What Adopting A Dog Taught Me

Ignoring the fact that I’ve been absent from my tiny corner of the blogging internet for well over a year, I’ll just jump in like I haven’t.

What follows is also an insanely frank conversation about depression.

Anyone who knows me personally, or has followed this blog, knows that we have cats. A person might recall the death of two of our cats in late 2012, and then adoption of two kittens in 2013. Now this is relevant to the dogs because of the manner of how we came around to adopting. Basically, once we realized that our delightfully adorable six month old kitten was too much for our old, grumpy girl cat, we decided to get another. This decision came about on a warm, May evening, outside on the patio, after my husband and I had had a few delicious, refreshing, beverages. Boiled down even more, Tim got drunk, I got drunk, and he talked me into getting another kitten. Three days later, we had the 10 week old Simon.

Fast forward a year. We’d been kicking around the idea of getting a dog. Tim has forever wanted one, but with living in apartments, it was never a good idea, but now with the house, well … we talked about it, he kept resisting, and finally, I took matters into my own hands.

By way of Facebook and Tim making me like all these animal rescue groups, I discovered a local rescue group that takes in particularly abused and neglected animals. I went to the website. I browsed. I downloaded the application, stealthily filling it out one night while we watched TV, and broached the subject a few times, even showing Tim some of the dogs they had for adoption. He was still resistant, for some reasons I can’t even remember.  So like any good wife, I got him drunk and then showed him pictures.

An eight month old boxer-hound mix named Talulah stole his heart. We sent in an application, 75% already filled out thanks to my scheming to get my husband the dog he always wanted, and waited. Our references were called, I exchanged a few calls with the adoption coordinators, and we had a home visit, which sounds super serious, like adopting a baby, but many of these dogs and cats lived horrid lives prior to being rescued. And then, like a storm cloud settling over our heads, we found out that we weren’t the only applicants for this puppy. (Turns out little Talulah, having been available for several months, had no interested parties until the week we decided to adopt her.)

Days went by. About two weeks maybe? I, who does not and does not have children, suddenly felt like an anxious parent, waiting on an adoption agency to tell us that we could have a baby. When we finally got the call that we could go meet the dog, we both felt this insane amount of relief. Having no foster family either, Talulah had been staying at a boarding facility. A really nice place, but still not the same as a home. We met one of the adoption coordinators at the boarding place, and then met what is quite possibly the happiest dog in the world. Crazy, whole-body wiggling, jumping, dog. According to the groomer at the boarding facility, Talulah had had several visitors. I have no idea what made them decide on us, but even if they hadn’t, after that day it was obvious that Tim and Talulah were best friends. Ten minutes after being outside, Tim was laying in the grass with this dog laying on top of him. We couldn’t have separated them even if we wanted to.

We came back the next day and picked her up and took her home. At this point, we were fostering her because she’d suffered through severe demodectic mange, and while she was totally fur-covered when we met her, she still had a few more weeks of medical shampoo baths and one final test before being fully cleared for adoption.

The first couple of days went well. We kept her in our spare bedroom, giving everyone time to adjust. One morning, she saw a possum outside, and that was when we became acquainted with her barking. And more barking. And, eventually, crying noises when we would leave the house, or put her up in her room. Thus began the longest few weeks of my life.

You see, having no children, wanting no children, knowing full well the scope of my depression/anxiety, (and the almost certainty of passing those genes on) I now had a 53 lb child living in my home. Having cats for the past 14 years was in no way the same as having a dog, and we’ve always had snuggly, co-dependant felines. And when Talulah would get frustrated, I would get frustrated. She was big. She was loud. Intrusive. Always seeming to need my attention. And the more frustrated and upset I became, the higher pitched her whines, cries, and barks would become. There were several times when I broke down in tears, telling Tim that I could not take care of this puppy. Her needs, the closest thing I’d come to constant caring for another living creature, was too much. She needed too much. I felt like she and Tim were bonded while she did not care for me the same amount, and probably wouldn’t. I felt like I had post-partum depression.

