Most of us can recall the day we first set eyes on the love of our lives. It might have been a passing glance in the park or a brief encounter through mutual friends. What we remember most is where we were... the exact moment when time stood still, and we locked eyes.
My love story began like most. I paid a visit to my local shelter in Memphis to look for my neighbor's cat. He had darted out the door and down the stairs to the street and wasn't used to being outside. A well-intended neighbor called animal control, but it was unsure if he had been picked up. As a favor I took my lunch break to help look for him.
In the waiting room were many cages filled with dogs and cats that had been picked up or dropped off waiting for their forever families. I told the gentleman the reason for my visit and he directed me to the Cat Condos. After a thorough search of the many enclosures there was no sign of my friend's beloved Mushu. On my way out, a loud, rhythmic tapping echoed in the hallway. I followed the sound. In one of the top cages I could see her light coat and dark eyes. While all the other dogs barked, the only noise she made came from the rapid wag of her tail beating on the sides of the cage. And then our eyes met. The gentleman asked if I found who I was looking for and I said, "Yes". Mushu, as it turned out, showed up that night unharmed. He had taken a walk around the yard then came up the back stairs and was found resting in a chair.
Those were the longest 4 days of my life. Because she had just arrived, Maggie still required a physical, spaying, and shots before I could take her home. It was also a holiday weekend. This did give me a chance to calm down and look at things realistically. Did I have the time and finances to take on the responsibility of a pet that would be a long-term commitment. She was a cute 4 month old pup, but she looked like she might grow to be a big dog. I had a big yard but no fence. I worked and went to school, so some days were long. Had I been able to take her home that day, I would be seriously overwhelmed by these things once the puppy-love, crush phase was over.
In the days that followed I fenced off my yard, bought a crate, food and basic supplies, and lots and lots of toys... chew toys, squeaky toys, and tug toys, (did I mention I worked in a pet shop?), and then proceeded to puppy-proof my house. Open doors, shoes, furniture, and trash cans were among the many things I had to consider as potentially dangerous to my puppy. I lived very close to the campus so I could drop in on her in between classes to let her out and get in some much needed snuggle time. Even better still, I was also allowed to bring her to work.
So many things fell into place. The stars aligned and the universe embraced us. She was my soul-mate, my right-hand girl and confidante. She had super powers, too. She could sense the onset of a seizure. Though not officially recognized as a service dog, Maggie would later prove to be a lifesaver.
Things I didn't consider when I brought her home began to surface. She was a smart and stubborn puppy and I was constantly at odds with her and her willfulness. If I let her out of my sight even for a minute, I'd find her chewing something. She once bit into the power cord of my heating pad. If I corrected her, she'd bark at me and run out of the room. I would come to work frustrated and my manager, who was a trainer, asked if I allowed Maggie on the couch or bed with me. Of course I did. "Well get her off," he said. As it turned out allowing her to sit with me put us at the same eye level. She didn't see me as the pack leader. I was her equal. So I got her her own bed and placed it next to the couch. I few days later I caught her tearing up a magazine. I corrected her with a stern voice and she caved. She rolled over on her back in submission. Not that puppy training was a breeze after this, but she did housebreak pretty quickly, thanks to the crate.
The honeymoon was over with her first medical emergency. She had been running around the yard (like the part Greyhound that she was) and stepped onto a piece of rusted metal- the remnants of an old clothesline post- and sliced her foot open. A visit to the vet and 10 stitches later, I was in the hole for a few hundred dollars. Reality check number 2.
Spoil alert, we were together for 14 years, regardless of what life had to offer.
Falling in love is easy, but don't leave it up to the seller, the shelter or that well-intended friend who's going to "give" you a puppy to be your voice of reason. It takes more than just a love affair to be a responsible pet parent. Do some homework. Know the breed and its requirements, and learn about the resources you have in your community like behavior specialists and non-profit organizations whose mission it is to make owning a dog a positive experience. Go ahead, take the plunge. It feels wonderful.