Dug, fosterdogs, fostering, puppies, writing

Safe Harbor

Dug has arrived.

And it’s been a long time coming. (According to Ian.)

Not long after we started fostering dogs, maybe eight or ten dogs in, my youngest son began calling all our foster dogs, “Dug.”

When I asked him why, he said. “I can’t remember all the names, so they can all just be ‘Dug.’”

Dug-upDug is the dog from the movie Up. If you haven’t seen that movie – you’ve missed out. Dug is the ADD dog the main characters encounter on their journey. Dug is searching for the bird Kevin, but is easily distracted. You’ve probably heard people say, “Squirrel!” followed by a quick head turn to indicate how easily they’re distracted. They’re referencing Dug.

With each litter we’ve fostered, Ian has campaigned to name all the puppies Dug. (Dug 1, Dug 2, Dug 3, etc.)

So, when I told him we had the chance to name our next foster puppy, he insisted we name him Dug.

I agreed and he immediately tracked down his older brother and sister to tell them we were finally getting Dug!

Dug arrived Saturday morning and it seems he really did get here just in time. He is not what you would term a postcard-pretty puppy. His head is several sizes too large for his body, but this is because it’s actually his body that is several sizes too small for his age.

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Dug is a four-month-old plotthound/lab mix. He only weighs 11 pounds. All of his bones protrude. I’ve seen plenty of skinny dogs, but this is my first truly skinny puppy. I’m used to plump puppies with fat pink bellies to rub and shiny coats. Dug’s eyes are watery and his coat is dull and flecked with dandruff.

We are pumping him full of probiotics, coconut oil, grain-free food, vitamins, and even a supplement for skin and coat. Dug is doing his part, wolfing down everything I set in front of him.

Dug is shy and hesitant and spends most of his time sleeping. I’ve never seen such a calm, quiet puppy. He doesn’t make a sound. I’m guessing he is exhausted. When I put a crate in his pen and covered it with a towel, he took up residence, preferring the safe little cave to the larger play area in the pen.


This past week another puppy we once fostered has been on my mind. This is because I spent three days in New York City with Ian where he was honored with a National Scholastic Gold Medal for an essay he wrote about that puppy named Hadley.

Hadley remains the most traumatized dog we’ve ever fostered. Ian’s story about Hadley was one of the 1500 art and writing awards chosen from 330,000 entries for this honor.

It was exciting to be in the city—to see the Empire State Building lit up gold the night before in honor of the gold medal winners, meet other high school students from across the country, and to hear Amy Schumer, Paul Chan, Ellie Kemper, Michelle Obama, and Allison Williams speak to the winners at the award ceremony at Carnegie Hall.


I was bursting with pride in my kid, but each time we talked about his essay, I couldn’t help but think of Hadley. Her story wasn’t all that different from thousands of dogs in our country. What set her apart was that despite all the odds against her, she was given a chance.

Hadley was six months old when she came to our house. I would imagine that if Dug spent another two months in a shelter, (if he was granted that time), he would be as completely shut-down as Hadley was.

Although, looking at him now, I’m not sure he could have survived two more months. His body has obviously been ravaged by worms. He is shy and unsure, so completely different from the puppies I normally encounter. His shrunken body supported by oversize paws and carrying an overgrown head, make him seem like an old man.

But Dug has his moments. He wags his tail when I talk to him. When anyone approaches the pen, he backs away at first, but soon enough he creeps forward to be petted. When Gala visits, he clamors for the side of the pen happy for her company. He’s still too weak and unhealthy to play with her, she would certainly overwhelm him but she is settling down lately, so I’m hopeful that the two will be able to play together in another week. Gracie, being Gracie, snarls at Dug when she passes by. Dug just watches her, but never snarls back.

This is not the puppy I imagined. But I’m pretty sure in a week, he’ll look and act different. He’s young and likely, resilient. Once he figures out he’s in a safe place, I’m hopeful his real puppy-self will emerge. I’m so grateful he made it out. So grateful we have the opportunity to teach him about love and trust and care and safety.

