For several years now, my husband and I have been fostering dogs for an animal welfare organization. During that time we've fostered dozens of dogs until they could be placed in their "forever" homes, but never have we had dogs quite like Tiny and Billy. I have to confess that I'm not much of a lapdog sort of person, preferring my dogs to be of substantial size and heft. I've often thought of little lapdogs like Tiny and Billy as obnoxious and yappy and cloyingly cute, but I have to admit that these two little guys really tugged on my heartstrings.

Tiny and Billy, along with eight other small dogs, were living with a very elderly woman. She was ill, went into hospice care, and died soon afterwards. After her death her family contacted the group we work with to see if they could take in the dogs and foster homes were found for all but one of them who was too old and in too poor of health. Sadly, he had to be euthanized. We agreed to take two. After all, they were smalll. How much trouble could two little mutts be? When volunteers went to the home they found the dogs in a sad state. I'm sure this woman started out with the best of intentions and loved her little companions, but for whatever reasons, whether it be failing health, old age, dementia, her personality or a combination of all these things, the dogs were not being well cared for.

Tiny and Billy are about two years old, are not neutered and not house trained. They'd never been outside, never had collars on, never known a leash. They desperately needed to go to the groomer, but when we got them they were too afraid of literally EVERYTHING for such a scary procedure. Billy spent the first few days cowering under out kitchen table. He could only be enticed out with little bits of hot dogs or salmon flavored dog treats. Tiny was in even worse shape. He was totally withdrawn and disengaged with his environment. Describing him as catatonic would not be too much of an exaggeration.

We cared for Tiny and Billy for about two weeks before going on a long planned vacation trip and they had to go to another foster home. During that time we saw some improvements in both dogs. Our guiding mantra was "Make every approach count for something good." At first this just meant that they got a treat if, when we sat on the floor, they didn't run away from us. Then the treat was rewarded if they actually came forward towards us to get it. Then if they would let us just lightly touch them. And so on. The day Tiny let me actually pet him was a breakthrough, as was the day I was able to gently slip a collar on him. Another milestone was when my husband was actually able to pick Tiny up and put him in his lap! In spite of the fact that it was Billy who at first appeared to be the boldest, it was Tiny who made the most progress.

After a day or two on our trip we received a phone call from Tiny and Billy's case worker. The dogs were doing well and the new foster mom had been able to start clipping out some of the worst of their matted hair. While doing so she got a good look at their "nether regions". "Wait a minute," she said. "I don't think these are boys! We know they've not been neutered so where's their equipment?" Well, it turned out that Tiny and Billy aren't boys at all, but girls! No one had ever really checked! The family member who'd relinquished the dogs told us all they were boys and so we just assumed they were and they were so hand shy that no one had gotten a good look at their private parts! So now Tiny is still Tiny, but Billy is Billie Jean!

It will be a long time before Tiny and Billy are well adjusted enough to go to permanent homes. In our time fostering dogs we've dealt with many issues. Many dogs come with behavioral problems, have been abused, and need to be trained to a leash and to pee and poop outside. Some have been shy and some have had health problems, but we've never seen dogs so unbalanced as Tiny and Billy. I understand now just how important proper socialization is for puppies. Their case has also made me think a lot not only about how we treat animals but also how we treat people. Love is not enough. Introduction to new experiences, exposure to different environments and situations, patience, education and the human touch are all so important, not just for dogs, but for all of us. Lessons to learn here for sure.