Confession: After My Puppy Mill Dog Died, I Became a Foster Fail

I wanted to make a rescue into a therapy dog; that didn't happen, but a wonderful thing did.


I was looking for a dog with intention to fill the house with noise and love. I’d train he or she to became a therapy dog, working in our hometown, at the same time, helping the adjustment in life with my husband an I, becoming empty nesters. I looked at shelters, looked online, scanned local ads, and so on. I stumbled onto a website full of pictures of cute puppies, called, and made an appointment for the following Saturday. After we arrived that morning, it became apparent we could be dealing with puppies from a puppy mill. We couldn’t leave with out rescuing one, at that point. So we picked a black and white Poodle mix, paid plenty, and headed home. I had this sinking feeling, that something was very wrong.

We did everything possible to give Crosby a good life. He had some health problems, and he had behavior problems — he was extremely unruly. We took him to obedience class. We were still committed achieving the goal of him becoming a therapy dog. I had reservations but never gave up on him. He challenged us in every way.

One day I was preparing lunch while he played around my feet an all of a sudden he went into what I recognized as a seizure. It was mild, but nonetheless it was frightening. The seizures became only worse, and more frequent. We tried medication and everything we could do to make him comfortable. It got to the point where the seizures became so bad medication wasn’t working. It was taking a toll on him. We made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize him.

It took a while before we wanted another dog. I vowed to rescue only animals who came from a shelter. I began to look at our local shelters daily. I came across a few dogs I wanted to see, made an appointment, an off I went, picking up a good friend to go with me, one who encouraged me to go there in the first place.

It was a hot and humid day in June. We met with the keeper of the shelter, and he showed us all the dogs. Last was the outdoor dog run. There were two dogs together in one pen; both were emaciated and dirty. A brown-and-cream-color one was curled up in a hole in the ground, to keep cool I assumed; she was lifeless, filthy, and matted with who-knows-what. The dogs were a recent surrender and the shelter operator hadn’t gotten to them to clean them up yet.

I asked to see the brown-and-cream dog so I could walk her around and such. She looked up at me with big copper eyes and never took her eyes off me. She was so underweight and scared it was heartbreaking. She and her sister were nearly starved to death and very afraid of humans. I brought her into the building to ask more about her and ended up signing papers and left with medication food, and instructions, becoming a first-time foster mom.

The dog was so very sick with a upper respiratory infection and severe diarrhea. She was so underweight her bones were sticking out underneath her coat. She had hair loss and was bald in some areas. Upon returning home I gave her a long warm bath, placed her in a comfy chair on my porch, and began to comb what hair she had. I clipped her nails and trimmed around her eyes so she could see better, and overall showed her love and kindness. She was so passive, an let me do whatever I needed with no resistance. She seemed grateful.

That evening we had a terrible storm that caused flooding and brought down tress in our yard, which came with quite the mess. We lost electricity for the next three days. All night I worried about our foster dog’s sister, wondering why I hadn’t taken her too. I called the shelter the next morning to see whether I could foster her sister. It was closed because of the storm but said I could pick her up the following day. I was there as soon as they opened, and I reunited the girls.

They were so delighted. The sister was just as sick. We put out big comfy blankets, and they just slept, ate, went out to pee, and came back to the blankets relaxing side by side. The were lethargic. It took around-the-clock care, including careful feedings of small amounts of food and water, several times a day. Also needed was proper medication and lots of love and patience. The dogs began to gain weight and playfully wrestle, and they got introduced to the outdoors, toys, and chewy bones for the first time. We were earning their trust day by day. We named one Hattie and the other Layla. They were spayed as soon as they were strong enough. Shortly after that, they were ready for adoption.

My husband and I felt overwhelming attachment to both dogs, but we decided to keep only one, Hattie. The thought of separating them physically hurt. I imagine every foster parent goes through this. I have some challenging ongoing health problems and knew two dogs would be difficult. My biggest fear was finding the right family. The shelter reassured me they would help in finding the right fit. We agreed if the fit didn’t work out, I’d keep Layla in our care until the right fit was found.

With the shelter’s help, Layla was placed into the loving home of a young boy celebrating his 12th birthday. He had recently lost his father, and his mother thought a dog would help with healing for them both. I had taught Layla to sit, stay, give me her paw, and lie down. I gave them Layla’s new collar, leash, toys, and a letter with information about her home care and history. They were overjoyed. We all hugged, cried, and said our goodbyes. To this day I hold out hope that they will someday call us to get the girls together for a play date.

Hattie, meanwhile, has been the most wonderful gift. She is beautiful inside and out, she has doubled her weight, and she grew back her entire coat. Hattie is so smart and sweet. She’s loving and seems to be grateful to be with us. We love her with all our hearts, and as I type I tear up because I’m so grateful to have her. She isn’t comfortable around crowds, on long walks, or with strangers, and she will never be a therapy dog. But lo and behold, she ended up being my therapy dog, and now I ask myself, “Who rescued who?”

Crosby didn’t pass in vain. Because of him, two dogs got a second chance at a good life.

About the authors: Derna and Carl live on the East Coast, after living in the Southwest most their lives. They have been married for 29 years and have raised two kids. They have one grandchild and an endless love for animals.

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