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Puppy Love: On Having a First Pet

06/24/2015 11:19 am ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016

I feel like this is likely going to reach an audience of people who will nod their heads in understanding. But, I'm going to write it anyway.

The first day we took her home, she walked around the kitchen a little confused. A scorching hot day during New England's July, she selected a cool kitchen tile and sprawled out. Worried she hadn't sipped enough water or eaten enough food, I fed the newest addition to our family from my hand. Her tiny tongue took the soft food with a growing trust. She was disoriented, but seemed to at least know she was safe and cared for. We named her Lyla. She was home.

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Growing up, I was never allowed to have a pet -- in the true sense of the word. I had a few fish at one point, but you can't walk, train, or play with fish. I don't really count that as an authentic "pet" experience. Accordingly, for much of my life, I had difficulty showing appropriate affection towards people's pets, most notably, dogs. I never understood how people could feel real love towards animals and, quite frankly, would do just about anything to make sure their slobbery, shedding selves stayed away from me. It wasn't that I didn't like them; I just didn't get it.

Fast forward to last year, when I somehow agreed to my husband's proposal of getting a puppy. If I had known what we were in for with an 11-week-old Yorkshire Terrier, I would have never done it. She was a little terror at first; it's probably a good thing that I went in blindly! However, my heart has changed, as I am utterly in love with my dog.

For the first few months, when we woke up in the morning to get ready for the day, she would follow me out of our bedroom and stop before heading down the stairs. She would back up and then step forward. Then, she'd repeat this. Certain of her inability to make her way down a staircase, I would gather her up and carry her. Eventually, she would try climbing a few on her own, with her tiny sweet paws just slightly unsteady.

I remember how proud I was, watching her go from cowering at the stairs to taking them in stride. Similarly, I remember weighing myself without her and then with her to measure how much she was growing, Googling puppy weight charts to make sure she was on point. It turns out she is rather large for a Yorkie!

In addition to being struck by this love and pride that I did not know I was capable of, I have also become fascinated, inspired, and warmed by the veterinary care that Lyla has received from our local animal hospital. When we brought her for her initial check up, her new vet picked her up and couldn't help but kiss her tiny 2-pound self when he first met her, remarking that she still smelled like a little baby. While a small detail, he referred to her care as something "we" would all do, in a collective and inclusive way. When referring to her future spaying, he would say "I don't want to have to sedate us twice." There was something about how he said it. I felt that he was in it with us. Vets care so much because animals are important.

There is still good in this world.

Our pets teach us about our tempers, our limits, our stressors. They pull out of us a different type of love and devotion. They hold the role of supporting you and your family in a way that only an animal companion can.

They are a great source of wisdom: whether we are kind to them or not, they show us who we are.

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Thank you, Lyla. I get it now.

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