Back in the late '90s, when I was preparing to rent my first apartment, there were three things on my list that the potential home had to have: it had to be in Capitol Hill, I had to be able to smoke cigarettes in the place, and it had to be pet-friendly. I didn't have any animals at the time, but I wanted a cat. I eventually found that apartment -- a nasty basement two-bedroom off of Colfax Avenue by Scooter Liquors -- and I adopted a cat. I named him Scooter after the liquor store, because those are the choices a nineteen-year-old makes. Scooter was my baby.
I smoked lots of cigarettes in that place and Scooter and I had a blast living in the city, but eventually we had to move. I took up with a friend in a house on the south side of town and decided to adopt another cat. His name was Spanky. He was a terror. I trained him with some Temple Grandin-style extreme hugging techniques and he became a better cat. But then I became a drunk, and nothing is worse than a drunk cat owner -- my kitties ate plenty and received lots of attention, but I rarely cleaned the litter box.
Eventually, being a drunk became of more pressing importance than taking care of my little boys and I had to give them up (my mother made the executive decision, because I certainly didn't make any good ones at that time.) Luckily, a good friend's mom was looking for two cats; Scooter and Spanky went to a better home. Looking back on it now, drunk or not, I don't know who let a nineteen-year-old adopt two cats in the first place.
At 34, after years of dog-sitting (and eight and half years of sobriety and being smoke-free) I feel ready to be a pet parent again. Or at least I felt like it until I visited a few shelters. After a long talk with my boyfriend, I promised I would quit wagging my ring finger at him if we could be pet parents. He agreed and we began our search.
Once he said yes, I immediately started looking at dogs on two of the bigger shelter websites in Colorado. I found dogs at both that I thought we might like, and we planned a weekend trip to check them out. First of all, know that going to an animal shelter on a weekend afternoon means all of the "good" animals will be gone by the time you get there (or so I was told.) I still saw plenty of pups I wanted to take home, but apparently the best stock flies out of the kennels first thing in the morning.
Being told this fact alone made me sad -- I am a person ruled by emotions and I take on the feelings of others in intense ways. What about the dogs no one wanted? Walking through the first shelter's dog area, I felt a pain in my heart for every dog. I wanted to adopt them all. I became overwhelmed and had a hard time even figuring out which dogs to "meet." What if I had walked by a kennel and the right dog just hadn't perked his ears up and I missed him? What if the dog I chose to meet was just having a bad day and left the wrong impression and I went home with a different dog who ended up being the wrong dog? How are you supposed to make a serious decision on the adoption of a sentient being after only being in a room with them for twenty minutes? What if I was a terrible dog owner and I didn't even know it?
We left the shelter empty-handed. Our next visit was to a very different kind of shelter: here, they have you look at a book of the animals and you choose which ones come to you. This is where I thought I had seen the puppy of my dreams -- her name was Stella and she was beautiful. My boyfriend and I were able to meet her and she was perfect. Cute, friendly, playful, everything a dog is supposed to be! But she was potentially being adopted by someone else.
Still, I filled out an intense and thorough application and crossed my fingers. Days passed. All three of the personal, non-familial references I was required to submit had been called, my landlord had okayed me having a pet and I apparently had answered all of the questions on the form correctly that would allow me to one day take a dog home. But I heard nothing. I went back to the shelter a few days after to check on the status of the dog that had to be mine and they didn't have an answer for me yet. I watched as other happy dog parents left the shelters with their new best friends. I felt like an inadequate dog mom.
I checked back one last time -- and Stella had been adopted. My boyfriend and I even looked at a few more dogs at this shelter, but each dog seemed to come with a long story that I felt like they were telling me just to keep me from adopting a dog. Maybe I had passed all of the paperwork tests, but this shelter didn't really think I was the right person for a dog. I felt weird and judged. I just wanted to leave.
We went back to the other shelter to look at potential dogs again and all they wanted was my ID and they were ready to send me home with any dog I made eye contact with. We met with a very sweet dog named Roger and I felt like he could be the one! But I still wasn't sure. We told the shelter we would come back later if we thought he was the right fit. But again, all of these questions flooded my mind -- how were we really supposed to know that he would be the right dog for us? How would we know we would be the right dog parents for him? It seemed too complex a decision to be made hastily.
As we drove home from the shelter, I had a breakdown. Maybe I wasn't ready to be a pet owner. Maybe I wasn't responsible enough or had the emotional intelligence to care for a being. Maybe I was going to be a terrible animal guardian and I didn't even know it. I decided if I was that apprehensive, now was not the time to get a new member of this family.
Hopefully in a few months I'll be ready to be a dog owner. In the mean time, I will just admire all of the people I know who have it in them to be the best animal parents ever and hope that I will one day be a good one, too.
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