When it’s okay to quit


I don’t like quitting things before they are finished. The other day I was reading an old journal from around the time I moved to Chile in 2009. In one entry, I had filled out one of those online questionnaires that give you prompts and you’re supposed to fill them in. One of the questions was “The thing I regret the most is…” I had put “not finishing my work volunteering with English Opens Doors.” When I was studying abroad in Santiago, I volunteered once a week at a high school as an English teaching assistant. Looking back, I realize that the program was very disorganized and no one was really benefiting from having me there (except for maybe the teachers who got a day off when I came). I had about three more weeks of volunteering to go, and I decided not to finish. I was in the midst of final exams and my mom was about to visit. I tried calling the volunteer coordinator, but she didn’t answer. I didn’t try to call her again. I just quit. And even a couple of years later, I still felt guilty about it.

Ben and I have been wanting to foster a dog for a long time. We did our research and applied to an organization a couple of weeks ago. They called us right away and said they had a dog we could foster named Petey. He was with a foster family, but their other dogs didn’t like him so he needed a new place to stay. He came over to visit one night last week and he and Nelly seemed to get along just fine, so we agreed to take him. On Saturday morning he arrived and everything seemed to be fine. We had Petey and Nelly in the backyard for awhile and they chased each other around, but didn’t really play. Nelly was really trying, but Petey was more interested in sniffing and marking everything. We finally brought them inside. Since Petey had never really lived inside before (the former foster family kept him in a kennel in the garage) we put him on a leash so that we could keep an eye on him. After a little while, Ben put him in the crate so he could shower. Besides a little bit of whining, he was fine. I was pleased, since his former foster family had told us that he didn’t like the crate.

Later on, after going for a walk, Ben and I wanted to go out to get lunch so we put Petey in the crate again. This time, it was really hard for him to go in. Petey is big, over 70 lbs, and really strong. It was all Ben could do to get him in. This time, he did not like it. He started throwing his body against the crate door until he eventually busted out. Ben put him back, but he kept scratching and biting at the door and whining and barking. He had damaged the crate and bent the door so we were unsure if he would stay in the crate. It was becoming clear to us now that not only did Petey not like the crate, he had separation anxiety. As soon as we went inside the room where we had the crate, he would calm down. I ended up going to get take out for lunch because Ben didn’t want to leave him home alone in case he got out of the crate again.


In addition to the separation anxiety, Petey ended up being really rough in his play with Nelly. He just didn’t know when to stop. She was really good at taking it, but he didn’t read her cues as to when she had had enough. He never hurt her, but we could tell she was a little sore after a hard play session with him.

On Saturday night, we made the really tough decision to give Petey back to his former foster family. We realized that we didn’t have a space for Petey to be safe while we were gone, and it wasn’t fair to Nelly to put her through that tough playing every day, especially since the intensity would most likely only increase as time went on. I felt really guilty about giving up on something so soon, but after thinking it through during a restless night, I realized that we were not equipped to give Petey the space, training, and time that he needed to be an adoptable dog. Although in theory I was willing to dedicate time to Petey, the practical truth is that I’m gone from the house every day from 7:30am to 6:00pm for work. Ben would end up taking on the brunt of the responsibility, and therefore I supported him in the decision to give Petey back.

We’re probably not going to foster another dog, but we have agreed to dog sit for the same organization when other foster families go on vacation this summer. That way we can still help out without the huge responsibility of caring for and training a dog for months or longer until its adopted.

I’ve learned that sometimes you don’t know how something is until you’ve tried it, no matter how much people tell you. And also, it’s okay to quit when the situation isn’t benefiting anyone, especially when it involves the well-being of other living creatures. Unlike when I quit volunteering in Santiago, I won’t carry this guilt around for years.

I hope Petey finds the right home, preferably as an only dog, with someone who knows a lot about training a big, stubborn, but very lovable, dog.




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