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Foster Feature: Pippa + Stanley

My heart is broken. My heart is full. Just over 7 weeks ago we welcomed a foster pup into home, and just under one week ago he made his transition to his forever home. I miss him every day.

I grew up with dogs, but my husband has never had a pet. As an adult I travel too much for work to have a dog – last year I was gone over 150 days at race tracks around the country. Some tracks where I work they would welcome a furry friend, but mostly it’s not possible or appropriate for me to take someone with me.

A dog has always been part of the “one day” plan. Last year we bought our first house together, and for the first time we have a yard. A dog felt one step closer. My husband no longer travels as much for his work. But then I looked at my schedule, and I was due to be gone over 30 days in March and April, and I knew we still had to wait.

In the first weeks of March everything shut down, and like many Americans, I was at home and unable to work. However, not only could I not go to race track, and earn my living coaching and co-driving, I also had no meetings with potential sponsors, no appearances, I was no longer going to the gym every day to work out… For the first time in my adult life I literally found myself with nothing to do to fill my days, and searching for something to give me meaning…

A friend connected with me on social media. Why not foster a dog, she said. I thought about it for a while, I learned there was a need, I talked to my husband, filled out the paperwork, went through the online training. And then we met Stanley.

I have a confession to make – I’ve never been a “little dog” person. I’ve only ever really been around big dogs. But Stanley needed a home, and I reminded myself, this wasn’t about me, it was about him. At the end of the first few days we saw my neighbor when I was in the yard. It’s okay, I said. I won’t get too attached, I said. I’m not really a little dog person, I said. She said “uh-huh”, and moved on.

Having someone to care for, and the structure of food times, and walkies every day helped me mentally and emotionally from the get-go. My first real tail wags came after a few days together, my first licks towards the end of the week, and by week two Stanley just wanted to be by my side, on my lap, or be picked up by me. As he started to relax, and be less anxious, his personality started to really show. We learned that Stanley has rarely met another dog he doesn’t like, that he loves to play, and his sweet gentle nature started to show more and more.

As I learned his story, it became more important than ever for me to find him a forever home where I knew he would be loved and cherished. I started to have silent conversations with myself as to whether we could adopt him ourselves, but I was soon due back at work, and with the little guy’s separation anxiety, if I removed my emotions from the equation and looked at it realistically, I knew it just couldn’t work. The most important thing was for Stanley to be happy long-term, and that meant me sucking it up, and sticking with the plan.

Some friends of ours took a shine to Stanley too. He met their dog in the back yard, and there started to be talk of Stanley getting a sister. Our friends have adopted before, and worked through separation issues, so we knew that would work too. Our friends then filled out the IndyHumane paperwork and were approved, so next was a visit to their place, with all humans outside all the time to decrease the risk and maintain social distance, but both dogs with free run of inside and outside, for Stanley to explore his new place.. Then Stanley went for a big-boy daytime doggie play-date where I left him there with them for the day. He barely cried when I left him, and I saw from the photo updates that he had a great time. So next it was time for me to put my big girl pants on, and for us to set the final date.

Remember I said I wasn’t a little dog person? I’m still not sure whether I really am or not, but in 6 weeks I 100% became a Stanley person. My husband did too. And now he was about to no longer be “my dog”.

We went through the same process we did on the previous visit, but this time Stanley knew it was different. His cries when we left broke my heart in two. Even though I know it’s for the best, it’s a loving home, and a home that can help him the most, his distress in that moment after how far he has come was like a knife to my soul. I went home and I cried, and I cried, and I cried.

I can already see in the photos and videos his new owners are kind enough to keep sending me that he’s going to be so happy there. But I still miss him every day.

Every morning when the alarm goes off I still wake up expecting the patter of tiny excited paws on our wood floors. Every time the door bell rings I momentarily wonder why it’s followed with silence. Every time I look at the tree we just planted in our back yard, I think Stanley should have been there to christen it.

But next week I’m due to go back to work, and as I keep reminding myself, the goal of fostering is not to fail, but to say goodbye. An amazing home with friends of ours is the best-case scenario, and not only will he be happy, but once he’s settled and imprinted in them, I’ll get to see him again too.

Fostering has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done personally in a long time, but it’s also been one of the hardest. I’ve cried more in these past few days than I think I can remember. We opened our home to Stanley, and in return he opened our hearts. I know we did the right thing finding him his incredible forever home and my heart is full.

Pippa Mann is a British born racing driver who calls Indianapolis home. She has competed at the Indy 500 seven times, and is hoping to make 2020 her eight this August.