How Foster Care and a Real-Life Room Gave Bugs a Lifesaving Break

September 14, 2022

Bugs, a five-year-old mixed breed dog, came to the ASPCA very stressed.

Transferred from a humane society in North Carolina to the ASPCA in May 2017, Bugs was adopted and lived in a home for more than four years before being relinquished to Animal Care Centers of NYC. Because he was initially adopted from the ASPCA, Bugs was transported back to the ASPCA Adoption Center.

“After spending his whole life in a home, it was incredibly jarring for Bugs to be back in a shelter environment,” says Rachel Maso, Director of Animal Behavior at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “He was fearful and displayed defensive aggression, and barked, drooled and panted excessively. The shelter was just an overwhelming place for him.”

Bugs’ stress also impacted his physical health, including skin allergies and abrasions. Inflammation on his paw pads prevented him from going on walks, and he required medicated baths and foot soaks.

“It was a vicious cycle of stress,” says Rachel. “Still, he had a good prognosis—we just needed to get him out of the shelter.”

Getting Real Help from a Real-Life Room

In the meantime, Rachel and her team started spending time with Bugs in a “real-life room” designed to resemble a home environment.

“We saw a real dog very quickly—he was so different than he was in his kennel,” she says. “He offered sits and downs for treats, readily played with toys and placed his head in staff members’ laps for petting.”

The Adoption Center team made sure Bugs spent as much time in the real-life room as possible each day.

“It was the only place he could relax and decompress,” Rachel says. “It’s challenging to care for dogs with extreme kennel stress; they deteriorate quickly. Seeing the difference a home-like environment could make, I knew we needed to quickly help him get out of the shelter.”

Our Adoption Center in Manhattan unveiled its roughly 71-sq.-ft. real-life room—designed specifically for dogs with medical and/or behavioral challenges—at the end of 2021. Many of these dogs come from cruelty and neglect cases connected to the our partnership with the NYPD or from our longstanding partner, Animal Care Centers of NYC.

For animal shelters around the country, innovative real-life rooms provide homeless animals with a break from stresses commonly encountered in shelter environments and help them learn skills that will set them up for success in a home.

“Our real-life room got Bugs to a point where we could send him home with a foster caregiver, which would set him up for success,” says Rachel.

Flourishing in Foster Care

Bug’s foster caregiver was Rachel’s mother, Viviane A., a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and canine behavior consultant who founded her own dog training business in 2005.

Viviane specializes in basic training for dogs of all ages with fear and reactivity problems using gentle, positive reinforcement methods. She believes the real-life room helped Bugs transition quickly to her home.

Bugs got along well with her two dogs and benefited from her backyard space where he could roam unleashed.

As Bugs got more comfortable, he would lie down and rest his head on Viviane’s feet.

“He also gave full-body hugs,” says Viviane. “Even if you’ve been gone just two minutes, he greets you like you’ve been gone for years. He craves human company and is very focused on his people.”

Viviane housetrained Bugs, and his irritated skin condition eventually morphed into a healthy, shiny coat. She also weaned him off his anxiety medication.

“He’s a good boy with a huge personality,” Viviane says. “He’s handsome, charming and has a very engaging presence. An accomplished counter surfer, he also ate many half loaves of bread.”

A Happy Break For Bugs

In addition to being Bugs’ foster caregiver, Viviane also served as his adoption ambassador, looking for potential adopters that would make it unnecessary for Bugs to go back to the shelter.

“It would have been hard to find him an adopter otherwise,” says Viviane, who has helped many clients find the right dog to adopt. “I had a window into knowing him.”

Enter Peter K., who had reached out to a friend of Viviane’s for help finding a dog. Peter met Bugs at Viviane’s home, and they took walks to Peter’s nearby Brooklyn apartment.

“I met a lot of dogs, but with Bugs, there was that instant connection—he put his head on my foot,” says Peter.

After a few meet-and-greets, Peter adopted Bugs on March 9. A graphic designer, Peter works from home three days a week and volunteers at a local animal rescue. 

“None of the issues Bugs once had are present in the dog I met,” Peter says. “Spending time in the ASPCA’s real-life room and foster care was good for him. He was easy-going and well-settled by the time he got to me. I’m happy to have him in my life.”