I fostered 20 shelter dogs this year, but they rescued me

2018 is the year of the dog, after all.
2018 is the year of the dog, after all.
Image: Noël Duan
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As far as selfish decisions go, this one was pretty selfless. Instead of losing weight or mastering a new language as my 2017 new year’s resolution, I resolved to open up my overpriced New York City studio apartment to dogs without homes. I, a 26-year-old single woman living alone and working at home (in short, I could go weeks without talking to anyone), became a foster parent to puppies in search of their “forever home.”

The general reaction to this, from friends to colleagues, has been that I am such a wonderful, kind, generous person. But I’m not. I wanted to feel loved, and when you foster dogs with an IRS-approved non-profit organization, anything you spend on your foster dog—even the cab ride to pick it up—is tax deductible. I felt like I was getting paid to save puppies. “I rescued [my dog],” comedian Sarah Silverman and dog adoption advocate joked in her 2017 Netflix standup special, A Speck of Dust. “Or I like to think she rescued me. I don’t know which is the less cunty way of putting it.”

My first dog was a robot. His name was Aibo, and he came from a litter of 2,000—prototypes from Sony, that is. I always knew I wanted a dog, but my parents thought I wouldn’t tell the difference between a robot with light-up eyes and a real life animal that peed and pooped. 17 years later, when I turned 26 and finally got my own apartment in New York City, I adopted Artemis, a six-month-old 15-pound stray from Miami, Florida, from In Our Hands Rescue. Her original name is Missy, but I renamed her Artemis (ArteMISSY) after the Greek goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and young women. I needed a guardian and she needed someone to pick up her poop.

I had just gotten laid off from my first-ever job two weeks before I adopted Artemis, and I had no idea what to do with my sudden unemployment status. With my new free time, I (unsuccessfully and half-heartedly) applied for some jobs, caught up on my favorite TV shows, and walked alone around New York City for hours on end without a destination in mind. This being New York City, one of the most canine-friendly cities in the world, I saw a lot of dogs on their own walks, though most of them walked with more purpose and determination than I did. I knew, then, that I was going to adopt a dog. Give my life some purpose—or at least, give my long walks some more purpose.

By the end of 2016, I was very hard on myself. I got the flu on New Year’s Eve, which I mostly spent alone in bed. I had spent the majority of 2016 in physical therapy from a running injury, which I paid for out of pocket, because well, I lost my full-time job. But the one highlight of 2016 was Artemis.

I wanted to repeat that joy. I wanted to spend 2017 bathed in puppy love. It was easier than going on dates.

So, the last week of December, I filled out the foster applications on New York City’s plentitude of non-profit animal rescue organizations. I explained that I lived alone in a dog-friendly apartment, had a dog-friendly dog myself, worked from home, and never had a dog growing up and was making up for lost time. That first weekend of January, in the middle of a snowstorm, I traveled two hours to Queens to pick up my first foster puppy, a six-month-old good boy named Buddy.

Buddy was a scrawny sort of whippet-chihuahua mix, and he loved to hoard his toys and treats, hiding them underneath the dog bed. Like other lean sighthounds, he needed a thick coat for walks in the winter and he had a sensitive stomach, from which he vomited the pricey raw dog food that I bought from the pet store. He was subservient to my feisty little dog, but he barked at every dog he saw on his walks. He liked to spoon with me in bed and when he was finally—officially—adopted three weeks after his first night with me, I cried because I didn’t think it was fair. I taught him to pee outside. I cleaned up his vomit. I bought him a new winter coat.

For 19 more dogs this year, it was just like falling in love and getting your heart broken every time: it never stops hurting, of course, but you get better at moving on. You think your first love is the only person you will ever love, but eventually you learn that your capacity for love is not reserved for one person—or dog—in your lifetime.

I could write a love letter to every puppy I fostered this year, but I won’t. Here are some highlights: Billy was a 8-week-old Labrador with a paunchy black belly who stared deep into my eyes when I carried him around in a tote bag. Raphael was an eight-week-old gentleman with a spotted pink nose, who insisted on sleeping in bed with me every night, even though you’re not supposed to let puppies sleep with you, just in case they soil your sheets. (He really was a gentleman, as he’d hop off my bed to pee in the middle of the night.)

Fiona was a nine-week-old Shepherd mix who liked to massaged her gums with my fingers. Peppermint was a five-month-old miniature pinscher found abandoned on the side of the road. She was so shy her first week in my home, she slept under the bed. The second week, she started running around the dog park, trying to hump golden retrievers 10 times her size. 10-week-old Heather was a Mountain Cur with giant paws—it means she’ll be huge someday—came to me after Hurricane Harvey, when dogs were getting displaced from Texas shelters to make room for abandoned dogs.

This was all during a period I thought I wasn’t worth loving. But somehow, knowing that these abandoned puppies gave me a chance and loved me for no logical whatsoever, reminded me that I was worthy of being loved and had the capacity to love—yes, even love myself.

My friend, Liza Darwin, the co-founder of Clover Letter, also started fostering dogs this year—and unlike me, she’s neither single nor living alone. Sometimes, she and her boyfriend will be having brunch around their home in Brooklyn before receiving an urgent email from In Our Hands Rescue. They’d go pick up the dog after paying the bill. It’s usually unplanned. “We like having the change in our lives once in a while,” she explains.

This 2018, I won’t be fostering anymore. I already have a dog who used to be a stray, after all, and I think she’s tired of untrained puppies peeing in her bed and eating her food. But you should consider fostering. It’s even on theme for the year: 2018 happens to be the year of the dog in the Chinese Zodiac. And with 3.3 million abandoned dogs every year, it’s a very selfless act of selfishness.