Exactly a year ago today, I became a puppy-parent. Greatest day of my life.
I'd wanted a puppy since my parents broke down and got me a pony for my 9th birthday. Because why stop with a pony?
But it wasn't until last year that I finally felt ready to get a dog. I had a semi-steady career, had just moved in with my then-boyfriend (and I thought things were pretty stable), was living in a dog-friendly apartment complex, and thought getting a dog would finally motivate me to go running every day.
Only the career remains the same a year later. But I am so glad I was so deluded. Otherwise I never would have done what I did.
The truth is, I had been researching puppies for a good five months. I knew I wanted a rescue dog, but I familiarized myself with as many breeds as I could so I knew sorta what I was looking for. I had started walking dogs at the Westside German Shepherd Rescue--because I had never really walked a dog before so I thought a good place to start would be German Shepherds (sometimes I can't explain my genius). I looked into training methods and dog sports that I'd want to get involved in. I started lurking on Petfinder.com and various rescue sites' "adoptable pets" pages, and following those rescues on Facebook so I could torment myself with dogs that needed SOMEONE TO PLEASE ADOPT THEM TO SAVE THEIR LIFE even though I knew I wasn't ready quite yet to jump into this whole thing.
Pilot season finally ground to a halt, and almost immediately an advertisement started popping up on all my social media feeds: ADOPTION FAIR AT THE TAR PITS! May 3-4. A bunch of Los Angeles-area rescues would be at this fair, along with info booths. What a great place to start, right? See a bunch of available pups at once, narrow down the field of what I was looking for even more, and get some learnin' at the ol' info booths.
The day of the fair, I remember that I obviously was not going to adopt a dog that day. Unless, like, we found the perfect one, and it was completely apparent that it was Our Dog. What were the chances, right?
There weren't a lot of puppies there--one litter of squirming little brown fuzzballs that turned out to be Pitbull/Rottweiler mixes (nothing against those breeds but as a first time dog-owner I figured it would be better for me to start with something slightly less intimidating). Mostly a lot of full-grown dogs, of all different shapes and sizes and colors and volume-level. It was a lot to take in. I was silently relieved that none of them were Our Dog.
And then suddenly, in the back corner of the Fair, wriggling around in the grass like fat little four-legged worms, were two puppies on leashes. Clearly, they were the bait to draw a crowd to this booth. And it totally worked. They were both surrounded by people.
At first, I was drawn to the smaller of the two--a little brown guy that looked like the German Shepherds I'd been walking, but super tiny. Turns out the rescue did indeed think he was some kind of shepherd, which my then-boyfriend and I had already decided to avoid because of the shedding issue.
So I turned my attention to the other one. He was bright white and covered with faint black spots. A Dalmatian mix, obviously. Not a breed that had even been on my radar. It was unclear whether he could actually walk because he was quite literally doing nothing but writhing in the grass in an ecstasy of belly rubs from the adoring crowd. His little mouth was wide open in a broad puppy-smile, his panting pink tongue comically too large for his face. I didn't even try to get close to him at first.
"What kind of dog is he?" I asked casually of one of the overwhelmed volunteers.
"Dalmatian/cattle-dog! He's five months old."
Cattle dog. Interesting. That HAD been on my "meet some of these" list. And five months wasn't the 8-10 weeks I had been aiming for, but it was younger than the other dogs at the Fair. "What's his name?"
The way she said it made me think that she was making it up on the spot, and that's when my heart broke. That adorable little puppy, with the obviously gregarious personality and a smile that wouldn't quit, was just another dog that needed to be adopted. One less animal that would have to be trucked back to the rescue if they could get him out of the booth that day.
I stared at him. He was surrounded by a crowd of people cooing at him, jockeying with each other for a chance to get their hands on that pink little belly. Well, I thought, there's no risk he won't be adopted today.
"Is he...available? For adoption?" I heard myself asking. And I know that's a cliche way to put it, but I don't know if I've ever been so aware that my body was doing something my brain HAD ZERO PART IN.
"There are a few applications in on him already," she replied (the Fair had been open for all of an hour at this point), "but do you want to fill one out?"
"Uhhhh...ok...." I knew that was a ridiculous answer, I'm not completely out of touch with reality. If I thought I had a chance of adopting that dog I never would have done it. There was something about that safeguard, that there were people in line ahead of me, that dropped my defenses. I let myself think omigod he's sooooo cute, and he's actually kinda EXACTLY what I've been looking for, because I couldn't have him. And filling out an application was not the same as ACTUALLY ADOPTING HIM. Even if it was a lottery, I never win anything anyway.
My boyfriend was not on board--because hello rational thought--but I convinced him with "it's just an application, there are already a bunch in, we'll never get him."
We filled it out and walked away, meandering through the booths (that offered very little in the way of info, by the way). We were in line at a food truck for lunch when his cell phone rang.
I heard him say, "Uh--ok! Wait I'm sorry, you're cutting out--did you say...Right now? Um, yeah, no ok right, we'll be right there!"
"What was that?" I asked.
"It was hard to really hear, but...I think we got the dog."
"She said come back to the booth to talk about it, I think?"
And we almost ran back to the booth. We may have run over some dogs on the way.
It was true. The still-harried volunteers confirmed that yes, our application had been accepted, did we want him or not?
My brain was screaming I'M NOT READY I'M NOT READY I DIDN'T EVEN GET A DOG BED YET!!!!!! We asked for a minute and retreated across the field for a huddle.
But I couldn't take my eyes off him--this bright white wriggling spot of joy in a field of bright green grass under a clear blue sky. This happy little puppy that didn't look like any other dog I'd ever seen.
Somehow, after some urgent discussion and panicked Googling, we decided to just do it. I mean, the rescue said we could bring him back if we couldn't handle it.
So we got cash. We filled out more paperwork. We took the envelope they handed us, went to one of the booths to purchase a collar and leash because apparently he didn't come with one, and we carried him out of the Fair because "there's so many dogs here it's probably not safe for him to walk on the grass, so don't put him down till you're out of here." We were unsure what exactly we were protecting him from, but we did it anyway.
And in the car ride home, he fell asleep in the backseat with his little head pushed against my thigh and I knew there was nothing on earth that could convince me to return him to the rescue.
That's the moment my life turned into trying to keep up. That night, I frantically searched the internet for a puppy owner's manual. There wasn't one. So I made one, with a year's-worth of hindsight. If the above situation sounds familiar to you, I hope it helps.