No One Wanted Joe, a Pug with Cancer, But He’s Become Our Best “Foster Fail” Yet

My family has fostered many dogs, but this one showed us what love is all about.


When we discussed becoming a foster family for Colorado Pug Rescue, we thought we had considered everything. We adore having dogs in the house; the kids love having dogs and want to help as many dogs as possible find good homes; and we have friends all over social media who give us the network to get these dogs into good homes. There will be times we may get a bit attached, but seeing these dogs find love elsewhere would justify the pains along the way.

We have three rescues of our own: Dairy, a black Lab taken in as a pup from the neighborhood network; Pix, a full-sized white American Bulldog adopted from a family who lacked the room to deal with her (she’s big); and Ralph, a white French Bulldog brought to Colorado via the puppy mills of the Ozarks. We figured we had room for one more — as long as it was a small dog — and we could help those dogs socialize and get ready for multiple scenarios in their future homes.

So we jumped in. Our first foster, a young Pug named Mac, was too easy. He was loved and well cared for, except he was minus an eye. He was with us for about a week, taken in by a wonderful family with an adopted Pug already in tow.

The second Pug: That’s Joe Pugga. We hadn’t planned for him.

Known as Frankie Joe, he came into the house fresh off surgery, touting a bag of medicines and the attitude to go with it. We also got a bundle of medical records noting a multitude of homes and owners/fosters and a long history with the rescue. He’d been through the wringer with cancer and bladder stones, having been surrendered for such ailments. Foster homes were not a foreign concept to him. They’d become a way of life.

As Joe tried to settle in, we could sense his resistance. Was he staying? After being shuffled around, I couldn’t blame him. As he whined at the door, unsure, snow started to fall, turning into a blizzard. I feel like that helped reassure him we weren’t going anywhere. We were fortunate enough to have spring break the following week so we could get to know him and all of his quirks. He wiggles his butt when you scratch it, and he goes insane and shakes when it’s time to eat. That, and he answered more often and directly to Joe, letting an understandable defiance shine when you tried to address him with his full name, like a kid who leaves his mess for the help (i.e., the parents) to clean.

It wasn’t long before we adopted Joe, the dog with cancer no one wanted.

Joe is a dog with issues, and one of them happens to be cancer. It’s a challenge to find potential owners — even among the supportive rescue community — willing to take on such troubling issues.

Adopt an animal that is going to die? Joe is as mortal as you or I. He just happens to have a disease that challenges his health and well-being. We manage it as well as we know how. Right now he is in a bout of mast cell stage 2 cancer. We remove the tumors, give him meds, and pamper him. As feisty as he is, I think he’s okay. I think as humans we take it a lot harder than he ever could.

My kids handle this better than I do most days. They understand giving him a home and a comfortable life is the best thing we could do, regardless of the long-term outcome. I won’t lie: They know the pain, but we all love the little meatloaf to the ends of the earth, and the time we enjoy with him now will give them memories they will cherish forever.

I guess this is why we didn’t adopt the “perfect” dog, the puppy (Joe is almost eight) with no glaring health issues. So many dogs in rescue — seniors, blind, ones who need meds daily, handi-capable — are overlooked without further inquiry, but these ones are often the most grateful. They’ve suffered enough and deserve a chance to know love. They are also the ones who give appreciation you’ll never forget.

Why did we rescue a dog with cancer? Not because no one else would, but because he truly showed us what love is all about.

Joe quickly established his place in the pack along with his love of meals and his love of being left alone. The rescue warned us, “We think you’ll love him because he doesn’t ask for a ton of attention and won’t fight with your existing crew … and he could be there for a bit if he fits in.”

Joe had been through several homes and a multitude of situations, so it’s fair to expect a lack of desire to connect after such a life. Add that to his medical realities and you’ve got the typical recipe for a challenged adoption candidate. Here’s the problem, at least in our scenario: In letting Joe be himself and settle, we’ve learned he isn’t disconnected. At all. He’s just a dog who has never known a home.

Our situation may sound unique. We have two daughters, 18 months apart, who are the best of friends while being, at times, worst enemies. They both have medical issues of their own, a product of parents with medical issues of their own from families with medical issues of their own. We’re a generation of medication — so when you give us a dog like Joe, the medication isn’t so shocking. It’s a process for all of us already, and adding a few minutes to our day is easy.

We’ve learned the art of researching options, maximizing those opportunities to keep cost down, and budgeting accordingly — and to be frank, the cost of dog meds is NOTHING compared to what we pay as insured humans. We have one working from home, one working during the day, with various part-time gigs rising via the Internet during spare time. We get by and live humbly.

In truth, that’s not unique at all, so Joe fits right in. And once he started to realize it, he started to show his true personality — and he’s amazing.

Our dogs are very friendly and active, and they won’t let Joe not take part. Our kids are very active, empathetic, and open with their feelings, and they won’t let Joe not take part. We do everything together unless work forces us to not be together. It’s rare for the dogs to be without at least one of us, and they are NEVER without each other.

Once those walls were gone, Frankie Joe became Joe and, at times, Joe Pugga (it just sounds cool) — and we couldn’t let him go back to that way of life. He’s so happy here, we are so happy with him, and it works … and this is a rare opportunity to truly make a difference for everyone involved.

We can give a dog a life the rescue wants for him, and we can provide a level of commitment to the dog, which will give him the best chance to beat his illness. And we can also provide a level of commitment to the rescue, which is still sending us younger fosters who we seem gifted in moving forward quickly (we’ve had two others adopted out since taking Joe into our home), while taking a lifer and making him a brother.

The cost for us is nothing compared to everything we get in return. We’ll never be able to settle that up.

Heather lives in Colorado with her husband, two daughters, and a number of four-leggers depending on how many fosters are residing in the house. She’s primarily a full-time volunteer where her services are needed the most.

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3 thoughts on “No One Wanted Joe, a Pug with Cancer, But He’s Become Our Best “Foster Fail” Yet”

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