How You Can Test the Waters of Pet Parenthood Before It Begins · The Wildest

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How You Can Test the Waters of Pet Parenthood

How five aspiring pet parents are getting their feet wet by moonlighting as shelter volunteers and dog walkers.

by Charles Manning
August 14, 2023
Woman running with her cute spotted beagle while enjoying good weather and playing together in the city.
Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock
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Pet parenthood is wonderfully rewarding. It’s also a big commitment. So, how do you know if you’re ready to be a dog or cat parent? While there’s no crystal ball that can predict when exactly you should run out and adopt a pet, there are plenty of ways to still have pets in your life — and more importantly — to help pets in need.

Right now, shelters and rescues are overflowing with pets needing homes, following the early pandemic years when adoptions spiked. To make matters worse, these organizations are struggling to find volunteers to help them with the influx of surrendered and stray dogs and cats. If you’re the kind of person who needs to practice at something a lot before you feel like you’re ready to take it on for real, volunteering is the perfect rehearsal.

The Wildest spoke with five people in New York and Los Angeles who are doing just that. Dog and cat lovers all, they are not quite ready to take on the responsibility of full-time pet parenthood, but have nonetheless found fulfillment (and, in some cases, a little extra income) in the company and service of dogs. So, what are you waiting for? Take a note from these folks, and get some pets in your life.


Calvin is a budget director living in a single-family home in Queens. Although he has a small backyard he knows would be perfect for a dog, right now, he has a very busy work schedule and likes to go to the gym or volunteer after a long day at the office, which he says would make it difficult to take care of a dog’s daily needs. 

Instead, Calvin volunteers at the ASPCA. “I help staff with walks in the evenings, taking the dogs out so that they can do their business. Occasionally, I take dogs on longer excursions to Central Park, Randall’s Island and so on. 

“I wanted to volunteer with cats, but quickly found myself allergic. I had very little exposure to pets as a child, and I really thought this would be great for my mental health. I have a passion for volunteering with vulnerable animals. I definitely hope that one day, as my schedule allows, I can adopt or maybe at least start fostering shelter dogs. I love seeing dogs grow, improve, and become their best selves.”


A 30-something working in sustainability at a nonprofit in Los Angeles, Heeseung would love to be a full-time dog mama, but isn’t ready to commit. “I have a cat with a lot of medical issues and she takes up a lot of my attention,” she says. So, in the meantime, Heeseung walks dogs and dog-sits through Rover when her schedule allows. 

“With Rover, I can choose when I have a dog and only watch dogs when I have the time. It’s a more manageable level of responsibility that’s compatible with my life right now…I’d love to have my own dog in the future! Having been able to experience so many different kinds of dogs through dog walking and dog sitting has been great, since it’s helped me think through what kind of dog I’d like to get in the future. But I’m waiting until the time is right.”


A retiree on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Lee loves dogs — he grew up surrounded by Airedales — but he and his wife are not interested in the full-time responsibilities of dog ownership. “We enjoy walking out the door and visiting our kids and grandkids over a weekend and not being concerned about a dog or cat or any other responsibilities,” he says.

Lee began volunteering with the ASPCA after encountering a volunteer in the park. He found out how to apply, took several training classes, and has been volunteering for seven years now. 

“The reward is knowing you have given a dog some joy, happiness and extra love in their life. And in return, I’ve received some exercise, socialization, and love as a volunteer.”


Melissa is a financial engineer in New York City, and though she would like to have a dog, she and her husband have yet to agree on exactly what kind. “We both have 9-to-5 kinds of jobs, and the last couple of years have been eventful for both of us and whenever we feel we are ready, something else comes up,” she says. “Also, I know a lot of people successfully have dogs in apartments, but I want to have more than one dog at a time, and I want to be ready to offer them enough room to be comfortable.”

In the meantime, Melissa volunteers at the ASPCA. “I started about seven or eight years ago,” she says. “Mostly, I socialize with the dogs, I take them on walks to the park or spend time with them in the playroom or the ‘Real-Life Room’ at the ASPCA Adoption Center. It is a space furnished to look like a typical living room so that, by hanging out there, the dogs can get familiar with how their future adoptive home will feel. I also participate in adoption events when needed.

“The most rewarding part is probably seeing the dogs’ evolution from the time they are taken in, to the moment they find a new family. Just witnessing how they are able to leave challenging experiences they may have had before arriving at the shelter behind and move on to a new life in an adoptive home is very rewarding to me.

“It’s my dream to give a home to as many animals in need as I can, but even when I have pets of my own, I still plan to keep volunteering.”


Scott is a software engineer in Brooklyn who walks his neighbor’s dog every day for a fee. “I’ve always wanted a dog, and I think I have a space for a small one,” he says. “But it’s a big commitment and I didn’t want to jump in and realize I was in over my head.”

Although Scott works from home, he worried he would tire of the responsibility of caring for a dog and decided he needed to test himself first. “I told my neighbors I wanted to walk their dog every day for a year, and if I could do that, then I would know that I was ready to get my own.” 

After nearly 10 months, though, Scott is pretty happy with his role as Thistle’s additional part-time parent. “I love Thistle. He’s the best. And I get to see him every day. And when my neighbors go out of town, I dog sit. I feel like the cool uncle. And I’m not gonna lie, it’s nice getting paid. New York is a really expensive city and every bit helps.”


Alejandro started volunteering at the ASPCA last summer. “During the pandemic, when I was mostly working from home, I was really tempted to adopt a dog, but I knew I couldn’t count on being able to work remotely forever,” he says. “I came across the ASPCA’s volunteer and foster program while looking at their available cats and dogs online and decided to get involved.”

Alejandro grew up with dogs, but didn’t appreciate the responsibilities of dog parenthood until he was an adult. “I’m really grateful to my parents for giving my siblings and me the benefit of dog ownership, but it was definitely something I took for granted as a kid,” he says. 

Although Alejandro would like to be a dog dad, he’ll probably hold off for a while still. “Definitely when I retire,” he says. “Or at least when I no longer have an in-person office job. In the meantime, it is really rewarding to see the animals that I’ve helped care for finally get adopted, even if I do get very attached to them.”

Charles Manning

Charles Manning is an actor, writer, and fashion/media consultant living in New York City with his two cats, Pumpkin and Bear. Follow him on Instagram @charlesemanning.

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