Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe there is no love comparable to that felt towards a four-legged companion. I believe there is no feeling similar to that of the pride one feels once your little monster begins to routinely follow your commands. I believe there is no warmth comparable to that of a warm kiss and snuggle from a puppy who’s love for you is unconditional. I believe you really do know when you’ve found your dog, and for me, Cowboy was that very girl.
Why yes, I did adopt a quarantine puppy, and why yes, it was the best decision I have possibly ever made. Cowboy is my spotted angel, the answer to a long list of questions and concerns I have been asking myself for years. She has drastically improved the mental and emotional well-being of my day-to-day health, all the while teaching me the importance of patience, discipline, and responsibility. My three-month old rescue puppy has me on my toes, don’t get me wrong. However, for any of you out there who truly believe they are ready to fill the void that has been empty in their heart, that burning desire for a companion, I can assure you, it will be the best decision you have ever made. Cowboy is not just my quarantine puppy, she is my forever puppy.
As someone who grew up surrounded by animals (four cats and two dogs roamed around my childhood home), it felt impossibly quiet in my New York apartment without the pitter-patter of four legs. My job and lifestyle, one comprised of travel, nightlife, and social events, resulted in a demanding schedule. Then, it was far from moral to adopt an animal who would inevitably develop separation anxieties and poor behaviors due to my lack of time and stability. At the time, I attempted to fill my nagging desire for a four-legged companion by walking animals as odd jobs. Slowly, I became one of the sidewalk-harassers that would beg to pet your dog despite the breed or size. As we rang in the new decade, I came to terms with the fact that while I maintained this lifestyle, my apartment’s inhabitants would remain two-legged.
Fast forward to March.
As states across the country entered various degrees of lockdowns, I began to pack up my New York apartment into boxes, moving back in with my parents and our family dog, located in Upstate, New York. As I began to settle into a new routine, my social media feeds started to resemble dog rescues, filled with successful adoption stories. One of my best friends welcomed an incredibly intelligent and beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog, @rubythe_berner into his Brooklyn. As I watched him blossom into an excellent dog father, I began to wonder, was I next? Could I be finally ready to accept this level of responsibility? Was I financially secure? Would I be willing to sacrifice future freedoms, such as my social life? Was I pursuing adoptions because I wanted a companion for the correct reasons, reasons of love, rather than loneliness or despair?
As I spent time in my childhood home, I began to remember the importance and joy a pet in the home can bring a family. My thirteen-year-old Labrador Retriever puttered around after my mother, constantly on her heels, protecting her from the world. As the days melted away, so did the youthful spirit of our beloved dog. Gray in the muzzle, she began to slow down rapidly, finding comfort on our plush couches or my mother’s lap. It became clear her time on this earth was coming to an end, and the family prepared themselves for the emotional pain that was foreseeably ahead. As the summer heat began to dissipate, and pumpkins popped up on the suburban porches around us, we took our lab for some of her last walks. On a dark Saturday, we realized it was time to take her out of her misery, a realization every pet owner dreads. As we said our goodbyes, embracing our sweet and kind elderly lab. I still remember her smell as I tucked my face into her black fur, eyes filled with tears. Despite the overwhelming pain and loss, I couldn’t help but think “I’d do this again. The years of joy and love are worth the pain.”
Silence is deafening when you are not accustomed to it. Opening your front door is never the same when you previously took for granted a four-legged greeting. My childhood home felt empty without the love only a dog can give. Everyone grieves differently, and while my parents allowed themselves to feel the sadness and process our loss, I tend to make plans when I’m feeling extreme grief. I took to my computer, pouring over adoption center’s websites, Facebook groups, Upstate forums for available puppies, and spoke with countless friends who may have leads. Like many young adults, I had previously treasured my freedom, my independence, and my ability to act at a moment’s notice. However, over the past eight months living in my childhood home, spending quality time with the people and animals I love, my mindset changed drastically. I began to yearn for the companionship I previously had written off as an impractical impulse. As I poured over the adorable faces of puppies needing homes, I began to create a checklist of self-imposed necessary requirements.
An honest discussion with my determined future roommates about their feelings and expected responsibilities towards a future puppy?
A savings account with a predetermined amount placed aside in case of any vet related emergency?
Temporary support from my parents, as I currently live in their home?
A plan in-place for how I will take care of a future puppy when remote working is dissolved and office attendance is expected? A plan that includes a potential work-related trip?
The personal acceptance that my social life will become tethered to the needs of the future puppy, as well as the notion that my independence is no longer?
A vet that is accepting new patients?
Referrals from reliable sources regarding my fitness as a future owner and puppy parent?
A comprehensive understanding of all fees and costs associated with adoption, such as puppy vaccines, toys, food, and treats?
