First Time Foster: My Buddy & Me

I laughed when a co-worker told me that he and his wife always found it easier to have a baby than a puppy. I assumed all the warnings and horror stories could be chalked up to doggy veterans ribbing the new puppy mom and recalling those early days with a bit of forgivable exaggeration. I countered their smirks and raised eyebrows with inextinguishable exuberance over my puppy love to be. And at the end of my 10 day foster there was puppy love a plenty. But there were also a lot of lessons learned about the tough and rewarding world of puppy fostering.

 Buddy was never too thrilled with spending a lot of time caged off from the rest of the office.

I picked up Buddy on a bright Saturday afternoon, and it was immediately clear that he was a star. As I walked the 12 blocks home with him in my arms (he was still missing his last booster shot and so couldn't touch the NYC streets), we were met with awww's and exclamations and were stopped at least 4 different times. People simply perked up when they saw him. He reminded them of their own puppies and they wanted to share, to relive those memories, and to get a quick cuddle. He handled the attention like a champ - licking hands and giving them his most adorable puppy eyes and head tilts.

Once home, he proved cautious with his explorations but generous with his love. He was exhausted from his two day trip up the coast and understandably timid in his new environment. He wanted to be near me constantly, and simple things like a quick trip to the bathroom suddenly became an ordeal of whimpers, cries, and anxious scratches at the door. I knew puppies required a lot of attention, but this was way beyond my expectations. It was going to be an adjustment on both sides, and we would both have to help each other figure it all out.

Luckily, we turned out to be pretty good partners. Buddy was a quick study and had about 95% usage of the wee wee pads, although his accuracy at times left a lot to be desired. Still, I was proud of him for clearly trying! I have never spent so much time kneeling down or crawling across my floors (it was like doing 100 burpees a day!). Between that and carrying a 12lb dog everywhere, I was getting all my weight training in with Buddy as my ever helpful drill sergeant.

I said get down and give me 20... kisses!

Caring for this little hairy munchkin involved a lot more fear than I anticipated. Are those twitches because he's dreaming or is he having a seizure? It was always a dream. Can he eat a piece of apple? Yes, just not the seeds. Is his poop the right consistency? Yup, and the right color too. What's he doing under the couch now?! Searching for the toy he accidentally knocked under there. My browser search history is an entertaining record of this fear. I Google'd things I didn't know as well as the things I did know because I didn't want to take any chances. Beyond him being my legal responsibility, I loved him and didn't want him to feel any discomfort. His dependence on me was a strange mix of burden and honor.

My physical space had to adjust too. My apartment is pretty much always neat and tidy but having a puppy exposes every little corner to close inspection. The floor had to be cleared of most every obstruction. The coffee table was moved to allow him a longer running path. Blankets and books were repositioned on top of the bookcase. It wasn't my apartment anymore! Hoping to save my couch from any accidents, I spent a lot of time sitting on the ground next to Buddy so he could have the access to me that he desired without sacrificing my favorite piece of furniture. Even with all the alterations, he always found something to get into. It was uncanny.

So close, yet so far. These two had to be kept apart to keep the peace. Buddy was just too high energy for Whisky.

When it came time to bring Buddy to work, we had to relive the day 1 fear and excitement all over again. The office was hectic with all new noises, sounds, smells, and even a doggy friend! Our Director of Cuddles, Whisky, was the ever patient statesman who tolerated the high energy pup with dignity and a few growls. Ultimately, it was best to keep them in their own spaces to minimize confrontation. They remained intrigued by one another, though, and influenced each other's behavior through the bars. Whisky, an easy-going Norwich Terrier, exhibited a renewed interest in toys long forgotten once Buddy got his mitts on them. 

The sweetest and most annoying part about having a young pup in the office was that he had to be within touching distance of me at all times. I had to setup a mobile office in the caged off area, sitting on the ground, and often typing with one hand. In the end, working from home was the most convenient for everyone. I have a new appreciation for the concept of "pawternity" leave that is gaining acceptance (see the new policy from BrewDog!).

Our Easter office photoshoot was unsuccessful due to complications of a toothy nature...

The single most challenging aspect of raising a puppy is the teething and biting. Buddy had plenty of toys to thrash about (thanks to BarkBox!), but at least 3 times a day he would have bursts of violent energy and bite my hands, knees, calves, arms.. really any piece of me he could sink his teeth into. Twenty or thirty minutes later he would calm down and lay on top of my feet as I did the dishes or demurely place his head in my lap while I binged on Netflix. It was the biting that pushed me to the edge multiple times. He was learning to sit, to fetch, to wee on his pads, but he never learned that I was not an appropriate chew toy. What was I doing wrong?

He was still quite popular around the office, even with all the teething! 

Everyone had their own advice and tricks for how to break him of this bad behavior, but I learned that one size does not fit all in this case. It was looking out of the window that was often the much needed salve for Buddy. The outside world mesmerized him, and I'm sure a lot of this biting energy came from severe cabin fever. And who could blame him? Once all of his vaccinations are complete, he will be an adorable menace to all the birds, squirrels, and errant trash within eyesight. It was hard to stay mad at him after a biting frenzy, but I will carry a few scars for awhile to remind me that this sweet, little furball had not yet completed finishing school.

Having a dog in your house will get you moving. I was always up and down, looking under the couch when he was being too quiet, fetching a toy from an area he couldn't reach, cleaning up his "spillage", or chasing after him to take something from his mouth. What are you eating? Oh God, what are you eating?! But while that was a lot of in-home activity for me, it wasn't nearly enough for Buddy. He really needed to romp and roam outside. I was constantly concerned that he was bored. Are we playing enough? Is he getting enough love? It is hard to make sure they are getting everything they need when they can't tell you what they want, and I felt the concern more deeply than I thought I would. One of the most important things I observed about dogs while fostering Buddy is that a lot of behavior issues, like biting and barking, are caused by a lack of activity. Activity really does lead to a happier, healthier life. Looks like I'm in the right business. 

Time at the window was always calming 

The biting as a major hurdle came as a surprise to me, and I was concerned that potential forever families might be turned off by this. But Buddy is a charmer and won the hearts of a forever family well versed in the habits of young puppies. I am quite certain they will help him grow into a well mannered dog. Buddy and I spent an hour and a half with the family, and he sure gave them a show. The oldest daughter in the family knew how to assert her dominance over Buddy, and she was helping her younger sister to do the same. Unfortunately, Buddy quickly identified with the younger sister, seeing her as a friend and more on his level. He jumped all over her while dad and big sister gently coached her how to signal to Buddy that biting was a no-no and she was the boss lady. He didn't catch on, but they made him a member of the family anyway! He's simply irresistible. 

Handing Buddy over to his forever family was bittersweet, but I am comforted to know he will be loved and well taken care of for the rest of his life. But it's sad that I will not be a part of it. My voice quivered a bit as I updated the family on his activities since we last met: he has taken a liking to chasing ice cubes across the floor, 7:30 is his preferred wake-up time, and he's happier if you get in the tub with him for his baths. 

A few days later, Buddy's new family sent me an update with pictures of him comfortably asleep in his new bed. He's doing well, and he is loved. 


WonderWoof encourages everyone to take part in the #adoptdontshop movement and to contact local shelters for fostering opportunities.

Buddy's rescue was sponsored by Unleashed, a NYC organization dedicated to empowering young girls and rescuing dogs across the United States. To date, Unleashed has rescued over 400 puppies from the Urgent Lists of high kill-shelters in rural areas all over the country.