Ten days ago my boyfriend and I decided to adopt a dog. Both of us being self-proclaimed “dog people,” we had been thinking about getting a new canine friend for a while. After talking with other dog owners we came across in our home borough of Brooklyn, we decided that adopting from the shelter instead of buying from a pet store was the most humane thing to do.
We went to East Harlem Animal Care and Control. After a guilt-filled process of elimination that made me feel like I was looking for the perfect child instead of rescuing a needy animal (this dog is too big, this one looks gnarly, that one’s gonna shed) we settled on a golden coated one-year-old Pitt/Boxer mix, described in his paperwork as “friendly,” whose only bad habit was “chewing on leash during walks.”
Though it was hard to reject the other dogs because they might have been more difficult, we had to be pragmatic. After all, we live in an apartment. And we both work full time. We have limited resources and wanted to be smart about getting a pet we could handle and keep forever and ever. So we took our new pup home and named him Steve.
Eight days later, my boyfriend said in a heated moment of frustration: “I am seriously reconsidering our decision.” I knew he was only venting, but that was how we felt after lovely little Steve destroyed one too many shoes/shirts/mattresses/furniture.
Steve is the friendliest dog you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t bite and doesn’t bark and loves more than anything to be cuddled. But Steve also suffers from a severe case of separation anxiety. Not only that, when Steve sees my boyfriend come toward him to discipline him, he pees on the spot — a sign of submission.
The truth is, Steve has a history that no one will ever know about. He was found in the Bronx as a young pup, lived God-knows-where, was somewhat malnourished when we adopted him, has two hind legs that were clearly injured at some point and healed a little awkwardly. His first adoptee was an elderly woman who couldn’t handle him and returned him to the shelter. He has spent the majority of his life with inconsistency and most likely, in fear.
We, of course, are not going to give Steve up. He’s ours and we love him. But in the sometimes difficult process of breaking Steve in and Steve breaking us in, I am learning a lot about love and life. Here are a few of those lessons:
1. When someone leaves your sight for a little while, it doesn’t mean they are gone forever
2. Giving praise can be just as fun as receiving it
3. Loving means loving in spite of faults. But it is up to you to make clear which behavior you will and will not tolerate
4. If you want to impress someone, learn to follow direction
5. There’s nothing like a little sit/stay/pause action to appease anxiety
6. Eye contact during communication is important, especially if you want someone to know that you mean it
7. Respect boundaries
8. Discipline does not equal unlove. And neither does anger
9. A little treat goes a long way
10. Always say what you mean and mean what you say. Everything else is mixed messages
11. A good companionship doesn’t involve a lot of tugging and pulling
12. In fact, a great companion will not be ahead of you or behind you, but right by your side
13. Practice and patience can lead to some nifty tricks
14. Where you have been does not determine where you will end up
15. You know someone loves you when they clean up the shit you leave behind