There’s an old idea in addiction recovery programs about when it’s okay to start dating – and it has to do with pets. Steve Buscemi’s character in the movie 28 Days explains it this way:

Kitten behind cactus

“My rule of thumb is, when you get home, get yourself a plant. l like spider plants, but whatever turns you on. Then, in about a year, get a pet. And then, if, in say…two years, the plant and the pet are still alive…then you can start to think about having a relationship.”

The reality, of course, is that people living with addiction date and have pets – whether they are in recovery or not. Sometimes a companion animal is the only thing keeping an addict tied to the day-to-day routines of their life. Sometimes a cat or dog is the only thing left keeping them alive.

But eventually, something has to give. Maybe you’ve already hit rock bottom – or maybe you see it coming and want to avoid the fall. Wherever you’re at, inpatient treatment centers are one way that many addicts first find recovery. The decision to seek recovery from addiction is one of the most courageous, life-altering decisions an addict can make.

But if I go to treatment, what will happen to my pet?

Short haired dog looking out window

When someone decides to enter a treatment center for recovery from addiction, one of the most common questions is, “What will happen to my pet?”

Unfortunately, most treatment centers are not able to help. Inpatient programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days. With few exceptions, most treatment centers do not allow pets. Though more pet-friendly treatment centers are popping up around the United States, there are currently no residential addiction treatment centers in Nashville that allow pets.

Addiction takes a toll on a person’s life and relationships. When they finally make the decision to seek recovery, they are willing to go to any lengths to get sober. But should losing their pet be one of the prices of recovery?

We think not.

If you have decided to seek treatment for your addiction, but you don’t know what to do with your dog or cat while you are there, Pawster Nashville wants to help. We will place your pet in a loving foster home until you are back on your feet and ready to be reunited.

Girl playing with dog on chair


First, because pets are family. It’s that simple. When you get out of treatment, your family should be waiting for you.

Second, because it’s good for the pet. When their person has decided to get the help they need, pets should not be punished by being surrendered to an animal shelter. The bond between a pet and their human is deep. When that bond is broken, pets suffer.

But there’s another reason: By all measures, pets help individuals in recovery stay sober. A study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry found that pets assist individuals in recovery from serious mental illness (including addiction) by:

  • Providing therapeutic empathy
  • Providing connections that can assist in redeveloping social avenues
  • Serving as “family” in the absence of or in addition to human family members
  • Supporting self-efficacy and strengthening a sense of empowerment.

In fact, Nashville’s very own Cumberland Heights recently started fostering two puppies in their women’s program, for this very reason. The companionship, the unconditional love, and learning to care for another creature, all work alongside the recovery program to help these women grow and heal.

Beyond addiction recovery, pets provide numerous benefits for any person, from helping to meet new people, to encouraging exercise and helping us keep a regular routine (Check out our recent blog, “5 Ways Pets Keep Us Sane in These Weird Times”).

What happens when I leave treatment?

Girl hugging big dog

Once you’ve completed your inpatient treatment program, your dog or cat will be waiting for you. The transition out of residential treatment back to “the real world” can be jarring, to say the least. But your companion animal can help smooth the transition. That’s why Pawster Nashville helps keep pets and their people together.

Because pets are family.

It’s as simple as that.

(Besides, if the whole “plant-pet-dating” thing is true, a dog or cat is a great way to meet someone new.)

I want to help!

Woman with Dog on Floor

Become a Pawster Foster.

All the benefits of having a pet, without the long-term commitment. Sign up to foster a dog or cat at You decide how long you want to foster, and we provide all the supplies you’ll need to care for your foster pet.

Dog sticking head out car window

Become a Volunteer.

Pet Connectors help coordinate foster stays and support foster homes. Pet Chauffeurs transport pets to and from foster homes, vet appointments, groomers, and back to their owners. We are also looking for volunteers with skills in social media, marketing, grant writing, and any other aspect of running a nonprofit! Sign up at

Dog with stuffed toy on floor

Become a Pawster Provider

Make a gift of $100, $50, or $25 to keep a family together through crisis. You can also make an in-kind donation using our Amazon Wish List.

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