Fostering a Senior "Puppy" Dog

When I was first offered a chance to foster Muggle, all the rescue group knew about him was his age and name. They hadn’t tested him on other dogs or cats, couldn’t tell if he was house trained, or anything from his past other than the fact that he had wandered into someone’s home looking for food. Yet, the idea of fostering senior dog seemed so enticing after having just fostered puppies a short time before. Anything seemed easier than a puppy, house trained or not; it was quite a risk, but with his being a "designer breed," I figured he would get scooped up instantly.

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I picked up Muggle directly from the veterinarian after his neuter surgery and was told he would probably be really “spaced out and mellow” post-surgery. What I got instead was a puppy-like senior who stopped at every patch of green grass to roll around and wiggle his round body, cone and all. He was deemed The Dancing Puggle on my Instagram as that was our first impression of him, and quickly gained a social media presence once he was posted on Susie’s Senior Dogs, Foster Dogs and Shelter Chic. Everyone wanted a piece of this magical Puggle.

 Photo by Erin Stanton for Susie's Senior Dogs

Photo by Erin Stanton for Susie's Senior Dogs

To all of our surprise, when I started slowly introducing him to my dogs (since we were unsure about how socialized he was with other dogs) we saw right off the bat that he was the in-your-face and on-your-back type of playmate. At ten years old, Muggle had worse manners than a young puppy. Definitely friendly, but he came off as overly-friendly, particularly when left with another dog without caution. To top his eager play-style, Muggle was not house trained and marked any area that smelled foreign (so... my entire home).

 Muggle and foster brother Royce snuggling

Muggle and foster brother Royce snuggling

All of the many adoption inquiries that arrived in that first week from social media began to fade away once people realized that he still needed some training and had more energy than their concept of a senior dog. Most people who are looking for an active dog opt to adopt younger, and Muggle’s stamina betrayed his age. [Humane Society's tips on housetraining senior dogs]

 Belly rubs on his DEN Dog Bed

Belly rubs on his DEN Dog Bed

Together with his rescue advocates and myself (his foster mom), our search for an adopter home continued for five whole months. Strangely, this was 4.5 months longer than I had originally predicted, but the fun never stopped. 

 Photo by Emily Davis with support from Keiko Groves and Erin Solari

Photo by Emily Davis with support from Keiko Groves and Erin Solari

Muggle’s energy made him just as smart as a puppy. I had several conversations with interested adopters who couldn’t believe I was describing a ten-year-old dog. Eager to please? Quick learner? Playful? Active? They weren’t the stereotypical characterizations for a senior dog. Yet Muggle continued to break every stereotype. During his stay with me, he helped me foster eleven more animals. Five of these fosters were puppies who understood his play-style, and two kittens whom he coached how to play like once of the dogs.

 Fostering Remy from Muddy Paws Rescue, and Lisa Simpson from Hearts and Bones Rescue

Fostering Remy from Muddy Paws Rescue, and Lisa Simpson from Hearts and Bones Rescue

Muggle was a bit reactive when first meeting a dog, but bringing home new foster animals allowed me to work on our introductions and practice respecting a new dog’s space. His reactivity had its quirks too; on walks, Muggle memorized which buildings typically had dogs seated on the porch and/or window and he would stop by those buildings and sniff out his friends for a good barking session.

On our walks, I was always on alert to find other dogs before he did and I would redirect his attention. Most of the time, his mind worked more quickly than mine and he would spot the dog first. I learned so much about myself through Muggle. Even though I had already fostered over fifty dogs at that time and didn’t consider myself a novice at training, but it was through Muggle that I could see a true reflection of my own faults and how quick I was to give in to a dog’s charm.

 Maria and her foster dog Muggle

Maria and her foster dog Muggle

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When we finally found an adopter for Muggle, she came out to meet him in Brooklyn on a hot day when all the dogs were out, there were neighborhood barbecues cooking up a storm, and Muggle was on his absolute worst behavior. I chose to not even correct so she could see the full level of intensity when there were distractions around. The adopter had already seen him on my social media and saw how well mannered and eager to please that he could be, but before committing it was important that she saw him at his absolute worst. After every tantrum, turned around with that big old wrinkled smile and she knew right then that she wanted him, quirks and all.

Fostering Muggle enlightened me to see how little I knew about rescue and what a gamble each animal was. [Best Friends Animal Society's advice for caring for senior dogs]

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You can’t really judge any dog or situation based on their stay at the shelter. What I thought would be a delicate and matured puppy who would get adopted right away ended up being my longest resident and one of the more challenging ones to adopt out. After all of the efforts put in to rescuing him, seeing him bond with the right adopter and hearing updates on how he’s settled in to his new lifestyle made the venture completely worth it.