Hello, Puppy

Pete and I took the plunge and adopted a dog. Here’s the thing: I know next to nothing about dogs. Not only do I know nothing about them, but I spent a large part of my life actively fearful of them. As kids we were instructed not to engage with strange dogs and told to “keep our hands in our pockets” around them (because dogs would eat our hands? not sure!). Jenny, our friendly neighborhood Labrador would walk up to me tail a-waggin’ and I would freeze, with my hands in my pockets. Not helping matters was an educational filmstrip they showed us in middle school about rabies. I can still see that young boy trying to escape a rabid dog, unable to scale the chain link fence. He needed to go to the hospital to get 14 shots in his stomach. It took me many many years and many many close encounters with friendly dogs to shake the image of that chain link fence, to unsee that tender abdomen.

Pete’s dog, Thor, was one of the dogs who helped me get over my dog fears. He had a snaggletooth and an incredibly good nature. He never barked. He wore a little yellow raincoat (reluctantly) when it rained. This dog was as far from a hand-eater as you could get. After Thor passed away, Pete put off adopting a new dog, because I came into the relationship with two senior cats who were very used to being in charge. I not-so-secretly hoped Thor would be reincarnated into another dog who would just show up at our front door one day. The cats could adjust, right? 

One of our (Pete quickly took them on as his own) senior cats passed away, then the other. Things were much quieter in the house. I drove past the pet food store and still reflexively eyed the parking lot to see if there were any free spaces even though there was no reason for me to go there. Pete and I decided that after our post-vax (pre-Delta) honeymoon, we would start looking for a dog. We watched a British reality TV show called The Dog House in preparation. I ordered some used books about dogs from Powell’s and started to learn about different breeds. I researched various rescues online. I thought, this is going to be a process. It had taken me a year and countless adoption events to to find my cats. Pete warned me that he would want the first dog he saw. I would have to be the ‘voice of reason.’ 

There were two rescue organizations I had my eye on. One, Muttville, specializes in older dogs. After checking their available mutts page every day, for weeks (even during our honeymoon) we put in an online application. We talked to an awesome volunteer who helped us figure out what we wanted by asking us lifestyle questions like, “Do you want to take your dog to a groomer on the regular?” (Answer: I haven’t gotten a haircut in like two years, so no). “How much exercise do you want to do with your dog?” (Answer: [trying not to appear lazy] Medium?). I wrote notes on an index card, qualities we wanted in our dog, like “gentle” and “not bite-y.” Being a cat person, I wanted a cat-like dog who would laze by me as I read and drank herbal tea. 

San Francisco Animal Care & Control (SFACC) was the other place we were looking to adopt from. They do amazing work for the city by taking care of all kinds of pets and wildlife. For SFACC, there was no online application– a paper application had to be filled out in person. This was a good excuse to take ourselves to the new and beautiful shelter they just opened to the public. The place was filled with light and the doggies were in clean little rooms with cots. There was one dog we wanted to check out named Pumpkin. We walked to the back where there were cages and lo and behold, there she was, the only dog barking at us at top volume. The info sheet next to her said she was “Shy/Fearful” and that Training Classes were required for her adoption, because she was so anxious. One of the many things I appreciate about SFACC (besides all the work they do freeing raccoons) is that they are up front about known issues with their animals, because they want to avoid surprises which might result in animals being returned to the shelter. After getting our application in, we were led to a small brightly lit room. Pumpkin was shaking hard and running around in circles. Pete and I sat there and ignored her, because we were coached to let her come to us when and if she was ready. Eventually she got a bit curious about us and calmed down. Then a random lookie-loo peeked in the window of the room and she went nuts, barking furiously. Was she going to bark like this every time our doorbell rang? (Answer: Yes). I could feel Pete aching to give her a good cuddle, but we both stood our ground, or sat our ground, since we were on the floor. She eventually came into my lap. She was anxious, but willing to give us a try. I think we spent about 30 minutes total with her. I could see in Pete’s face that he wanted to take her home. Being the ‘voice of reason’ I asked him to at least sleep on it. The next day he woke up and said he thought about it and could hardly sleep and he wanted to adopt Pumpkin. He was The Decider in this situation, because he had waited so patiently for a doggo. Time to crack open that Chihuahuas for Dummies book I ordered! 

Pete made an appointment to pick her up. We had some time beforehand, so we ran out to buy a dog gate and some other basic supplies, in order to create a “decompression chamber.” The advice we had gotten was to let the dog get used to one area in the house at a time, slowly expanding the radius. Our house has a bit of a Winchester Mystery House vibe with lots of stairs and weird lofts and levels that don’t make sense so we figured we’d start at the main level and work our way up to the top floor. I set up a little fenced off area with a bed and some toys and food and water.

The excitement in the car was palpable as we arrived home with Pumpkin. I’m not sure what happened, exactly, but the minute Pete got inside the house she leapt from him and started streaking through the entire place, Pete chasing after her and yelling, “She made a wee!” to me while they both ran around like maniacs. Welcome to dog energy. At some point she had run through the entirety of the place and decided that she wanted to hang out on the top floor. OK, then, guess we won’t be needing this little fenced in area. 

After some whiteboarding, because we are like that, Pete and I renamed Pumpkin to “Nutmeg.”

We started working with various trainers right away. Marwa Ali of Positive Energy Dog Training helped us learn the basics. She also hosts a playgroup for puppies on the weekends, which is so fun! It’s a fenced in area that has kiddie pools, a bubble machine, a ball pit and other silliness. The puppies roll around with each other and chase after balls. It was a bit too much for Nutmeg and after the session where she hid under a chair the entire time, we put playgroup on hold. I’m hoping she gives it another chance.  

What Nutmeg enjoys is nature and hiking. That is her happy place where she is confident and bold. Jumping over a log. Rubbing her shoulder in seaweed. Sticking her nose in a gopher hole. She can hike for hours, so that’s what we do. We’ve discovered all kinds of new dog friendly parks and I feel like I did when I first moved to the bay area all those years ago and had my little (paper!) list of places to explore. Some parks are quickly becoming favorites, like the Berkeley Marina (where I can pick up burritos from Picante afterwards) and the Dog Run in Corona Heights near the weirdo Randall museum.

The hardest bit has been how stressed she gets when anyone enters our house. She will jump and bark until her throat is raw and she starts to choke. We don’t have too much info on what her life was like before she was brought to the shelter. Some days she is triggered continually on her walks, barking at cars, barking at runners, barking at cyclists, barking at birds (SHE HATES BIRDS SO MUCH, WHY). Inside the house, she barks if she hears someone slam a car door across the street, she barks if she hears a dog miles away bark, she barks at the sound of a someone knocking or ringing a doorbell on TV (happens a lot). When she is having a particularly hard day, Pete and I call that a “barky” day and now we use that adjective to describe our hard days as well. 

A few people have asked, “But wait are you no longer a cat person now?” since cats are kind of my brand. Dear reader, rest assured, there is room for both dogs and cats. Enjoy your high value treats and may your barky days number few!

These are a few of my favorite dog things right now:

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