About two and a half years ago, my family and I were prepping the coolers and trays for a 4th of July barbeque we were having that day in New Jersey. While checking off all the things on my list, I got a call from my sister to come downstairs and help pack some things into the car. “Alright”, I said happily, “be right there.”
I should’ve been tipped off by the big cheese smile on my brother-in-laws face, but I was oblivious to what was waiting for me behind the sliding door of their minivan. I slid the door open and there was my niece with a tiny puppy sleeping in her hands, presenting him to me like baby Simba in the Lion King.
“SURPRISE!!!!” everyone yelled. I just sorta stumbled and stuttered and managed a hoarse, “Thanks!” out of my throat which had suddenly gone dry. What the heck is this and why am I holding a dog? And he’s mine?? What?! Ok, just smile until you’re back upstairs and then freak out. I awkwardly carried this puppy back upstairs and thought how I was going to get out of this mess.
I have never owned a pet or even wanted one. Some of my siblings own dogs and I have friends who own dogs or cats, but it never occurred to me to have one of my own. The day I was handed this puppy, I panicked because all I could see was dollar signs. I couldn’t afford a dog. Goodness, what does pet food even cost? And the vet bills? And why did it have to be a shih tzu; the grooming bills are going to be SO expensive! I mean, this is New York for heaven’s sake. Nothing comes cheap here!
I went through a series of emotions the first couple of months after that day. First it was anger, then frustration (house training a puppy is the worst!), and then guilt for being angry. Oh, and to make matters even worse, my allergies that usually lie dormant, came back with a vengeance and I was back on an asthma inhalator. I couldn’t understand what possessed my family to gift me with what I thought of as a burden at the time. I couldn’t afford a dog, and I wasn’t sure I even wanted the responsibility of taking care of an animal when I felt like I was doing such a poor job of taking care of myself.
Two and a half years later, I get it. And I owe my sister and her husband a huge apology. There are loads of articles and research out there supporting the idea that dogs do wonders for our mental health and self-esteem, and they have a major point. It didn’t take long after that summer for me to realize that my initial fears were over-exaggerated and that if we all made the effort, we could make it work. And we did because we all fell hard for the little guy. I come home after a hard day, and there is nothing in this world that calms me down as thoroughly or as easily as my dog.
We have this little routine, Gizmo and me. Once he hears the keys in the lock, he races to the door, runs in circles frantically, and jumps until I give him a good scratch behind his ears. Then he drops down, races back to his pile of toys and then brings one to me so I can hear it squeak for myself. Once I sit down on the sofa, he jumps up and places himself right along my side and looks up at me with those eyes that would make anyone melt. Everyday its the same, but he gets equally excited each time as if it were the first. That’s love. Undiluted, uncomplicated love.
I love that I have this little furry ball of life that gets excited when he sees me. He loves me unequivocally. I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t need to say I’m sorry (unless I accidentally step on his tail, which happens sometimes). And even when he makes me crazy (because he hasn’t met a sock that he doesn’t steal and horde in his secret hiding places in hard-to-reach areas of my apartment), he makes me smile because he’s my little buddy.
The addition of a dog to my hectic life seemed like a stretch. It didn’t fit this picture I had of my mid-twenties which is ridiculous because it was a mess at that point. I thought there were so many other things I needed to focus on and that an animal would get in the way. I was hopelessly wrong. Having a pet at home has brought so much laughter and clarity to my life. He helps my parents, both seniors in their seventies, by keeping them focused and energetic. He helps us as a family to stay positive and joyful. And he helps me relieve that ball of tension I carry around with me.
When I asked for an explanation of why I got the dog as a gift, my brother in law laid it out for me pretty simply. I’m too stressed. Trying to figure out my life each minute of every day was putting a strain on my loved ones because they couldn’t give me any answers I wanted to hear. He figured the best way to help was to give me and our family the same happiness my sister and their family have with their two dogs. I understood the logic at first, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I experienced that positive energy firsthand. My family recognized a need in me that even I didn’t realize back then. For that reason alone, owning a pet means more than I could have ever anticipated.
Gizmo makes no demands of me other than affection, which I desperately need after dealing with people and responsibilities constantly asking so much of me. He helps me achieve that emotional balance each day. I never would have thought this was possible before owning a dog, and now I can’t imagine life without him. I don’t want to. If I’m ever looking for an upside, all I have to do is look down at the ball of fluff keeping my feet warm. He’s my living, breathing, affirmation. 🙂
Do you have a pet? What kind do you have and how do they help you see the upside?
PS- I should also note, that I am equally obsessive about my dog’s nutrition as I am about my own. I plan on baking some homemade treats this holiday and I only serve him grain-free and corn-free dog food. We need to keep our pet’s health in mind too when we’re feeding them their food. 🙂
Share your upsides with Bonnie at Recipes Happen each Saturday. Enjoy your weekend!