What I Have Learned from Being a Dog Foster Parent

I have always been a dog person. To me, life is one hundred times more fun with a dog in it. But after moving abroad, the truth was that getting a furry companion made very little sense in terms of fairness and practicality. (Who would take care of it when I’m traveling and visiting family across the Atlantic? Would it be happy in a cramped NYC apartment?). So, I quickly made peace with the fact that having a dog again would simply have to wait.

Then one day, as I was crossing Union Square, I stumbled upon an adoption event hosted by an organization called Muddy Paws Rescue — and they were looking for volunteers! It didn’t take long before I put my name down to become a foster parent. The idea was so exciting to me. Having a cute pup around for a set period of time without future hassles? It was like winning the lottery!

Little did I know, I was about to embark on a great and challenging adventure. And here’s what I learned from it…

Rescue Dogs Need Extra TLC

If you’re getting into dog fostering thinking it will be an easy job because ‘all dogs are the same’, then think again. Most rescue dogs go through a lot of trauma, from being treated poorly by past owners to being abandoned on the side of the road or being stuck in a tiny crate for hours and moved from country to country. Some are even born in shelters and have never felt love and kindness before they meet you…

This means a lot of the times, you will have to care for a dog that comes with all sorts of trust issues and a fear of the world (especially if you live in a big, noisy city). Most dogs I had were from the countryside and moved by the organization to New York City in order to get adopted. Now, imagine going from a quiet little barn surrounded by fields to a compact, busy and loud place dominated by honking cars, noisy subways and sidewalks covered with hundreds of hurried people. It can be quite a scary new life to adjust to.

What I swiftly realized was that I was the closest thing to family those rescues had, and it took some time before they felt comfortable enough around me. My role as a foster parent came with a big responsibility. I found that what it takes is a lot of love and patience, along with the understanding and acceptance that these pups have been through A LOT.

The Rescue Community Is a Huge Help

Muddy Paws Rescue

From finding the right crate to learning how to potty train, being a first time foster parent is not always easy. And if you’re not sure what you’re doing, mistakes will inevitably be made. But Muddy Paws Rescue’s community was there for me every step of the way — and it was a huuuuge help.

I was assigned a more experienced volunteer who offered help and advice 24/7. Needless to say it alleviated my stress and made me feel a lot more comfortable when dealing with a situation I didn’t feel I had under control — which can happen a lot at first.

It Brings You Joy

Even though I knew they were never mine, I had a great time caring for each and every one of the dogs that were assigned to me. And the best part was that they all had such different personalities(!), which made the whole experience even richer. Being a part of the lives of so many dogs in need - however briefly - was an extremely rewarding undertaking.

My life also became a little more adventurous. Because I had to be outside a lot to walk the dogs, I ended up finding more and more fun things to do. Dogs are very well integrated into NYC’s lifestyle so I could pretty much take them everywhere with me. The best part was going to the dog park and watching them living their best lives surrounded by other happy pups (and in the meantime making even more furry friends!).

You’re More Than Just a Home

One misconception I had as I began my journey was that all I would have to do was open my door, feed the dog, take it out and play with it. But the reality is that, as a foster parent, you are also one of the most important parts of the adoption process. You need to be available in case a potential family wants to meet your assigned pup, and they might have tons of questions for you (after all, you’re the one who knows the dog best at that point).

A future adopted dog also needs an appealing online presence. That’s when you come in by being the number one provider of pictures and a fun description of what your new friend’s personality is really like. You’re basically their agent, and your purpose is to help them attract the most fitting family possible. As much as it may sound like work, once you get to know your dog, it’s actually great fun and another gratifying experience as you sense you’re really making a difference.

Goodbyes Are Not as Hard as You’d Think

When I first thought about getting into dog fostering, I was put off by doubts on how hard it would be for me to say goodbye at the end of the road. I was afraid I would get too attached and my heart would break every single time.

What I’ve learned since, however, is that if you fully accept that the dog is never yours from the get-go, you will feel so much joy the day it finds a forever home, because that’s the happy ending you’ve been working toward since the very beginning. Of course, there’s always the worry that their new family won’t be a match (sadly dogs are ‘returned’ more often than you’d think, sometimes for ridiculous reasons like ‘too much humping’), which means the dog has to be re-homed again, adding up to a considerable sense of abandonment and confusion to process.

It’s All Worth It

At the end of the day, dog fostering is a unique and fulfilling experience that will bring just as much joy to your life as theirs— provided that you’re ready to really commit to it.

If you live in NYC and are interested in fostering dogs or help in any other capacity, visit https://www.muddypawsrescue.org/ to register as a volunteer.

Writer. Traveler. Dog lover. I write about movies and other things.