Me, as a child, to my parents:
“Can I have a dog?”
“Can I please have a dog?”
“Let’s get a dog!”
"Audrey, we are not getting a dog.”
I always got the dog.
First there was Max, a 2-year-old Cocker Spaniel that we rescued but ended up having to re-home after he bit me. I still haven’t fully forgiven my parents for this. Then there was Winnie, the cutest white and tan Beagle whose stubbornness challenged my dad and made my mom, sisters and I laugh every day. She died when she was six. It was the first time my heart was broken. And then, there was Mollie.
Oh, sweet, sassy, tiny-headed Mollie, the yellow Lab puppy that my mom got me for Christmas when I was sixteen. She was there for so much. Teenage angst. Moving across the country to the Arizona desert. My parents’ divorce. My marriage. Embarking on various career paths. Moving again to San Francisco. Changing our lives, over and over again. I grew up with Mollie. Became an adult with her by my side.
She died three years ago. She was twelve and a half, had started declining quickly. I wasn’t ready. You never are. My heart is still broken. It feels heavy as I’m writing this, like something is pulling it down. My throat is constricting and my eyes are getting glossy. Oh Mollie, I miss you so much.
She was the best in her golden years. All she wanted to do was sleep and eat and go for walks where she could sniff everything and spend time with us. I’d never had a senior dog before her. A newfound love of old dogs nestled itself in my heart. Puppies are the worst, I always say. Old dogs really are the best.
I still can’t bring myself to write about the day that she died. I don’t know if I ever will. All that I can say is: it was the worst day of my life. The most traumatic thing that I’ve ever been through. Garrett and I were in so much pain. We never wanted to feel that way again. We couldn’t imagine ever getting another dog and ultimately going through this loss, making ourselves vulnerable to living through this pain one more time.
We grieved and cried and medicated. For months. Scenes from her death would pop into my head at random and I’d have to physically shake my head to get them out. It’s a miracle that I didn’t give myself a concussion, I shook my head so hard and so frequently. We missed Mollie. We still miss Mollie.
I really missed having a dog.
Six months after her death, I started to feel the absence of animals in my life. I’ve always needed to be near animals; my connection with them is such a big part of who I am. I started researching volunteering opportunities at shelters and rescue organizations. That’s when I came across Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.
I filled out a volunteer application online and attended two orientations. There are a number of ways that volunteers can contribute; I wanted to spend time walking and caring for the dogs. At the end of my second orientation, we went up to the “doggy loft,” where all of the seniors hang out. The setup is more like a doggy daycare than a shelter, there aren’t any cages. I walked into that room of old, heavy-breathing, slow-moving dogs and had to walk out a couple of minutes later. I went to my car and cried. They reminded me so much of Mollie.
I returned to Muttville the following Tuesday for my first volunteer shift. The staff and the other volunteers were so welcoming, so helpful. Grateful that I was there to help. They made me feel valued from day one, something that is so key to the success of a good volunteer program but so often overlooked.
And oh, the dogs. Those sweet, resilient old dogs. They’re what kept me coming back every Tuesday for the past two and a half years. They have filled my life with so much joy. Dogs come to Muttville for various reasons: their owner might have lost their home, they might have passed away, or their life circumstances simply changed. A lot of them come in as strays, found abandoned with matted hair and injuries and sometimes covered in so many fleas that they’re anemic. It makes you doubt humankind, seeing the state of some of these dogs when they come to Muttville. But passing judgement on the situation doesn’t help. Showing up to Muttville and giving these dogs love and hope for a better life does.
Muttville was founded in 2007 by Sherri Franklin after witnessing how many older dogs in shelters were deemed unadoptable and frequently euthanized because of their age. She saved 27 dogs that first year. In the fall of 2017, Muttville rescued its 5,000th dog. 5,000 dogs who would have likely been euthanized after living through horrible circumstances. 5,000 dogs who were given a second chance at a better life.
