11/10/2014 12:54 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

A Pet and Me

We weren't going to be traveling anymore, my husband said, because it was too much of a hassle and we'd been everywhere. Finally, I could get a pet. Should I get a dog or a cat? I'd had a giant tortoise as a girl, but she was slow.

I'd had some wonderful cats who were very loving, cuddly, self-sufficient, pooped in a box and were easy to leave with friends in an emergency. I'd had dogs that were equally loving, cuddly, demonstrative, too friendly to be guard dogs, pooped outside and needed daily walking, which was good for an exercise-adverse person like me. They were harder to leave with friends, but I figured we were going to be home, anyway.

I went online and found many cats and dogs I liked. There were some pets with sad stories, like two cats whose owner had committed suicide, and a dog who was traumatized by an owner with Alzheimer's, who beat him. There was an aside in the dog's description saying the owner "didn't mean to."

It made me sad, so I ate a bowl of cereal. I was a psychologist for 30 years and had to fight myself to not take on a depressed animal.

Finally, I came across a 10-year-old cat on a cat rescue society's site who had always lived with her brother, who bossed her around. The description said they "weren't a bonded pair," and "she comes out of her shell when her brother's not around." I wanted to give the poor, subjugated cat a home where she'd be the queen and center of attention in the last years of her life. (A psychologist's savior-complex in action.)

I thought it would be easy to adopt a 10-year-old cat. We were experienced cat owners, had no other pets, no kids at home and a house with a high fenced yard. Wrong.

The fee for an adult cat was $125.00 (kittens were $175) because they'd had extensive shots, etc. The application was extensive, asking about what people and animals lived in the house and if they'd had various vaccinations; if you rented, you had to include a signed statement from the landlord that cats were OK; (don't even think about lying, because there's a home visit if you get accepted.) You also must get a signed statement from a vet that you're OK and no application would be processed without this. (We obviously didn't have a vet because we had no pet, so a friend vouched to her vet for us.) Then, you must provide two references whom they contact. You send in the application with $10.00 and they'll check on you and let you know. Since it's staffed by volunteers, they can't be hurried.

I mailed in the cat application and went to the county animal shelter to look for a dog. The first pen by the entrance had a giant tortoise in it. I'd ruled out tortoises, so I went on.

Inside the clean kennels, the cats and dogs looked well cared for and I was surprised at how little barking there was. I remembered animal shelters as very noisy. The pound charged $68 for a puppy or dog but only $35 to a senior person. Their policy, "First see, first take" meant you took the pet home with you immediately or it might be gone when you returned.I saw a cute little brown terrier mix, but when they brought him out to meet me he peed on anything vertical so I remembered why I'd had all female pets.

I went online to the county's recommended small animal rescue site and found a lovely five-year old dog that looked like the Lhasa-Apso we'd once had for 18 years. Above her picture it said that she'd been a breeder all her life. Again, I thought I could give an animal a nice retirement.
The application was long and again you needed a vet to vouch for you and, this time, three references.

It was getting a little depressing when they insisted that adopter over 70 have a cosigner. Rebelling, and getting rather disrespectful of the process, when they asked if the adopter's current relationship "changed," who would keep the dog? I answered "the alive one." When asked the question, "could you live with a furry presence that sleeps in your bed and might be destructive at times," I answered, "I'm married. Yes."

I sent in the application and today a nice woman named Susan called from the shelter saying she liked my sense of humor. I wondered if that meant I could, or couldn't, have a dog. She then told me the sad story about breeder dogs at puppy mills. She said they were rarely touched, spent their entire lives in cages with a whelping box, and had no training or experience with people. Adopting one was like adopting a traumatized puppy with bad habits to be corrected. Some even hated people touching them, they were so frightened. She said she'd keep her eyes open for a more suitable dog for us.

That night at dinner, a friend asked why I wanted my house full of fur, pee and poop and why I'd have time for a pet when I complained about not having time to write. Luckily, it was a rhetorical question, because I couldn't think of a good answer, or even a mediocre one. When we came home, I noticed a stack of travel brochures on my husband's table. Maybe, I'm not ready for a pet yet... or maybe, I should reconsider the tortoise.

Laura Riley is the author of Tell Me of Brave Women and can be reached at