Three years ago, on a sticky July afternoon while spilling my confused guts to my trusted therapist on the 15th floor of a New York City high rise, I decided to start living my life without abandon. As I came to realize that I wanted to make big life changes, my therapist blurted out that the first thing I should do is get a dog. I smiled and looked at her with a sarcastic face.
To her credit, she quickly made a case for why this was the time for me to welcome a dog of my own (I have had many fur siblings, but at that time had yet to have my own dog child). She pointed out that I was on a sabbatical from work and had time to get the dog settled, and that during almost every therapy session I spoke of my desire to have one.
I had been a longtime Petfinder surfer. I was holding out for the right time to become a dog mom, and my therapist urged me to realize that this was the time.
A couple of weeks later, I took her point to heart when I found on Adopt-a-Pet.com a six-year-old medium-sized Poodle who was healthy, fluffy, and friendly with kids and other dogs. The minute I saw him, I wanted to know more. I called the shelter three times, with excitement and anxiety coursing through my body. Finally, I reached a shelter worker who directed me to an online application. As if nothing else mattered in the world, I furiously completed the form.
This dog seemed to encompass everything I wanted — not too big or too small, friendly, and adorably furry. I didn’t want to lose out on the chance to adopt him.
The next four days dragged as I didn’t get an email, phone call, or carrier pigeon message from the shelter director. Was the dog already adopted? Was there something wrong with my application? Did they somehow know that I was going through a time of emotional upheaval? Maybe I seemed too desperate?
Five days after I submitted the application, I finally heard from the shelter director on a Sunday afternoon. She agreed to meet me Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. and introduce me to Toby the Poodle.
On Tuesday morning, I hit the road to drive from New York to Greenfield, New Jersey, where the shelter was located. As I drove, I felt a freedom that was new to me at the time. I had nowhere to be and nothing to do but focus on meeting this dog. That was one of the first times that I had felt peace in my life.
An hour and a half after leaving the traffic-filled city, I arrived at the shelter in Greenfield. With joy, I introduced myself and waited for Toby to make his appearance. A few minutes later, a scrawny, shaved ball of energy ran out into the open space where I was waiting.
My heart sank. He didn’t look like his photo. Where was his fur? Why was he so small? What was I going to do?
The shelter director must have seen the shock on my face and quickly explained that Toby’s coat was so matted that the only way to give him relief was to shave it all off. As a longtime lover of the breed, I understood this and know that Poodle coats require special care.
Toby had just been sprung from the bath, so he was extra frisky as he ran back and forth in an effort to dry his skinny body. I looked at Toby straining to see a vision of the dog I was so drawn to online.
While I was still caught up in my expectation, Toby came over and gave me kisses. His playful and sweet demeanor was so endearing. When it was time to decide whether or not I was going to take Toby home, my gut overruled my question-filled mind. I said yes, paid $300, and signed the paperwork.
Suddenly, I was a dog mom. A dog mom working overtime to shut off a conjured-up vision of who Toby was supposed be instead of who he actually was.
Toby entered my apartment for the first time with a burst of energy. He immediately went for the plush toys I had bought for him and started throwing them around. Of course, then he made himself comfortable on my bed.
I looked at him and felt guilty because I wasn’t head over heels in love with him yet. I knew that I wanted him and would never have dreamed of returning him to the shelter. However, I didn’t feel love yet. Just responsibility.
I made sure Toby got acquainted with his new home, made a vet appointment for him to get checked, and took him out for regular walks. My sense of duty to this dog was strong.
The next morning I woke up happy Toby was with me but still checked out on the love front.
I methodically cared for this dog for five straight days, feeling guilt that I wasn’t swept away yet by the love ocean that I had experienced with my family pets. He didn’t feel like mine yet, and I became preoccupied with his previous life and why someone gave him up. Also, I hoped for his fur to grow in quickly.
Then at 8 p.m. on my first Saturday with Toby, he curled up next to me on the couch as I stroked his soft face. I burst into tears as he dozed off resting in my lap. At first, I thought it was a fear that I wouldn’t be able to give this dog my heart. Then I was afraid that I wasn’t giving Toby what he needed.
I called my mom to get some perspective and explained the dilemma I had been dealing with for the past few days. She said, “This is what happens when you truly love with all of your heart. You worry that it will be taken from you.”
Finally, I didn’t care about anything else but being in the moment with this dog.
Today, my love for Toby is infinite. Sometimes the deepest love takes a little time to be realized.
Have you ever been conflicted about a dog you adopted? Tell us your stories in the comments!
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About the author: Margot Ahlquist is a dog mom, Professional Life Coach and Creator of Paws to Talk where the motto is “Life Support For Dog Lovers.” She lives near Boston with her dogs Bella, DiDi and Toby. Margot recently released a product kit entitled Paws By Your Side which helps dog lovers cope with the loss of their dogs. Follow Margot’s blog and get more info on Paws to Talk’s services and products here.