I showed up to volunteer every Tuesday, savoring my time with the sweet and funny personalities of the Muttville mutts. It was my weekly dog fill. Eventually, my heart started to heal. Had our circumstances been different, Garrett and I would have gotten another dog; we started to feel ready for one. But we had made the decision that we were going to travel with our sailboat one day, and we didn’t really want to bring a dog along. Had Mollie still been alive when we cast off, we absolutely would have brought her. And a lot of people do cruise with their pets. But…when Mollie died, we really, really needed a veterinarian to end her suffering. I was also in another awful situation where a vet was needed in the same way. I can’t, and don’t want to, imagine what those situations would have been like if we didn’t have access to one. And that’s the thing: you don’t have easy access to vets when you’re in the middle of the ocean.
So Garrett and I did not want to take the risk of bringing a dog into our lives and then embarking on this adventure, but we still really missed having a dog in our home. That’s when we decided to try fostering.
I filled out the application online and chatted with the staff about fostering during my weekly volunteer shift. I kept my eyes peeled for a dog that would be a good fit: house broken, social, and not too anxious. These were the types of dogs that Garrett and I could care for at this point in our lives the best.
The first foster dog that I brought home was Joey, a small maybe-Chihuahua-maybe-Dachshund-maybe-Beagle mix. He was so cute, and so happy. We bathed him in our sink the first night, and he proceeded to rub his wet fur against our couch to dry, back and forth, back and forth for 10 minutes. We laughed really hard. It was a little strange, to have another dog in our home who was not Mollie, but Joey made it easy.
Both Garrett and I worked in dog-friendly offices and we took turns bringing our foster dogs to work, starting with Joey. Everybody at my office fell in love with him. Him, and all of the others that followed.
I brought Joey home on a Tuesday evening and he was adopted that Saturday. For the most part, that’s how quickly our fosters got adopted. The longest period that we had one was for two weeks.
After Joey there was Applesauce, a sweet, fluffy Pomeranian that we rescued from the fires happening in Northern California. Garrett fell hard for Applesauce. He loved brushing out her hair. Thinking about it still makes me laugh, and I can’t wait to get a Pomeranian for him one day.
Then there was Buttons, a scruffy little blonde Terrier mix. He loved napping. Hated being woken up. Buttons was a little grumpy, but hey, his life was tough. We fostered him around the holidays and, when our friends were hosting a Christmas party, we dressed him up in a bow tie and brought him along. Our friends who met him at the party adopted him later that weekend!
Next up was Levi. He was the one that we came closest to keeping, the one that got away. I still miss him. His timid personality unraveled throughout the week and he turned into a spunky, happy guy, who would jump in circles around my feet when I woke up in the morning. We didn’t want to give him up. I cried when I dropped him off at the adoption event, and when I got home, Garrett said, “I just had a dream that we kept him.” We agreed: if Levi was not adopted by the end of the day, we would keep him. He was adopted later that afternoon.
After Levi was Max, another chihuahua mix. He was quieter, watchful. Like the others before him, he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. A nice family ended up adopting him a few days after we brought him home to foster.
Lady Bull followed Max. She was hysterical, a funny-looking little chihuahua with a tiny head and countless neck rolls. Lady Bull was so chill. I’d carry her around to do errands, propped upright against my forearm, and she would fall asleep. She might have been more asleep than awake in our time together. She was also the first dog we fostered on the boat, and she couldn’t have cared less about her surroundings. Girl just wanted to sleep. It made me happy, to know that we could make dogs comfortable on our boat.
And then there was…French Fry! He was the real heartbreaker at our offices. The teeniest, tiniest little brown and white Chihuahua, he couldn’t have been more than six pounds. We had him for two weeks. He was really scared at first and just kept to himself. He’d shake when I’d bring him around from meeting to meeting at work, so I ended up just leaving him under my desk to sleep, and he stayed put all day. We gave him his distance and didn’t try to coddle him. He slowly opened up to us, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences. He’d beg for head pets and back scratches and would crawl into my lap if I pretended to ignore him. French Fry was adopted by a very nice lady with two other small senior dogs; I actually handled his adoption myself.
