Why a Dog Taught Me About Love

Breaking up and starting over with a canine in tow.I wasn't ready. No one is ever ready. But my live-in boyfriend at the time kept sending me the links from Petfinder. The pictures were all adorable. They all needed a home. They all stared back with eyes that said "please adopt me." The more I stared at these images, the more I began to consider it. I thought, hey, if we can do this together, share the cost, hire a dog walker, and forgo the housetraining thing with an adult dog, how hard could this be?

The adoption agencies were tough. The initial paperwork aimed at weeding out the weak with questions like "what percentage of your annual income will you spend on dog food?" The people in charge of the adoption groups were crazy; crazy to the point where the mailbox at the "interview" house was shaped like a Boston terrier. I have no idea how, but we made it through. We had a brief introduction to the actual dog candidate (who was amazingly adorable), but the final meeting was more paperwork, ending with the awkward question: "If the nature of the relationship changes, who will be the primary owner of the dog?" At the time, we thought a custody conversation about the dog was funny. But of course we had to answer. My maternal instinct said "me." My lack of faith in my partner to properly care for this dog also said: "me." I could tell my boyfriend felt the same way. My name went down in pen. Also Read: 10 Celebrities Who Are In Lode With Their Pets

And, tellingly, I was the only one home when our new dog arrived (my partner was conveniently on a business trip). It was painful. The dog ran around the house nervously, circling over and over. When it was time for the dog's foster parent to leave and officially turn over the reins to me, he ran after him and cried by the door. And then, to my horror, my new dog ran upstairs to the only carpeted area and took a huge dump.

A few months and a break up later, that signature took on new meaning as my now ex-boyfriend moved out, leaving the dog and me without looking back. Needless to say, I was a huge mess. But in those early days of heartbreak, the dog never left my side. He followed me around religiously. He growled at anyone who came near me. This was out of character. In those months when we were all still together, the dog clearly took to my ex, staying up late with him watching TV, trailing him wherever he went. But something changed when he left-the dog seemed to know I was the one who was sticking around, and he slept a little closer than before at night.

We eventually moved away. The whole drive north I remember the dog patiently sleeping on the floor of the car while I explained to him what was happening, why we were leaving, how things were going to be great in our new city, how he would love the parks. I took him to get his new tags, got the vet to give him anti-anxiety medication so he wouldn't freak out in our new apartment and get us kicked out. Also Read: Animal Aphrodisiacs: Do Pets Help Us Date?

I felt like a good dog owner. But when we arrived it started to sink in: This dog is mine and mine alone. I need to train him not to bark, how to behave off-leash at the dog park, how to walk by my side instead of pulling me the whole way. When I started dating someone new, it became obvious that I needed to do something about the dog sleeping on the bed. Somehow having someone in my life again highlighted that this dog really did need some training. I was self conscious and wanting to demonstrate how in control and responsible I was. The dog wasn't a huge help during this transition: He was reluctant. He was jealous. He guarded me fiercely. He was only slightly interested in the $250 dog bed that was more stylish than my own. I took the initiative and signed up for a class at the SPCA. Shockingly, we excelled. The basis for training was food, which I've learned is the way to this dog's heart.

Food has also been a huge threat. In our time together my dog has had his stomach pumped and cut open. He has swallowed a plastic ball and nearly choked to death. Each one of these episodes was extremely traumatic and reiterated just how attached I had become. Just how painful his suffering was to me. Just how responsible I felt for saving him. Now, almost three years after that fateful drop off, I can officially say I love this dog like I never thought I would. Walking him no longer seems like a chore and sometimes is my favorite time of day. I am still fascinated that his tail wags uncontrollably every single time I utter the words "wanna go for a walk" and that he leaps off his leash with equal excitement every day at the park. I love that he kisses some, but not too much and not every time I ask.

I love that he has finally warmed up to my boyfriend, but still climbs between us on the couch. I still smile at his signature pout when he watches me get ready to go out. The list goes on: He behaves in taxis. He barks every time someone knocks on a door-on TV. He sleeps on the dining room table so he can look out the window. He unrolls the toilet paper and drags it into the living room when I leave him at home for too long. He wags his tail every night when I walk in. He follows me from room to room without stopping, every single time I get up and move. When my alarm goes off in the morning he groans. He can sleep until 11 without having to go out. He doesn't run away when he is off leash. He makes me smile and laugh at times when I might not have. He is naive and innocent and devious and funny. Also Read: Pet Jealousy And How To Deal With It

I realize there are people who don't understand, who think loving a dog is a cop out. I listen to my parents sigh when I talk about paying for a dog walker. I hear the undertones of their comments implying not-so-subtly that this type of concern and obligation should only be displayed towards people, namely children. But as it is with all things in life, you can't anticipate who will walk in and who will walk out and what impact the coming and going will have on you. I do know that I am thankful for this little creature and that his gifts to me are many and constant. How can this not be love?

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