Suddenly, I found myself able to check off my list, and understood the importance of having an open and honest conversation with myself. Could I do this? Was I ready? Truthfully, this was not an answer I had when I received an email that I was approved for adoption at my local rescue, Ulster County Canines. On that Saturday morning in October, I rolled out of bed and read an email that followed the approval notification, stating the rescue had litters of puppies ready for adoption. Just weeks after my family said goodbye to our beloved retriever, I asked myself, “Are we ready?”, “Was I ready?” On a whim, I decided there was no harm in looking at the litter, believing in my gut that I would not return home with a puppy.
As I walked into the “distanced” meet-and-greet with the litter, I surveyed the litters. My heart stopped as I saw a pair of little blue eyes staring at me behind a play gate, urging me to pick up the three-pound ball of fur. Within seconds, I knew she was my little girl. As dread filled my heart, I knew I would find myself on the phone informing my family weeks before we were ready that I would be bringing home my girl. Without a leash, collar, or the materials necessary, I begged the shelter to hold my girl for me as I drove to the nearest pet store.
I won’t lie, as I drove away, her little eyes melted my heart, as my fear and trepidation overwhelmed me. Was I really ready for this? Was I making a huge mistake? What did I do? In reflection, I’m not sure anyone is ever ready for love when it enters your life. I’m not sure I would ever be 100% ready to take on the responsibility that comes with caring for another life, however, I will tell you, I was as emotionally and mentally ready as I could have been that day. Hours later, as I took my sweet puppy in my arms and clipped that small pink collar around her fuzzy neck, I knew she was mine. For years, I’ve harbored the name “cowboy” for my dream pup, a thought in the back of my mind. I stared into her sweet little blue eyes and knew I found her.
I have always been honest throughout the growth of this column. I have never lied, and I will not start now. There have been plenty of nights where I have begged my wild puppy to stop biting or playing as the clock struck 2 a.m. Plenty of my beloved clothing now has little holes from Cowboy’s devilish puppy teeth. I am currently typing this article with a scratch on my face from winning a battle with her over clipping her nails despite earning a battle wound. There are times when she outsmarts me, successfully driving me off the wall. I can promise you, she possesses a sixth sense, understanding when I am on important work calls, seizing the opportunity to beg for attention and cause a disruption. However, these times do not come close to being positive. Her love is overwhelming and unmeasurable. She demands my attention the way my childhood pets demanded my mother’s, something I was always jealous of. She asserts herself as my guardian, my protector, as if all fifteen pounds of her could save me. She stares into my eyes and refuses to look away until I melt. This feeling does not compare.
I think back fondly on my initial concerns. I care a whole lot about being a good dog owner, and while I have so much to learn, her needs have demanded my success and responsibility. Despite my desires, I must get off the couch and walk her. I must play with her, even when I may feel lethargic. I must get up early to take her outside, and I must maintain my own health in order to protect hers. Granted, I’m unsure if you can ever truly prepare someone for the demands of raising a young puppy. How do you prepare someone for the extreme attention to detail one must possess, unable to glance away from your young baby for they will destroy anything and everything in seconds? Recently, I walked away to plug in my work computer, and turned around to find my three-month old with her muzzle in my morning coffee, standing on a side table. I recently forgot to close the door to our bathroom, and was greeted with an excited Cowboy who had unspooled the entire roll of toilet paper across our hallway. I’ve taken a work call only to find her under the living room furniture with a bag of pretzels my brother left in his bedroom. Or even now—now she is attempting to launch her little body across the couch, on to my open laptop typing this very sentence. You cannot just “forget” with a puppy around, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While I am overwhelmed with the love I feel constantly throughout the day from my little assistant, it is important for me to develop rules and routines when it comes to the future with us. I understand that one day, our “normal” lives will return. I will not spend all of my days with her by my side, and know we must work on being separated. The way we are living is temporary, and despite the utter pain one feels when they hear their babies whine and cry, separation must be experienced. I’ve learned to be sensitive to her needs and her wants, all the while remaining tough and the pack leader (the best I can). This pandemic has caused an immense amount of stress and anxiety, however, connecting to Cowboy, tending to her needs and feelings has been grounding and healthy. Her goofy cat-like pounces have me in stitches when she demands a mid-day game of fetch. She recently developed a habit of jumping off of our family couch into my outstretched arms when I command “jump”, an act that melts my heart and makes all the trying moments worth it. So yes, while raising a puppy may make you pull out your hair at times, more often than not, puppies remind you of the good in the world.
I believe there is no other love comparable to that felt towards a four-legged companion. There is this cheesy saying that “one doesn’t rescue a dog, they rescue you”. I can’t help but roll my eyes as I type this, but she has been there by my side through some of the most turbulent months of the last three months. I truly cannot imagine my life without her. Raising a puppy is not easy, but for me, the trouble is worth it. I believe you really do know when you’ve found your dog, and for me, Cowboy was that very girl.