Then there was Malibu. She was sassy! Her tongue stuck out just a little bit, which was the cutest thing. She was really sweet but did not like big dogs and wasn’t afraid to make that known. She had a lot of personality and we ate it all up. The day after Malibu was adopted, her new owner called Muttville and said “I feel like I’ve been waiting for her my whole life.” If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.
And last but not least, there was Taurus. Oh, Taurus was adorable. I have no idea what kind of dog he was. Small, around 20 pounds, with long blonde hair. His tongue stuck out a little bit, too. He loved sleeping in a basket under my desk at work. He would get really silly in the evenings and roll around like a crazy man while we looked on and laughed. He was recovering from a skin issue, and I had to bathe him with medicated shampoo. He didn’t love the bath; I could tell he was scared, but he licked my hand every once in a while as if to say, “I hate this but it’s making me feel better so thanks.” Taurus got adopted the following weekend by a nice mother and her daughter.
There were a few other dogs that we fostered for a night or two but they just didn’t work out; either they were too stressed in our offices or uncomfortable on our boat. Muttville was always really supportive and had no issue with me bringing back the dog to headquarters if necessary. I would love to be able to foster dogs that require more work in the future, but I’m just not in the space for that right now. It’s been really nice to foster for an organization that understands and accepts what you are prepared to give.
Fostering takes a lot of work: the dogs usually bond with you pretty quickly and want to be with you at all times. To me, this means clearing my schedule of social commitments, workouts, appointments and events that would take me away from the dog. The dog is our priority. We have a limited amount of time to give them our love, to show them that they are worthy of love. To try and erase the pain of the past, and to try and give them hope for the future. We don’t know what their future life will be like, but we do know that we can make their time with us the best time that they’ve had in a while. We can make them feel safe and cared for. They’ll always have water and (maybe too much) food and go for walks and come to work and sleep in our beds. We give them love, and they give us so much more in return.
Of course, it’s always hard to part with them in the end. There’s a guilt associated with it for me; our foster probably thinks that we’re their new parents, and it makes me sad that they’ll have to relive that loss and start over with someone new. But it’s amazing, how resilient and loving these dogs are. These dogs, who have been abandoned in the golden years of their lives, are so ready to trust again. If they attached to us so quickly, there’s no doubt that they’ll do the same for their new owner and their new home. At the end of the day, we know that fostering is good for the dogs and the rescue effort overall. For every dog you put into foster, a space opens up to bring a new one in need to the rescue. Taking a dog out of a shelter environment, even one as wonderful as Muttville, usually makes them feel more at ease and it allows you to observe their personalities and behaviors in various settings, knowledge that is invaluable to potential adopters.
Getting to observe their personalities and behaviors, of course, has been our favorite part in all of this. The dogs that we fostered always started out a little unsure of us but grew more confident with every passing day. As their confidence returned, so did their character. Whether they were sweet, spunky, a little grumpy, or just plain easy going, it was always so rewarding to get to know who these dogs were. We fell head over heels for each and every one.
Garrett and I are about to embark on our travels: we leave for a summer in Europe on Sunday and will return to being cruising down to Mexico in September. I don’t know when we’ll be able to foster a dog again, or when we’ll finally be able to give another dog a permanent home. I can’t wait for that day. What I do know is this: our nine foster dogs helped heal our very broken hearts and taught us one of the most important life lessons we’ve had—that it’s never too late for a second chance and you should never, ever give up on hope. Joey, Applesauce, Buttons, Levi, Max, Lady Bull, French Fry, Malibu, Taurus, and all of the Muttville mutts who have graced our lives in the past two and a half years: thank you. You will always be in our hearts.