How I Met My Dog, Savvy: An adoption story

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I’m a dog person.  Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re a dog person too, and you can likely relate to the fact that I’ve known this about myself since long before I ever owned a dog.  My brother and I got a puppy from Santa Claus when I was six years old – a little cockapoo, who we named Rudy (after Rudolph, of course).  Sadly, Rudy lived a very short life, and I never was able to think of her as much of my own responsibility, given my age.  Shortly after Rudy passed away, our household became a cat household.  And shortly after our household became a cat household, I became a kid who was allergic to cats, living in a cat household.  From that point forward, I started counting down the days until I reached a stage in my life when I could care for a dog.

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After graduating from college, I moved to Chicago with very little idea of what I would do or who I would meet.  After some time spent getting to know the city, and working a few part-time jobs to help maintain my status as a non-homeless person, I found a full time position as a receptionist at a veterinary office in the city.  I loved getting to know the clients (luckily I’m not that allergic to cats).  Before working there, I was very hesitant to ever consider myself ready for a dog of my own, but after a few months at the vet, I deemed myself ready.  It wasn’t so much a peer pressure thing, as most people might assume.  Sure, I was the only staff member working there who was pet-less.  But really, it was more a matter of having gained exposure to exactly what was required of a dog owner.  The time and money that would be necessary.  The network of help and guidance.  The living situation requirements.  Not to mention the clear, and unmistakable rewards that came with dog parenthood. The unconditional love.  The reminder of what unfiltered and unflinching enthusiasm looked like.  The licks.  Oh man, the licks!

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So I set my sites on adoption.  I started casually browsing adoption websites, as recommended by my friends and co-workers.  While I wasn’t necessarily in the market for a specific breed, I did have a general type of dog in mind: large, short hair, and muscly.  Given this criteria, my searches tended to revolve around pit bull mixes, mastiffs, boxers, and other dogs of that ilk.

About a month after my mind had been set on becoming a dog owner, the office where I worked hosted an adoption event.  Many local shelters signed up to bring a few dogs from their facility to the vet for an after-hours event where our clients, and other members of our community could come and meet the dogs, and discuss potential adoption with the representatives from the shelters.  I was excited to meet these dogs, but somehow, didn’t quite put together the fact that one of the dogs who came in might end up being the dog for me.  Then, in walked Strawberry, from Project Rescue Chicago.  She was an adorable, affectionate, 25-ish pound mix of indeterminate breed, who had been described on the shelter’s website as a “plush nugget of love.”

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As soon as she walked through the front door, I locked eyes with her, and turned to my coworker at the reception desk and said, “Well, I guess I’m getting a dog today.”  With her soft, thick coat, and comparatively small build, she would certainly not have been a dog who would have caught my eye on any of the websites I had been frequenting.  But there was something about her.  The way she interacted with people around her.  Her adorable ears, that she had not quite yet grown into (and arguably, never will).  As soon as I was able, I made my way into Exam Room 4, where the folks from Project Rescue Chicago were stationed with Strawberry and another small dog from their shelter.  I walked into the room, and sat in the corner while the Shelter volunteers discussed the other dog with a potential adopter.  Strawberry slowly – but by no means timidly – walked over to me, plopped right down into my crossed legs, and stared me right in the eye.

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With her in my lap, I read a pamphlet with a brief bio which informed me that Strawberry had been removed from a studio apartment in which a dozen dogs, and about fifteen cats were all living with an equally outrageous number of humans.  The kink in her tail which had already endeared her to me for its adorable imperfection, had been caused by someone (hopefully accidentally) slamming a door on it when she was a puppy, and the shelter employees and volunteers suspected that the abuse she suffered may have been more extensive than just the obvious neglect.  She hated being alone, or anyone coming near her with a closed umbrella, or other long, blunt object.  I decided she was the dog for me; the only question I had for the shelter representatives was what exactly I had to do to finalize the adoption.  I was given an application form and a phone number.  I filled out and turned in the form, gave Strawberry a long goodbye (although I promised both her and myself that it was really more of a “see you soon”), and headed home.

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Later that day, before I had had a chance to call PRC, I received a phone call in response to the application I had filled out.  They wanted to know when I would be available for them to bring Strawberry over for a home visit.  We scheduled something for the very next day, and I was so excited that I knocked on the doors of each of my three roommates, and demanded a quick high-five before bed.  Then it occurred to me: I hadn’t verified with my landlord that the building allowed pets.  I called Allen, the owner of the two-flat I was living in, and to my dismay, he immediately answered with a flat “no,” when the topic of pets came up.  I stated my case, in hopes that he would change his mind.  I sent him a link to Strawberry’s adoption profile, I explained that I worked at a veterinary office, which meant that a) I could bring her in with me to work, and b) I had a support system that would help me prevent any behavioral, or health issues that might prove damaging to the apartment. Allen told me that he would think about it, and call me back in ten minutes.

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I hung up and waited.  I was hoping those ten minutes would pass quickly, like the seemingly shortened minutes that pass after hitting the snooze alarm in the morning.  Instead, that ten minutes seemed long enough for me to have watched all three extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then re-watched them with directors commentary.  Finally, my phone rang, and I got the much-anticipated green light.

The next day, one of PRC’s volunteers came to my apartment with Strawberry in tow.  Strawberry burst through the door, and jumped into my arms as a formal greeting.  Then she made a beeline right for my bedroom.  No stops in the kitchen, bathroom, or either of the other two bedrooms between the front door and my own.  I looked up and told the volunteer how amazed I was at Strawberry’s intuition, and she responded with a simple “Well, she is one savvy dog.”  I had been hoping to change her name from Strawberry to something that fit both her and my personality more appropriately, and just then, this volunteer had done it for me.  After a few minutes of formality (questions, payment, instructions, etc.), the volunteer said a tearful goodbye, and Savvy was mine for keeps.

sav and me day 1

That first day, I took Savvy with me to pick up some essentials: food, ID tag, a bed, and of course, some treats and toys.  After a long day (for both of us), I was excited to curl up with my new best friend in my bed.  Savvy started snoozing within a few minutes, with her head resting on my stomach.  I gazed down at her, and once the adrenaline stopped coursing through my veins, I had a sobering moment of realization when I thought to myself, “Holy cow.  It is my job to keep this dog alive.”  That thought both terrified me (“I’ve never had this much responsibility…”), and excited me (“I’ve never had this much responsibility!”).

All in all, adopting Savvy has proven to be, quite possibly, the best decision I have made to date.  From caring for her, I’ve learned so much about patience, loyalty, and responsibility, that I simply can’t imagine learning quite so quickly or thoroughly in any other way.  I spend more time and energy trying to maintain her sense of security and well being than I do my own, quite honestly.  In turn, she repays me by showing me just how fun life can be when I spend time with her, and really try to emulate the ways in which she views and interacts with the world around here: with openness, and unbridled optimism.

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I can’t imagine my life without my best friend and partner in crime, and I owe it all to the tireless efforts of Project Rescue Chicago, and other shelters like them.

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