Meet the Dog Parent of the Century

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Madhumita Chatterjee was just a year out of business school when her world came tumbling down. In a single day, she went from being a well-paid and overworked New Yorker to having more free time than she knew what to do with.

It was the late 2000s, and the financial crash in New York was just the tip of a global recession. Chatterjee was laid off from her position in sales in trading — a division of investment banking — and her field was nearly wiped clean. After months of showing up at 5:30 a.m. to her Goldman Sachs office in Manhattan, she now had a seemingly unending bout of unscheduled time.

“It was a moment when I woke up and thought, ‘what do I do with myself?’” Chatterjee tells CircleAround. “Before that, I was a pretty standard honor student. I had performed at the top of my classes in undergrad and business school. I had gotten top job interview prospects. And then it was gone. I was in an existential crisis.”

Chatterjee, who rarely had time to do much outside of work before her layoff, decided to start volunteering. A friend introduced her to a group called Guiding Eyes for the Blind that raised and trained service dogs. For Chatterjee, a lifelong hobby — and love for volunteerism — was born.

“I had never had a dog but it was something that I always wanted as a child,” she says. “This was a way, I thought, to try things out without having to fully make a commitment since the dogs go on to be trained and help people. But it became so much more than that.”

Photo credit: Madhumita Chatterjee

For 13 years, Chatterjee has raised puppies to be guide dogs. She keeps each dog from when they are just a few months old to up to age one-and-a-half. She teaches them the basics of training — from leash walking and potty skills to paying attention to their owners and scanning surroundings on the busy streets of New York. They’ve gone by the names Leila, Laddy, Owen, Auburn, and more. Some graduate to be service dogs. Others don’t make the cut and are adopted as family pets.

“I feel like this is something that not only helps other people but is great for my own health, especially during those early days when New York was shut down during the pandemic,” says Chatterjee, who transitioned over the years from investment banking to working in the tech and engineering fields.

“I get very focused on what I am doing. If that is only work then that’s harmful to my health. Taking care of dogs gives things a balance.”

It’s not only guide dogs. What started as a single type of volunteering has transformed into a life full of giving to others and causes that improve different communities.

After a few years of raising rambunctious puppies, Chatterjee added another stage of dog parenthood to her life by also becoming a “fospice” provider for the organization Foster Dogs NYC. The word is a portmanteau of foster and hospice. It applies to individuals who take care of dogs from shelters and those who need to be rehomed at the end of their lives due to intensive medical and emotional needs.

Her first fospice dog was Betty White, who was deaf, blind, and had dementia at age 16. Taz came to Chatterjee with blindness and impaired hearing. Cowgirl had cancer of the snout. Between guide dog puppies and fospice dogs — usually those in their late teen years — Chatterjee has raised 18 dogs in total.

Along the way, she also started working with humans who are in their last days and months of life. For several years, Chatterjee has been a member of her local Threshold Choir. It’s part of a national network of volunteer groups that sing to individuals who are in hospice or otherwise in the last stages of life. She’s also a member of Peace of Heart Choir, a New York troupe formed after the Sept. 11 attacks to promote healing and diversity. It performs annually at the 9/11 memorial in New York as well as on other occasions. And during the early stages of the pandemic when sickness, confusion, and despair surrounded the New York area she was part of a network of New Yorkers who teamed up to sew and distribute homemade face masks.

“Death is really just a moment,” Chatterjee says, explaining how she views her volunteer work, much of it focused on the beginning and end stages of life.

“Everything before that is still living. With fospice and Threshold, we try to ensure people’s and dog’s final moments are surrounded by love. The same applies to spreading joy through music to communities in need with Peace of Heart. And even while raising confident puppies that will go on to provide companionship and support to the blind, by opening up a new world of possibilities for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the best self-care comes from taking care of others."

Tags: Pets, Entrepreneur

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Written By

JD Turner

JD Turner is a writer and puppy parent based in Los Angeles. See Full Bio

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