I’ve always been a loud, proud, unapologetic cat person — I grew up with cats, and, aside from one lonely year in college, I’ve never lived without one. (I now have two rescue kitties.)
So no one was more surprised than me when, in my early 30s, I felt compelled to adopt an aging rescue pup named Hennessy. I’d been liking dogs more and more as I got older, for pretty much the opposite of all the reasons I loved weird, independent, colorful cats — dogs seemed so sociable, so exuberant … so HAPPY. And I appreciated the idea of being able to bring my pet out into the world with me — what a revolutionary concept for a cat person! (Can you imagine trying to bring your cat with you on errands, or to the beach, or to a bar? All hell would go down.)
Anyway, I was 33-ish when I began fantasizing about inviting another needy animal into my household fray — and this time, I decided it’d be a dog.
I first spotted Hennessy (a.k.a. Henny) on Petfinder, and her pictures struck me right away. She was a five-year-old black Chow mix. She looked like a bear cub, with the most soulful eyes. She seemed so serious and solemn — so un-dog-like. So of course I fell in love with her.
Apparently she’d been given up by her prior family when the kids grew up and left the house. She was terrified and cowering in her cage at Animal Control. Thankfully, a local S.F. dog rescue came in and swooped her up right before she was sent to doggie death row for being “unadoptable.”
When I met Henny in person, the rescue group prepared me — somewhat — for her being a bit of a handful. She had separation anxiety, they said, and was super-shy and nervous around new people. “No big deal,” I figured, thinking I’d cure whatever ailed her with my love, obvs. I signed the adoption papers after hanging out with her a couple times — and then the fun began.
After I brought Henny home, the truth began to leak out — um, literally. Not only did Henny have severe, house-destroying separation anxiety whenever I left her home alone (she destroyed multiple doors and window frames with her incessant scratching and chewing — to the point that I had to have new windows installed!), she also developed chronic, inexplicable incontinence so bad that she left pee puddles on my hardwood floors any time she’d lie down. She also routinely enjoyed chasing one of my cats, who was terrified of her, and at first she seemed completely shut-off and aloof with me. Oh! And she developed allergies that required her to get pricey monthly allergy shots. Good times.
Suffice it to say, learning to live with Henny was … expensive. And challenging, especially at first. I knew very little about dog ownership, and she was a special case. We did eventually bond, and she learned to trust and respect me in her super-mellow way. (She’s quietly affectionate — think tiny licks instead of slobbery kisses — she’s more like a cat than a dog in some ways.) There’s been a learning curve, and honestly, even after three years with her, I still don’t totally know what I’m doing. Training? Ha, not so much. Obedience? She knows how to sit, and give me a paw, and lie down, and … that’s it. (Does it make me a bad dog owner that I have no interest in training her beyond those basic commands?)
“Maybe she’d be happier,” I told myself in flashes of weakness, “with an older couple, living out in the country somewhere.” In those moments, I’d have nostalgic flashbacks to my Life Before Dog — when it was just me and my cats — my blissfully sweet, easy cats who don’t require walks or allergy shots, and have never taken it upon themselves to christen my living-room sofa with a nice, fresh puddle o’ pee.
But then I remember Henny’s most pressing issue: Her massive fear of abandonment (which, frankly, I share with her — thanks, Childhood Stuff!), and I remember. I made a commitment to this dog. She’s like a foster kid who needs a home — and some structure, and some love. I’m her best chance at a happy life. When I signed her adoption papers, I made a promise to take care of her — even when it’s hard, messy, or inconvenient. And when I look into those soulful, serious eyes, I relent to the knowledge that I’ve learned to love this dog, and she’s learned to love me, too. And it’s all just pretty awwww, when you get right down it. And now I consider myself both a cat person AND a dog person.
Are you guys dog people or cat people? Do you think it’s possible to cross over from one to the other? ALSO! If anyone has any tips on handling severe doggy separation anxiety, I’m all ears!