What Fostering an Anxious Dog Taught Me About Life and Love

What am I THINKING?! This is INSANE!

I glanced into my rearview mirror to check on the terrified German Shepherd in my back seat. The one I had to pick up into my arms and hoist into my car. The one that panicked as soon as we began driving, frantically seeking an escape before ultimately crouching down behind the driver’s seat, body trembling, eyes shut, nose pressed against the carpet.

The fact was, I had never fostered an animal before.

How was I going to care for a 70-pound dog with severe anxiety?

I don’t have time for this! I don’t know what I’m doing!

Terrified of car rides, Million would crouch behind the driver’s seat with his nose pressed against the floor.

While all this felt true, the moment I saw Million huddled in the back of his kennel, trying to hide from the world, I knew I had no choice.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. I had only popped into the SPCA of Northern Nevada to run a quick errand.

“We need to get Million into foster care,” I overheard one staff member tell another. “He’s rapidly deteriorating here. I’m worried for him.”

“I know,” the other responded. “He’s scared of people, especially men. He needs a stable home with another dog that could show him the ropes.”

As the communications manager for the SPCA of Northern Nevada, my first thought when I hear about a case like this is usually: how can I reach out to the community and find the right foster family for this animal?

But the minute I laid eyes on Million, I knew immediately who he needed.

He needed our family.

“It’s ok, sweet boy,” I assured him as cruised south on the 395 through Reno. “I promise you’ll love it at our place. It’s stable, quiet, and you’ll love your new foster sister Maia.” 

While I had no idea how things were going to turn out, something inside me told me I was doing the right thing.


So what is fostering?

Fostering is the act of bringing an animal into your home and providing care until they are ready to be adopted out into the community.

There are all kinds of animals in need of fostering. Bottle kittens without a mother to raise them. Abandoned puppies. Animals recovering from surgery.

Or anxious dogs like Million, who need a stable, loving home environment to come out of their shell.

I didn’t know much about Million’s past, or why he was so scared of people. But that didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was that he made it safely to the SPCA of Northern Nevada.

Now we had the opportunity to give him a new life.

The impact of fostering reaches beyond opening your heart and home to provide care to an animal. It dramatically increases a shelter’s capacity to save lives and improves that animal’s chance of success once it’s adopted. Approximately 6.5 million animals enter U.S. shelters nationwide every year. Of that number, 1.5 million are euthanized. While we are trending in the right direction (that number was 2.6 million in 2011), there’s still a ways to go in saving the animals that often save us.

And fostering is one way of helping out.


Fostering a transformation.

“It’s ok, Million, we’re home now,” I cooed as we pulled into our garage. He winced at my touch, but allowed me to gently pick him up and carry him out of the car.

My dog Maia greeted us at the door. Rarely have I felt more proud of our blue heeler/pit mix than I did in that moment, watching her welcome Million with a big smile and wagging tail. Soon, she was giving him a tour of the house. Within minutes Million’s body had visibly relaxed. He was like a different dog with Maia around. Comfortable, curious, and at ease – as a dog should be.

Maia welcomed Million into our home with open paws, and even shared her food and water with him.

The next few weeks we watched Million’s personality unfold as he adjusted to a new chapter in his life. I documented his journey on Instagram, inviting SPCA followers to celebrate his milestones with me.

We cheered the day he allowed me to pet him. We huzzaed when he faced his fear of men by giving my fiancé Karl a kiss. We danced when he hopped into my car without my prompting. We melted when he began sleeping at the foot of our bed, and kindly greeting us in the mornings.

To help him get comfortable with car rides, I took Million to work with me every day. He would lay at my feet while I typed away.

Perhaps the most exciting milestone was the day he sat comfortably in my back seat the entire drive to work one morning. It took a lot of baby steps to get to that point, but seeing him hold his head high as we cruised down the highway marked one of the most meaningful moments of my year.

“Million, I’m so proud of you!” I said, my eyes welling, my heart swelling with gratitude.

I quickly snapped this photo as soon as I parked my car at work. I felt so proud in this moment!

When the day came for Million to go to a new home, I’ll admit, tears were shed. At the same time, we were ready to return to our little family of three. It was clear our job was done.

It had been an honor to take part in Million’s recovery. Plus, fostering gave us the opportunity to contribute as a family. Seeing our dog Maia step up as a mentor, and Karl a doting foster dad, made me realize this was something we wanted to keep doing- the three of us, as a team.

When I saw that terrified German Shepherd crouched in his kennel that Sunday morning, I had every reason to say no.

No, I’m too busy to foster.

No, I don’t want to get attached.

No, our house is too small.

No, I don’t have time.

But I said yes instead.

Yes to opening up a kennel at the SPCA to save another life. Yes to opening our hearts and home to help a pet build confidence. Yes to not letting my fears and doubts get in the way of making a difference.

But most of all, yes to one of the most beautiful lessons we could ever learn: that it’s ok to love and let go.


The SPCA of Northern Nevada is in need of fosters! If you’re interested in possibly fostering someday (doesn’t have to be right away!) then fill out our online application HERE!

Fostering is a fun and powerful way of giving back to the community. All you have to provide is the place, time, and love – we’ll provide the knowledge, support, food, and supplies! To learn more about fostering, visit our FOSTER PAGE!

Want to keep reading? Check out 10 Reasons Why You Should Foster!




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