adopters, dog rescue, Fankie, foster fail, fosterdogs, fostering, parvo, puppies

Home for the Holidays

A puppy for Christmas is a pretty great present, especially if it’s these particular puppies. All of the puppies are medically cleared to go home on Christmas eve.

Lassie and Beethoven have eager adopters who have already come to meet them, who will take home their very special Christmas presents this Thursday. We are still processing adoption applications for Benji, but hopefully he will also go home.

And Otis?

Otis is already home.

After a lot of soul searching and arguing with my own heart, I decided that we would adopt him. I say, “I” because from the moment I suggested it, Nick was all-in, I was the one who had to be convinced.

For me, it’s been a bittersweet, complicated decision that finally came down to the fact that when I thought of someone else taking Otis home, I couldn’t bear it.

I fell in love with Otis the night he arrived when he sat still for his bath, looking up at me with those trusting eyes, while all the other puppies were racing around the pen, yipping like puppies who had just spent ten hours crammed in a crate.

Otis was one of the smaller pups and didn’t have the fuzzy coat, flashy colors, or blue eyes like most of the others. He was, “the black and white boy pup without the blue eyes.”

I remember sitting with him in the pen during one of the first days, holding him and explaining that if I could adopt him, I would, but I just couldn’t. I promised him, though, that I would find him the best adopter. I even told the adoption coordinator, that she had to find him a perfect adopter because I was so in love with him.

We couldn’t adopt Otis. It was not the right time. We are getting ready to sell this house and don’t know yet where we will go—maybe Virginia, but maybe just a smaller place around here; the pandemic is holding us hostage as Nick’s employer sorts out what his job will look like a year from now.

Beyond that, I’m afraid to adopt another puppy. I’m still untangling my guilt over the loss of the last puppy adopted. I don’t talk much about Frankie on this blog but there is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him and find some memory to turn over and examine, searching for clues, combing through its layers looking for an explanation, anything to help me make peace with his death.

Beyond that, I’m busy with fostering and traveling for Who Will Let the Dogs Out, plus my next novel, Blind Turn, is being released in January and all my time needs to be devoted to its virtual launch, followed by a spring filled with promoting it from home, or maybe if the world rights itself, in bookstores.

As parvo ravaged my world, though, one by one those excuses revealed themselves to be just that—excuses.

Until we sell this house there will be no more foster puppies, and even fostering dogs will look much different (if Mia is ever adopted…). The two Who Will Let the Dogs Out trips we had tentatively planned for this winter and spring have been postponed indefinitely. Just like with the release of 100 Dogs & Counting, there will be no book tour for Blind Turn anytime soon.

But a puppy?

After Frankie’s death, I said no puppies, never again. Even though my head knows that we did so much right with Frankie, and it is unlikely there was anything we could have done differently that would have affected the outcome, the what-ifs still race through my mind at the thought of bringing another puppy into our family.

So there are a lot of reasons not to adopt this puppy, but somehow they simply don’t stack up against the pull of my heart, and maybe, just maybe, something more. I’ve always believed in adoption magic—that unexplainable connection that puts the right dog in the right life at the right time.

I know that when these puppies are adopted, I will finally be able to let myself grieve the four we lost. There is much healing that needs to happen. Having Otis here won’t stop that, but it will make it easier to bear.

He is such a sweet and happy soul. He fills my heart and makes me hopeful. And right now, that’s exactly what I need–a little hope.

He will always be a reminder of his siblings we lost and the danger of parvo—a living lesson. But he can also be a parvo survivor blood donor and, hopefully, an emotional support during this time of transition not just for me, but for Fanny. I think a little consistent canine company will help both of us.

Animals heal us. This I know.

People are always telling me, and especially during the parvo crisis, “I can’t believe how much you do for these dogs.”

But here’s the thing—these dogs do so much more for me. In fact, I feel a little greedy.

And grateful.

I hope you also find much to be grateful for this holiday season. As we head into a new year that will undoubtedly be full of surprises both good and bad, hold tight to the hands—and the paws—around you.

If you’d like an update on the fundraiser for the Movie Mutts medical bills (or you’d like to make a much-needed donation to help), click here.

Thanks for reading!


For information on me, my writing, and books, visit where you can also find more information on my new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020).

If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit where you can follow the blog that shares stories or find the link to our brand new podcast!

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at

16 thoughts on “Home for the Holidays”

  1. A long time ago our dog got out and came home with a new buddy she found. There was something about that dog. We decided to let him stay a week while we tracked down where he came from and whose dog he was. Long story short he was with us for twelve years and turned out to be the best dog we ever had. He saved us from predatory humans four times. He rescued a drowning four year old boy at a campground in Georgia. He lit up lives in a very special way like no dog before or since. They just don’t come any better than our Fred. When I first saw pictures of Otis I thought to myself, “You know, he looks like a Fred to me.” I sure hope I’m right. You certainly deserve a Fred.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a warm and wonderful Christmas message!! So glad to hear you’ll enjoy the devoted love of a puppy this Xmas. We all need a little of this right now! Thank you for your perseverance and dedication and a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So, so happy you have time to finally breathe and begin to heal from your long ordeal with these puppies and your loss of Frankie. I’ve had a difficult year and with so much sadness all around us, haven’t been able to find hope. Then I read about Otis and how dogs heal us and realize I need to snuggle with my 2 OPH pups a little more. I forgot how much they love me and how much joy they bring me.

    Thank you for the important reminder Cara! Dogs don’t ask for much and the little they do need I can easily provide and get so much more in return.

    May you and the entire Achterberg family (including Fanny, Otis and Mia) have a wonderful holiday and ending to 2020 and may all of us experience overflowing surprises in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Cara, I have been a grateful recipient of your email letters for a couple of months and appreciate your effort and caring for these puppies. I first subscribed to your posts because I am looking for another dog to adopt as a sister for my lab/terrier mix named Porter and I was interested in Mia. I contacted OPH, who have approved my adoption application, but we somehow never connected. I got distracted by a failed adoption from Animal Rescue Inc. which also had a sad ending due to the poor dog’s health. Porter is 6 years old, very bright and moderately active boy I adopted from LabRescue of the Chesapeake and Potomac. He has attended and passed the AKC training for Canine Good Citizen and Community Good Citizen. Currently we are attending Rally and Agility classes at Willowfenn Training Center in Fawn Grove, PA where we live. I recall there were behavioral concerns with Mia, right? I have no problem with active but couldn’t handle destructive tendencies. Porter is house trained and is very secure in his crate. I would want similar behaviors in a new dog. Is Mia OK with that? I am looking for a girl that will encourage Porter to play and move more. He can be a couch potato! If you think we might benefit from meeting Mia or want to contact me for more conversation, please email me with a phone number or call/text me at 410-688-3146. I am a 69 year old retired public school teacher. I am the only human in my single family home as I am widowed. I have a large chain link fenced backyard and we take at least 2 walks a day. Hikes and car rides are a frequent part of our activities. Have a Merry Christmas and maybe we will talk in the future? Sincerely, Bill Grove 31 N Market St. Fawn Grove, PA. 17321



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