Depression is a bitch. I can remember being depressed, clinically, chronically depressed since childhood. When I finally realized that I couldn’t live my life in a constant state of worry, panic, and soul-crushing worthlessness, I went to my doctor, and thankfully for me, medication saved my life. Which is not to say that I never experience regression, because I do, but I keep taking my medication, and I know there will be an end to the episode a few days away that doesn’t involve me plotting my suicide.

Getting that dog? That dog, that amazing, beautiful, still the happiest creature to roam this planet dog? She taught me what I knew  – I don’t want children. I’ll never want children. And while I do have moments of wistful ponderings at what might have been, it will never be more than my desire to not have kids. If not being able to figure out what a puppy needed made me feel like punching a wall until my hand broke, I can’t even imagine what pregnancy hormones would do to me. And I know from experience that not taking my medication, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I were pregnant, never goes well. I lived for so long just trying to cope that I’ll never willingly go back to that state of mind after knowing what not just hanging on is like. You wouldn’t think that level of depression and helplessness could be brought on by getting a dog. But, after reading many stories from many women who experienced the same thing, I felt better. And most of these women had human babies too, not just canine ones.

It has been an eye-opener adopting a dog (which, of course, we did officially about a month after we initially got her). Tim and I figured out that a dog is the nearest thing to having kids. Going away for a weekend? Leave out enough food and water and a clean litter box and your cats will be more than just fine. Got a dog? Well, as I’m sure lots of people know, that’s a whole different world.

So where does that leave me? Well, like I said, at the beginning it was a rough few first weeks. Now? I can’t imagine not having her. (Even if I do joke to Tim about that time we were down to just one pet in the house) Seeing our puppy transform and change, to grow comfortable in a home of her own has been amazing. The first couple of months we couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom, or make any noise without hearing her feet hit the floor, and the barking start. Now I could drop an armload of dishes and she would probably ignore it. Probably. With the majority of her mannerisms portraying the boxer part of her DNA, she is still a puppy at her current age of a year and nine months. We’ve learned that no surface is too high, and she still loves chewing on any sort of paper product she can get her paws upon. And if you’ve never been around a boxer breed or owned one, that name is entirely appropriate. They use their paws in the way cats do, grabbing things and holding them by curling their paws around items, and they absolutely punch you. We’ve both been punched by this dog, once in the eye for me.

Nowadays, we have five animals. Three cats, and yes, two dogs. We fostered a dog from the group we adopted Talulah from, and after about a month, when Talulah decided she actually did like him and could share all her toys, we ended up keeping him, because she found her canine best friend in a three-legged Australian Shepard. We took him in four days after his amputation surgery, which was an interesting experience. I’ll never forget sitting on the floor of the patient room in the veterinary hospital asking the vet if I should carry this dog down the four back steps to the yard when he needed to go out and her super casual reply of, “Nah, he’s fine.”. I know there are three and two-legged dogs and cats, but I’d never encountered one, and I had certainly had never cared for one, especially a dog that came with 30-something staples.

I think menagerie is a great way to describe the household. It’s what Tim and I say when people ask how we are, or about the house or pets. Soon to follow is something probably fiction-writing related, or house renovation themed.

She's helping with the veggie garden project by eating my gardening gloves.

She’s helping with the veggie garden project by eating my gardening gloves.

Runs as fast as the four-legged goofball, and was never happier than out in the snow two months ago.

Runs as fast as the four-legged goofball, and was never happier than out in the snow two months ago.

Talulah and Bo

** If anyone is interested in the ‘before’ pictures of Talulah or Bo, they can be found on The Arrow Fund’s website. There are a lot of graphic pictures, as this rescue group takes in cases that many people wouldn’t. You can find our Lula under the Happy Tails section. **
http://thearrowfund.org/

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