About four months ago, on February 10, I made a decision that changed my life: I adopted a dog from an animal shelter.
At that time, I was two months into living in my single-family house with one roommate; I knew I had space and a (small) yard of my own. The neighborhood I moved into was friendly and easy to walk. I work as an audio engineer and I teach one class at a community college, so my hours are random and I am not usually gone for long periods of time. I was financially ready, and personally having a dog was long overdue. I always wanted a dog, but I did not ever want one in a small apartment like the ones I had previously occupied. Now everything was different.
Another reason why getting a dog was on my mind was because I was feeling kind of lonely. I'm a pretty solitary person, when it comes down to it. I think of myself as an introvert in an extrovert's shell, because I am boisterous and loud and have a few great friends whom I love to hang out with... But I don't always share a lot, and I really like to be at home. I have a boyfriend, but we are in a long-distance relationship, so I spend most of my time by myself. Which I don't mind, usually. But there are times when I wish I had someone to watch a movie with, laugh uncontrollably with, and just generally feel the presence of around the house.
If you're anything like me, you know almost nothing beats a dog when it comes to companionship.
So it was decided, and I began perusing Petfinder.com for a pooch I could call my own. I knew I wanted to adopt, both because it was financially easier and because I wanted to rescue someone who needed a home. I found out about an animal shelter in Akron, south of me, called One of a Kind Pets. They had a few dogs online who looked like potential buddies, so my friend Megan and I went one Sunday to check it out. I had already purchased a crate and a couple toys, because I knew the chances of me not coming home with a dog were slim. It was happening.
We looked at a few dogs in the lobby, but I was pretty weary of getting a super hyperactive one. Which most of them were. I wanted a young female, one who was not overwhelming, and one who took to me specifically and not just because I was anyone in the room. None of the dogs in the front were fitting this bill, so the attendant decided to bring out a new recruit who had only been in their shelter (moved from the county) for 3 days. For those 3 days, her name was Polly, but beyond that not much was known about her. She entered the meeting room. Megan and I gasped.
Seeing that face for the first time was like meeting my doggy soulmate. I'm not even kidding. She was so pretty and so shy, hiding under the table, only coming out after coaxing and sweet-talking. She warmed up to me soon. It was like I earned her affection. I knew I wanted her right away.
Some paperwork and payments and promises later, I took my best friend home with me. I named her Petunia. I fell in love with her. Megan stuck around for a little bit, helping me adjust to her in my home. Then she left and was just me and Tuney.
That was when I panicked.
Oh my god, I just adopted a dog... What have I done... I am now responsible for a life... My freedom is over... What if she has issues and can't adjust?! What am I gonna do?!?
What can I say, I'm human. The panic subsided after a while, and well, things with Petunia started out pretty easy, but they soon became a challenge. Turns out she was not so good with other dogs. Or animals of any kind. Or the leash. Or vehicles zooming by. And all of these issues manifested as "fear aggression." It was pretty scary to look at. One particularly hellish weekend with my parents and their dog Frankie proved to me that Petunia and I needed to work on some things with the help of a professional.
The shelter I adopted Tuney from gave me a free training lesson in my paperwork, so I took Tuney there first. Surprisingly, after slowly being accustomed to three different dogs (an old man, a hyper puppy, and a medium-hyper dog), she did quite well. There were moments where we had to correct her--she growled when her water was shared, for instance--but overall it was a very successful hour. I cried on the way home because I felt so relieved. I was seeing a glimmer of hope for my dog, and that was so heartwarming because I only wanted the best for her.
Two different trainers later, and Tuney is showing remarkable improvement. She still has her moments. There are a few dogs on my street that have run at her in the past, which means she is terrified of them now and shows signs of fear aggression when we pass their houses, or see them walking on the street. It's really rare that she will bark at a car anymore, and she doesn't even flinch for motorcycles or most trucks now, which is very encouraging.
What really makes me happy, is that Tuney and Frankie can now coexist happily. Frankie is a little shaky around her sometimes, especially when she gets hyper, but for the majority of the time, the two of them are getting along great. And that is leaps and bounds from when they first met (think barking, snarling, mounting, lunging... and poor little Frankie cowering by my mom).
But things aren't perfect. Petunia sometimes poops in the house. She doesn't always like other people (besides me) going near her food. She isn't fond of cats (though she is getting Cat Boot Camp when I leave her with Megan for two weeks while I go to Europe this summer). She likes to play-bite a LOT, including herding people's ankles as they try to walk around my house. She is still learning, but I am still training, and I have faith that she will emerge from this phase of her life as a good, well-rounded pet.
So why did I adopt a dog? Because I wanted loyalty, friendship, comradery, and fluffy snuggles. I got all of those things, but I also got a big dose of humility, patience, and responsibility. I've spent money on her--more than I expected--but it will always be worth it. I've been frustrated--more than I expected--but it has been so worth it. Petunia and I are an unbreakable team now, and I can't imagine my world without her.