. She also had to go to the vet once a week to have her bandages changed, and Dakota gave her medications daily.

Dakota, who works from home, quickly established a routine to help Bunny get settled. Several times throughout the day, Dakota would “suit up” Bunny for bathroom breaks. Since it was wintertime, she slipped a plastic bag over Bunny’s cast to protect it from the snow. It wasn’t easy, given that Bunny wanted to jump with excitement and sniff and explore the outdoors. But Dakota strove to keep her calm.

Recipes for fun mental stimulation

While it was immediately apparent that Bunny had exuberant puppy energy, what Dakota didn’t anticipate was how smart Bunny was. Since Bunny couldn’t move freely to play and explore, Dakota brought the fun to her crate with lots of food puzzles. “Keeping her entertained was largely just about finding more ways for her to get her food,” she says.

The list of food toys she used was almost endless, namely because Bunny was so good at them. “Even when I bought a new one for her, she immediately figured it out,” Dakota says.

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One of Bunny’s favorites was a Kong toy with a special “recipe” that Dakota had cooked up. Bunny seemed bored with just one type of food in the Kong, so it was all in how the Kong was layered: dry food, treats, wet food, dry food, treats, and wet food. “She’d always eat everything in this combo every single time,” Dakota says.

Other Bunny-approved puzzles included any that had sliding and rotating pieces, as well as slow-feeding bowls. She also adores chew treats.

Once Bunny had her cast removed and came off crate rest, Dakota brought her back to the lifesaving center, along with a thorough list of things Bunny loves, including her favorite foods, toys, and directions on how to layer her Kong toy. Dakota also included the phrases that Bunny understands — such as “I love you.”

It didn’t take Bunny long to be adopted. Meanwhile, Dakota has adopted another feline. So would she foster another dog? Dakota says she’s considering it. But first, she’ll have to consult with her cats.

Want more puppy love?

Why not open your home to a puppy in need? Whether you foster or adopt, you’ll get a perfect dose of cuteness.

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