When my dog of 15 years passed away in February 2013, it seemed as if the sun had decided to never rise and that I might not be a dog owner for a long time, if ever again. Living in Manhattan has challenges to a dog owner and the easy decision would be to focus on work and a social life without the responsibilities of dog ownership. As the months passed, I tried to enjoy all the positive aspects of not having a dog such as losing the need to rush home from a long day to avoid an accident or relying on having a lint brush in every bag, desk and closet. People tried their best to be consoling about my dog's death with all the reasons to NOT have a dog but as I vacantly listened to their attempts to create this perfect, dog-less world there was something inside that just said "NO." The end of summer brought the public declaration that I was going to open myself up to dog ownership and curious minds asked a ton of unsolicited questions.
"Why get a dog so soon after your loss?"
This was the hardest question to answer because I was terribly in love with my dog "Tyrone". He was without a doubt one of the best relationships I had ever experienced. Tyrone was kind and sensitive with the power to win over the harshest dog haters. If not in a park chasing a ball; it was hard even for him to accept that he was a large dog. For some unknown reason he avoided mirrors, interactions with other dogs, and insisted on sleeping with his head on a pillow. Unlike him, the puppy that I adopted named "Stella" is a rescue, loves mirrors and other dogs at the park. The moment she was freed her from the cage, she seemed bonded to me and that quick love/trust left me feeling like a cheater. I only agreed to take her as a foster for Thanksgiving weekend as a gesture of holiday good will but quickly knew that this puppy was not going back to a cage. I will admit that I burst into tears several times during our first evening together.
"Who will watch your dog when you travel?"
My theory on pet ownership has never been a sense of possession but one of guardianship for a soul. It is my responsibility to look after another being by making sure they are loved and developed. This dog will have many relationships that include close friends, coworkers or family. The first weekend that we were together I put this pup to many tests. We made the rounds to visit my inner circle and see how she responded to children, social occasions, moments in the hands of others, etc. As I kept throwing challenges her way and secretly pursued a reason to return her to the adoption agency; she not only passed every hurdled but exceeded all expectations. This puppy was unfazed by all these situations signaling with a wagging tail as a barometer that she seemed to agree that this fit was perfect.
"What kind of dog will you get?"
As if this was a search for Goldilocks bed, I wanted something not too small and not too big but just right. I met with some designer dogs that claimed to have the traits that would make me happy. A toy Australian shepherd for brains, an Italian greyhound for loyalty, and a labradoodle that did not shed. None of these animals connected with me or felt comfortable in my arms. Then in a wall of rescue cages on a New York City block there was one pretty little golden beagle mix puppy that just did not seem to belong. I noticed her one night on an outing with friends but could not stop to investigate and thought the moment was trivial. The next evening while walking home from work I found myself on the corner of the block where the rescue was located. Some inner GPS guided me back on an abnormal path where she patiently waited. The rescue worker was assuring that she was sweet and there was no problem in a temporary foster. Being the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, this was an opportunity to meet her for a few days with no set schedule. That was it... the one thing this puppy does not lack is charm.
"What will you do with the dog when you are at work?"
This was a big concern because as a New Yorker there are not just 9-5 work hours but also social obligations to meet. Luckily, I work for a kick ass company that encouraged me to bring her to work. There she found her spot under the desk or in front of my office to lie in the sun. The first few days, she stayed close and attentive but within a short time she made friends around the office. This blessing was a surprise because once she has a full day of work coupled with the long walk home; she is exhausted. Coworkers have also become bonded over this new and loving office mate. The days she is not at work there are requests for updates and the days she is working there are more smiles than usual. I am hesitant to admit that having her around work makes me more human and the stress or work conflicts become irrelevant.
"How can you live in an apartment in Manhattan with a dog?"
For those of you who have not been to NYC in years, there are now more dogs and kids than you can imagine. Manhattan is filled with dog parks that provide a welcome alternative to a Starbucks or bar for socializing. There are neighbors and friends who beg for the chance to be prioritized for puppy sitting duties. Stella has "aunts" and "uncles" who are so loving that seeing her has become more important than seeing me. Pride aside, this dimension of my New York life was something I missed most when Tyrone passed away. Having this sense of family and community within the big meat grinder of New York is essential for quality of life.
Now I am in love with a furry little lady and all of my priorities circle back to making sure she is well. Stress levels have dropped and the daily walking schedule has brought down my pant size. The excuse to stay home and cook dinner with my pup rather than attend the latest premiere or book launch is justified with each lick on the cheek or sleeping angel in my lap. So for all the detractors that criticize what can be seen as a selfish choice there is only one closing remark for them... find some love in your life and once you've found it, please share.