My Foster Fail

A few years ago, just before I started yoga teacher training, I injured my shoulder. I could no longer do the fancy postures I was so proud of. I fell out of arm balances, pain searing through my right rotator cuff. Often while the other students did downward dog, I stayed in child’s pose, face down on my mat, crying.

I’ve never been very good with failure. Even as a kid, I couldn’t accept a B+. Patanjali, the ancient mystic who wrote the Yoga Sutras, said the practice of yoga is not about succeeding or failing to do the physical postures; it’s not really even about the postures. The purpose of yoga is to find joy and peace. To live a good life.

But I disagreed with Patanjali. After finishing my teacher training, I was so embarrassed, so angry with myself for failing, that I stopped practicing yoga. The way I saw it, if you couldn’t do something perfectly, why try at all?

Fast-forward a few years. It’s May 2020 and the world is in the grip of a global pandemic. My partner and I decide to foster a dog during quarantine.

I cleared my schedule, determined to be the perfect foster mom. I would provide creature comforts, affection, treats, and daily walks. If the dog had survived abuse or violence, I’d work extra hard to shower her in gentleness and love. I was prepared to do everything in my power to welcome her into our home—in a sort of placeholder way, the way you feel toward a cousin you’ve been tasked with watching for the weekend. You love the kid, of course, but you’re not playing for keeps.

“We already have one dog,” I said to my partner. “We don’t need a second one.”

“Two dogs are exponentially more than one,” he agreed. “We wouldn’t be able to travel as easily.”

Travel to where, I thought, two months into quarantine with no end in sight. But I knew he was right. Committing to care for a little life was easier in small doses. Better two weeks than, say, twelve years.

Then I met Jenna.

She was a tricolor pit bull, unaltered, about two years old. That’s as much as anyone knew. She’d been picked up by an ACO eleven days before, in heat, nursing a bee sting. I didn’t know anything about tricolor pits. I didn’t know anything about pits, period. But I knew that when Robert at the Pasadena Humane Society sent us her picture, tears sprang to my eyes.

Jenna was quiet at first. Hesitant. On Tuesday, she sniffed around our backyard for hours, lying in the shade, then the sun. Determined to do everything right, I read the PHS Foster Info Sheet, then reread it, absorbing every detail. We took her on a walk around the neighborhood with our dog Finley Fergus—neutral territory to ease their introduction. We fed them in separate spaces, though Jenna didn’t show much interest in food. We filled a bowl with cool water and snugged her blanket and raccoon chew toy inside the crate, and she trudged in slowly, reluctantly, her expression the textbook definition of hangdog.

“We don’t know what her life has been like,” my partner and I said to each other. “She might take time to warm up.”

By Wednesday, Jenna and Finley were romping in the backyard like old pals. By Thursday, she began eating her kibble with undisguised relish, snorting like a little piglet. That night, when I sat beside her on the hardwood floor, she rested her giant head on my knee.

In that moment, I knew I had failed. I did not love Jenna like a visiting cousin.

I loved her like she belonged.

I had signed up for an online writing workshop that Friday. It included one yoga class. I wondered, should I take the class or not? Nervous, I opened Zoom and switched on my video. I unfurled my yoga mat, dusty from neglect. I felt jittery. Eager to prove myself. What if I couldn’t remember the postures? What if I didn’t do it right?

I took a breath, preparing to step onto the mat.

But Jenna beat me to it. She stretched out long and lifted her muscular hips into a literal downward dog. Then she flumped herself down onto my mat with glorious ease, utterly unconcerned with postures or decorum. She rolled joyously from side to side, snorting like a little piglet. She didn’t care about doing it “right.” Didn’t do it for the A+. She did it for the love.

I grinned as I placed my hands in front of her, my feet behind. I pressed my palms into the mat and lifted my hips into a downward dog. I felt my muscles uncoiling, quivering back to life. I dropped a kiss on Jenna’s forehead. She gazed up at me with her doleful brown eyes and licked my chin.

I was already composing the email to Robert in my head. Subject line: My foster fail.

She came here as Jenna, a visiting guest. She became a part of our forever family as Piglet Patanjali, my little pig-snorting, yoga-loving girl. The girl who taught me that sometimes, failing is the greatest win of all.