What one week of dog ownership taught me


It sounded like a recipe for disaster from the jump. Single girl living in a 500 square foot apartment in Chicago seeks large dog for companionship. Well, when worded that way it actually sounds like a really desperate, slightly disturbing personal ad.

I initially moved to the city from Ohio with a friend whom I had grown up with since third grade. We made up silly dances at recess in elementary school, fought for the affection of the same boy in middle school, decked ourselves out in our school’s colors to attend football games in high school and even roomed together for two years in college. There was little we did not know about one another. After living in the city together for a year, we were treated to a third roommate, another girlfriend of ours that was the third member of our ill choreographed dance trio from fifth grade.

The three of us went way back and together; we were starting a new chapter in the big city.  This bliss was short-lived however, as they both decided to return to their roots in Ohio, leaving me as the last standing member of the trio.

After the sad exit of my girlfriends, a break up with my boyfriend, and the move into my newly renovated, extremely lonely apartment, I decided that now was the time to adopt a dog. I had talked about it for two years and figured now was as good a time as any. I was alone, living off loans from the government now that I attended graduate school and had plenty of time to tend to a pet.

Why not? Well, in retrospect there were plenty of answers to that question.

I arrived at the local animal shelter on a sunny, Sunday morning prepared to bring home an older, slightly larger dog (I have nothing against small dogs other than the fact that I do not like a majority of them). I was taken into a private room with a couple of dogs, many of who were running around as if amphetamines had been slipped into their breakfast bowls. I asked for a dog that was perhaps a bit less likely to destroy my apartment and in trotted Zeb.

Zeb was a 50-pound Labrador Retriever and only 7 months old. I was apprehensive at first of the fact that he was still a young puppy. But after two minutes in the room with him, I was in love. I had never witnessed a dog with such a calm, sweet demeanor! It did not matter that they said he could grow to weigh as much as 90 pounds. With a temperament as sweet as any animal, or person for that matter, that I had ever seen, I thought I could handle it.

Well, as it turned out, I could not.

Zeb, whose name I changed to Gaston, was cool as a cucumber the first few days after I brought him home. In fact, I did not even hear him bark until about day 5. After he became comfortable in his surroundings, Gaston went from cool and calm to hyper and crazy. He was a puppy. That is what they do. I totally get it. But to try and control a hyper active puppy in a tiny studio apartment just seemed cruel.

I walked him about 5 to 7 times a day just to tire him out. (I ultimately lost about 5 pounds that week from all of the activity myself). I signed him up for obedience classes, spent an outrageous amount of money on toys to keep him entertained (pet stores are ridiculously overpriced by the way), and hired a dog walker.

Ultimately, I realized that I was the one who was not ready to take on the responsibilities of my boy, Gaston. I fight issues of anxiety and the added pressure that came with being responsible for a pet, was too much to bear.

It was unbelievable how much he and I bonded in such a short period of time, though. When I realized that the situation was not fair to Gaston and that I needed to return him, I packed him up in my car, along with his ridiculous amount of toys and $150 dog tick prevention medication I had purchased after taking him to the vet.

I bawled like a baby all the way to the shelter, while saying goodbye to him, all the way home, all through the night, and basically the rest of the weekend. I have never felt like such a disappointment. I had let this dog down. It was the first time I discovered what it truly felt like to be deeply depressed.

I called the shelter everyday, often more than once, after I dropped him off to see if he had been adopted yet. Not surprisingly, a family who had kids and another dog adopted him two days later. This was the environment he deserved and a part of me knew it all along.

My motives for adopting Gaston were selfish. I was alone for basically the first time in my entire life. I was lacking a support system and thought Gaston could be it for me. I have always taken pride in being a strong, independent woman but not until after all of this occurred, did I realize how irrelevant my independence was in comparison to my need for social support.

Humans are wired with the need to connect to other humans. It is our nature to crave connections and bonds. After I had been stripped of so many of mine, I looked to a dog to fill in the gap. Essentially, I looked to a dog to find happiness.

After my week with Gaston, I learned happiness couldn’t be sought. I always envisioned my life would be happy and rich with the companionship of a dog. As is the case with most things though, when you go into a situation with unrealistic expectations, you will undoubtedly be let down.

I now value my friendships, both in the city and beyond, more than I ever have. I live for the small, often short-lived human connections I make throughout the day, whether it is a conversation with a stranger in an elevator or the guy who makes my coffee at Starbucks. Strive to find happiness within those moments because I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

I often think of Gaston and those crazy seven days we shared together. He probably would not even recognize who I was if I saw him today. I am grateful he has a good home, though and for the fact that I have finally found some contentment in living alone.

Happiness is not something you can chase nor easily attain. However, keeping close to those you know well and connecting with those you do not, is a good place to start looking. That is a pretty profound lesson to learn from an adopted Lab.


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