One lesser-known fact about me is that dogs kind of freak me out—stemming back from a bite I got in the face when I was 3 and continuing throughout the years, my semi-fear of dogs has been pretty constant. If I know the dog and it obviously is friendly, I’m fine. If I don’t know the dog and it’s big and has a booming bark, well…
I kind of panic.
And then Matt will tell me that the dog can sense my fear.
Which makes me kind of panic more even as I’m trying hard not to panic.
This fear would all be fine and healthy (or at least not disruptive to my life) except for one looming Truth:
My husband absolutely adores dogs. Is kind of obsessed with them. Spends hours watching shows like The Dog Whisperer. Has been trying to convince me for years that we really “need” a puppy.
I knew that sooner or later, I would need to come to grips with the “dog thing.”
So I put “Volunteer at an animal shelter” on my life’s bucket list, hoping that the experience would maybe sate Matt’s need for a puppy for at least a couple more years and give me some much-needed experience around the things. Thus, when I came across an article on Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah (one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the nation), I knew it was something we both needed to do.
Thanks to some money I inherited from my grandma, we were able to take the trip earlier than planned, over the Christmas holidays. At almost six months pregnant, some people might have mistakenly thought we were taking a “babymoon,” but the trip was going to be so much more than just one last hurrah before becoming parents–
This trip was going to be about me hopefully conquering my issues with dogs once and for all and getting to cross a couple items off my bucket list, to boot.
Once we arrived for our shift at the Sanctuary, I could immediately tell that Matt was in his element. These were his people. (Kind of like how, whenever I’m around other teachers, I’m with “my people.”) Watching all the dog lovers around me greet each puppy or say goodbye to a recently adopted canine, I started to get a bit anxious—
What had I gotten myself into? Were these dogs going to try and lick my face? Would they start growling at me because they could sense my growing sense of unease? What if all the dogs just chose to love Matt instead of me (including the dog(s) I was put in charge of)?
We signed in at the volunteer desk and got our first assignment working with the puppies.
I breathed a sigh of relief:
I like puppies.
We drove over to the puppy training center, waited awkwardly around for awhile for someone to show up to help us, then got our first assignment: walking two adorable siblings named Nibbler and Fry, who I kind of instantly fell in love with. We took the puppies out on the trails outside Val’s Puppy Care Center and breathed in the crisp, chilly air. I felt like it was the first time I’d been out in the sun in weeks. The puppies were eager to get exploring, and, soon enough, it became apparent that “my” puppy (Fry) wanted to run (especially when his brother–led by Matt–was already bounding away ahead of us).
I hadn’t anticipated this.
Although I’d run regularly 3 times a week up until I was about 7 weeks pregnant, I hadn’t gone running one single time since then. But, figuring that the muscles would remember what to do and that my body could at least handle a slow jog, I allowed the dog to lead me into a run.
I’ll spare you too much more on the details, but we’ll just say that the pulling of the leash against my ever-expanding uterus basically meant I had such intense round ligament pain the next two days that I could barely walk, much less run with the dogs again.
Lesson #1: Don’t run with the puppies when you’re 6 months pregnant (unless you’ve been running regularly and your body is used to it).
The funny thing about it all though is that I couldn’t even get upset over it–that puppy was so stinkin’ cute, I was totally fine with the fact that it had basically disabled me for the next week. (Plus it meant that Matt was even more willing than usual to get up for me every time I needed something, so… not such a losing situation.)
After the walk, we took the same two puppies inside a room in the care center modeled after a typical house—it had a couch, dishwasher, fridge, etc., and its sole purpose was to help the dogs get used to a home environment so they’d adapt easier to being adopted. Basically, we were told to “socialize” the dogs for the next 45 minutes or so by just interacting and engaging with them as we normally would so they could get used to being around people and being in that kind of environment.
At first, I thought that both the pups would just play with Matt the whole time since he’s much more a natural with animals than I am.
But the puppy who’d been assigned to me started snuggling in the jacket I’d just taken off and laying there calmly and happily while I scratched his belly and rubbed behind his ears.
My heart was kind of melting over it, actually, and the small part of my brain that was still somewhat reasonable by this point was glad that our apartment doesn’t allow pets.
After about 45 minutes, we got two other puppies to replace the two we had been with, and the routine started all over again (minus the walk this time). When the other two dogs came in, I noticed how different these puppies were from the first two. They were milder in energy but more interested in playing with toys (and not as interested in engaging with us personally, per se).
And thus was my lesson #2: Dogs, like people, have vastly different personalities, and I get along with some of those personalities better than others.
I also realized that if (when?) we do get a dog, I’ll need to spend ample time with several different puppies before I know which one is a good fit for us. (By the way, I realize most of these “lessons” are probably fairly obvious to everyone else in the world, but I have purposely avoided spending a lot of time around dogs, so I just never really understood all this for myself.)
This other batch of puppies was still fun though: