3.8 Editor's Pick
January 28, 2019

A Puppy Love Story: How the Pets in our Lives Crack Open our Hearts.

The list of reasons not to get a dog was lengthy: my daughter and I both might be allergic; it’s January in Maine, which isn’t the ideal time to adopt a puppy who needs to go outside constantly; I’ve always been a cat person and felt dogs were “too needy;” I’d been finally getting some momentum on the memoir I’ve been trying to write; and last, but by no means least, after almost 10 intense years of parenting, life was finally, blessedly starting to feel slightly more manageable.

The pro-pooch list was much shorter: because my son and husband wanted one. Because maybe, just maybe, I felt the tiniest, pet-shaped space beginning to bloom in my heart.

Just before Christmas, when a dog showed up on my 10-year-old son’s wish list, I started Googling adoptable dogs. I found a picture of a small, young adult dog and sent my husband the link. Being a dog person, my husband emailed the shelter, only to find the pooch had already been adopted.

For a few moments, I felt slightly deflated. Oh well, I thought. It’s probably for the best, anyways. Adding a dog to my work-from-home mom life would be pretty overwhelming.

Okay if I fill out an application for a rescue dog? My husband texted me a few days later. He’d spotted the tiny opening in my heart and was ready to swing the door wide open. Over the years, he’d broached the subject of getting a dog, and, after briefly considering it, I’d shut the possibility down. I’m just not a dog person, and I was so done with handling other creatures’ feces, I’d reasoned.

But then I spotted that word—doggy—on my son’s wish list, and I started thinking about unconditional love. And that’s when that little opening occurred. 

I guess so, I texted back. My heart raced. It’s just an application, I told myself. Not a commitment.

But then the photos of adoptable dogs started streaming in. Adorable little puppy faces stared out at us from the rescue shelter’s Facebook page. A litter of dogs who’d been abandoned by the side of the road in Georgia. Kittens who’d been tossed out of a moving car. And then we showed our kids the pictures, and they started cooing over them. Even my seven-year-old daughter, who has always been petrified of dogs, was asking us about this one little puppy all the time.

“So, are you okay with going to meet the puppy on Saturday?” my husband asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “If we get her, I’m going to be the one taking care of her 99 percent of the time, since I work from home,” I argued with my husband. He nodded.

“That’s true,” he said.

“And what if this gets in the way of my writing?” I added. I could hear the whine creeping into my voice.

“Do you promise me, if we get her, that you’ll help me make space to finish my book?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said. “When have I ever not supported your writing?” He had a point.

I knew that going to meet the puppy was dangerous, and I was right. The minute I held her little beige body in my arms, tiny and trembling, I was flooded with oxytocin. I sniffed her furry little head the same way I used to involuntarily huff at my babies’ heads. I hadn’t expected her to smell so good. I watched as my kids and husband took turns holding her, and that little opening in my heart expanded. How could anyone have abandoned this sweet little girl? I wondered.

Of course we brought her home with us.

So for the last two weeks, this confirmed cat person has been following little Lexi around our house, trying to prevent her from peeing and pooping on the carpet and prying pennies and tiny slivers of plastic out of her mouth. I’ve hauled her outside into the arctic January weather every 45 minutes. I’ve tried to get work done while she naps. My progress on a big writing project has stalled and walls of laundry are rising up around us.

We’re basically in survival mode right now. Adopting a puppy is a lot like having a toddler around again—and I wasn’t a big fan of the toddler phase. On multiple occasions, I’ve wondered why we did this to our lives, and even fantasized about somehow undoing it.

And yet, we’re doing it. A few times, I’ve actually found myself wondering, Why did we wait so long?

Sometimes, I’ve been reminding myself, we have to make leaps, even if we don’t feel entirely ready. We have to listen to the tiny openings in our hearts, the small cravings of our spirits, and follow faith.

Because Lexi is bringing more love, and that’s never a bad thing. Because this cat person just discovered she might also be a dog person. Because she’s cracking my heart open wider. Because we can learn new skills, we can flex, we can climb out of survival mode and adapt. Because puppies mature a heck of a lot quicker than kids do. Because, somehow, this crazy, lovey little pooch makes us feel like more of a family.

And also? Because my husband’s been taking the night shift.

author: Lynn Shattuck

Image: Yoav Peled

Image: Elephant Journal on Instagram

Editor: Kelsey Michal

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Damilare Critters Jun 19, 2019 5:19pm

Great article and highly insightful.
Thank you Lynn for sharing this

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Lynn Shattuck

Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. Lynn is currently writing a memoir about her brother’s death. She writes about grief, parenting, imperfection, spirit, and truth telling—you can connect with her through her website or find her on Facebook.