This isn’t the first time I’ve written a blog post about a dog, and it won’t be the last. While I am in every way a crazy dog person, what I love most about dogs is the connection and comfort they can provide to people.
So whether you’re with me in the dog lover camp or not, this post is for you. It’s not for Maya- she can’t read.
This is a post I’ve considered for years. I’ve wanted to write about my experience adopting Maya, but sharing my love for this perfect pup meant needing to be brave enough to share the not so perfect.
In a sense, this means breaking the rules of social media- allowing others behind the filtered curtain that our staged photos create. But perfection is the antithesis to scrappy. To be true to myself and this platform, I’m using my 26th birthday and Maya’s 5th birthday as the perfect time to embrace that.
My boyfriend, Brandon, and I adopted Maya in August 2016. I was truly stopped dead in my tracks on the Secondhand Hounds site when I saw this brown-eyed beauty. We brought home the cuddliest two year-old pointer spaniel mix, originally from Arkansas, who spent 6 months with a loving foster family while she gave birth to 13 puppies and recovered from heart worm.
While in her foster home, she was with dogs, puppies, kids, and was strategically kept away from the cats.
One of her first weeks with us, Brandon brought Maya to a dog park. She was accosted at the entrance by a dog jumping all over her and nipping at her. The owner was across the park socializing with other owners, not concerned by what her dog was doing.
That experience may be the source of the aggression she now has towards dogs, or it may have triggered a memory from her time as a stray. While navigating this dog aggression isn’t “what we signed up for,” it’s been an epiphany of what unconditional love looks like.
Laurel Braitman— science historian, author of Animal Madness, and owner of a Bernese Mountain dog with a canine compulsive disorder— explains it best in her TED Talk:
“But like with humans, sometimes it’s six months in before you realize that the person that you love has some issues. And most of us do not take the person we’re dating back to the bar where we met them or give them back to the friend that introduced us, or sign them back up on Match.com. We love them anyway, and we stick to it, and that is what I did with my dog.”
If we knew then what we know now, I don’t think we would have thought Maya was the right dog for us. I don’t think we would have known we were strong enough to take on this challenge, and that one flaw doesn’t stand a chance in outweighing her amazing qualities.
Since you may not be familiar, I’ll catch you up real quick. From a logistics stand point, she almost never barks, she enjoys napping while we are away at work all day, and she’s embraced her city life by monitoring the streets in her free time.
From a personality stand point, I’ll keep it brief. I don’t think any person has stepped foot in our house without Maya cuddling up to them on the couch and giving them more kisses than they bargained for. When we have parties, she embraces whatever outfit I give her and works the room, making sure she spends time with each guest and offers different toys that might catch their fancy. An Aquarius like her mama, hosting is her love language.
We’ve come to accept that while Maya’s great with people and kids; and a lot of hard work has earned her three dog friends, she’s never going to be “normal” around dogs.
After years of reflection, progress, and setbacks, I realized by not sharing this topic, I was isolating people who were experiencing the exact same thing. Worse, I was adding to the idea that everyone who adopts a dog or brings home a puppy will have a completely predictable and ordinary experience.
In reality, this isn’t the norm for everyone and our norms around dogs aren’t normal. If you think of a family dog you grew up with— regardless of your generation— dogs stayed at home…like dogs. But they probably weren’t home alone like a millennial’s 9-5 requires. They were likely with a stay at home parent, or you or a sibling had shifts and responsibilities.
As it’s become increasingly common to adopt a dog or buy a puppy at younger stages in one’s life, we’ve brought animals into a wide variety of scenarios, and we expect a cookie cutter result. We’re putting pets into public, crowded spaces and assuming they’ll have a blast. Do you know how many people are out there that HATE public, crowded spaces?
Hover over the photos to meet Maya’s three friends
Whether you bring home a purebred puppy or find your perfect rescue pup, there will also be something about them that is out of your control. Rather than this fact deterring you from making that step, I’m hoping to reiterate the importance of being adaptable and staying curious.
Aspiring dog owners, spend time thinking about how you would work through a variety of situations. Look forward to finding out what they enjoy, rather than deciding what your life will be like together before you even meet them.
If you think of how you try new experiences, it’s rarely diving in head first. Brandon and I tried a salsa class in January, and I am so glad he talked me into buying a single class rather than a 10-pack. Just like Maya, we’re gifted in other ways.
Now, I promised this wasn’t just about dogs, and it’s not. When it comes to navigating dog scenarios with Maya, some days are better than others. Some days, I thought we couldn’t live like this, but 99.9% of the time, I wonder how we ever lived without her.
This experience has made me aware of how often I assume every person I see, especially every person that looks like me, is experiencing the world just as I am.
It’s given me a glimpse, even if it’s only the size of a pinhole in comparison, to the unconditional love parents have for their children and the commitment to adaptability that comes with that. When I see a kid running rampant at the grocery store, I save the passive aggressive glance (that I’ve now received) and remind myself they’re trying their best.
It’s been a huge learning experience in mine and Brandon’s relationship, of how we can work together as a team and stay the course even when it’s tempting to quit. We’ve had to think critically about whether we’re the best home for Maya, and how we can continue ensuring that.
Turns out, off-leash dog parks and dog birthday parties weren’t designed with a family like ours in mind. That’s fine, it’s a reminder of how many people go through their day-to-day with transportation, buildings, and jobs that weren’t designed with them in mind.
These are not meant to be apple-to-apple comparisons; rather, this awareness is what keeps me grounded on the not so perfect days. It’s what instantly makes me grateful for all that I have and all that I can do.
That gratitude is rooted in every day returning to a happy home— mind you, a condo in the city with a communal yard that we avoid— that’s filled with cuddles on the couch, items knocked over by Maya’s tail, cooking with a four legged shadow, endless laughter, and most importantly, the permission to come as you are.
Perfection need not apply.
Dog owners- I have so many tips on what is and isn’t helpful in my situation, training tips that have worked, things that have absolutely not, and so much more. If that’d be interesting for another post, let me know in the comments here or where you found this post!