I think Gala is finally getting that message, too. She has settled down. And when I say settled down, in terms of Gala, that means she actually lies down and relaxes.

She more or less sticks to dog toys, instead of shoes or cords. She leaves what is on the counter, on the counter. She doesn’t try to slip out any open doors. She ignores Gracie when Gracie growls at her. She sticks her nose in the cat’s face, but no longer pushes the cat with her nose in an effort to get the cat to run so she can chase her.

Everyone has noticed. “What happened to Gala?” asks Ian. “Did you run her a lot today?”

With the heat, we haven’t been running very far or very fast. No, I think what has happened is Gala is no longer so stressed. She’ll never be a low-key dog, that’s just not her personality. It may have taken a little over two months, but I think what has finally happened is that Gala has come to the conclusion that she is safe here.

Let’s hope Dug comes to that conclusion much faster. After all, he has youth on his side.



14 thoughts on “Safe Harbor”

  1. Dug looks like he’ll be a special boy and thank goodness he had someone like you willing to take him in. We had a similar, though not nearly as extreme experience when we got Lincoln. He had been brought to the shelter in Wisconsin from an over-capacity shelter in Texas, where he had been found as a stray. We took him to the vet after he had a few days to settle in and found out he was riddled with hookworms. We knew something was up because you could still see almost every rib. He’s since put on about 15 pounds and can finally hold his own when playing with his pit bull sister 🙂


    1. You are right! Dug’s records were uploaded and he was treated for hookworms at the shelter. I’ve since wormed him twice and hope we’ve ridded him of the nasty creatures so he can gain some weight. It will be exciting to see him grow into those feet and that big head. Already, his eyes look brighter. thanks for reading and thanks for rescuing your pup!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Cara, Oh my Dug is the luckiest dog in the world right now to be in your home to be loved and taken care of. Your family is amazing!


  3. Hi Cara. I’m sure Dug is in the right place for his quick recovery and just being a puppy. I have been following you since the Hamilton puppies were tiny babies. BTW, my daughter is Princeton’s mom. 😊 I do have a question about the Frank bed that we all see in many pics that you post. Tell us about the Frank bed….why Frank and how did it come to be? I’m just curious!


    1. I love Stephanie! We came close to adopting Princeton ourselves so it makes me so happy to see posts of his adventures and I LOVE that he is helping so many kids! Frank was another near foster-fail of ours. Like with Princeton, we talked seriously about adopting him, but in the end decided it wasn’t fair for Gracie.

      Frank was (and is) really special. He was adopted out to a wonderful couple who fell in love with him, but when they took him home it wasn’t a good fit (they had an elderly mom living with them and Frank was a lot of dog – much like Gala) so they returned him a week later with the huge L.L. Bean bed they had bought for him.

      When he was finally adopted by his now forever family (GREAT home), we kept the bed. We didn’t want the adopters to feel they had to keep his name (they didn’t – he’s now Cooper) and they bed was wonderful for fostering because several dogs can fit on it at once.

      Since then, the bed, which is in our kitchen, has appeared in many pictures on the blog and been loved by all our fosters, but more than that it’s been a place of healing for some of our saddest and sickest dogs. Even Gracie loves the bed, and Ian enjoys lying on it to hang out with foster dogs. It’s been so well used, that Frank’s name is beginning to fray. It’s a daily reminder of why we do this and all the dogs who’ve passed through our kitchen.

      Thanks for asking! There’s a photo album of dogs on the Frank bed on the Another Good Dog facebook group. I probably need to add some new pictures to it.

      All our foster dogs enjoy the Frank Bed (donated to us by my favorite almost-adopters for my favorite foster dog Frank)

      Posted by Cara Achterberg on Thursday, August 11, 2016

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well first a HUGE congrats to your Ian for his award winning essay! Would LOVE to read it!!! You have the patience of a saint!!! Thank God these dogs have someone like you in their corner!!! Fingers crossed both find a perfect furever home!!! God bless you and your family!!!


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