Last fall, right around Halloween, a friend remembered that we were considering adding a dog to our family and mentioned that she was getting a puppy from a neighbor’s litter. The pups were a hypoallergenic breed. We went into Full Crazy Mode, visiting the sweet little puppy and trying to figure out if we should or could do it. In the end, we finally decided against it, despite the fact that we had fallen head over heels for the pup. It was too difficult for us to tell if we were allergic to the little guy with our fall allergies in full swing, and Matt and I weren’t prepared to tackle first-time dog ownership in such a spontaneous way.
Since that time we have essentially “interviewed” friends and family who own dogs, read some great books about it, and, over time, gained what we think is a pretty clear idea of how much is involved. Our kind downstairs neighbors offered to let us have play dates with their Bichon-Poodle mix to watch for allergies and give all of us a better sense of having a dog around the house and in the community. Throughout the fall, the boys and I took him for walks and played with him at our house a couple afternoons a week. Baxter has enjoyed taking him out in the neighborhood on his own and has proven to be very responsible and loving with him. Matt joined us for a walk one day and realized it was the first time in his life he’d walked a dog. A couple weeks ago when we had this dog visiting for a few hours, I saw Matt spontaneously decide to go back out and take another walk with him, just for fun.
We live in a fabulous dog neighborhood. The beach is just down the block and adjacent to that is a large park and a path along Lake Michigan. In my 7-unit condo building alone, there are already 5 dogs. I rarely hear any of them, and we enjoy having them around. There are so many benefits to owning a dog, but Matt and I especially look forward to having more time out in our neighborhood getting regular exercise and socializing with neighbors. I met so many new people on our walks with our neighbor’s pooch.
By late winter we were both fully on board with this plan to add a dog to our family but weren’t sure of the timing and cost (especially thinking we probably had to go through a breeder due to our allergy issues), and so although it was never far from our thoughts it was on the back burner.
Fast forward to last week. I happened to have a meeting on Clybourn that turned out to be right next door to PAWS No-Kill Animal Shelter, a beautiful facility in Lincoln Park that I’d heard great things about. I had some extra time so I went in and took a look at the dogs, and was quite surprised at the number of dogs that were hypoallergenic breeds. And for only $200! My cousin in San Francisco had just adopted a great dog at a shelter the weekend before, giving me all the more reason to hope we could take this humane, lower cost route to finding a no-shed dog.
I found a dog I loved on Wednesday; when I went back to the shelter with the boys on Friday afternoon, he was no longer there but two other possibilities had arrived. By Saturday afternoon, when all four of us were available to go back to PAWS, and we had left the house in puppy-ready condition, there were no good matches left. Poor Baxter watched his first choice dog walk out of the building with another family. Although we had talked and talked about this possibility, he was despondent.
I remembered that a friend suggested we also try the Anti-Cruelty Society downtown, and so – in a rather depressed state – we headed down there. Now you only need to go to one more typical shelter like the Anti-Cruelty Society (which, I’m guessing, isn’t anywhere near the bottom of the barrel!) to realize how unique and lovely PAWS is, and I highly recommend you try them first if you are in the Chicago area. But from the sidewalk, as I tried not to freak out over the scores of loud, barking dogs in cages inside, we saw a small white dog that looked remarkably like our neighbor’s dog we’ve been spending time with. The four of us got to him as fast as we could, and brought him outside to walk and play. He was not at all happy in his cage and was obviously rattled by the 3 days he’d spent there, but we quickly found him calming down and responding to our requirement that he walk alongside us. He sat on our laps and was very friendly with all four of us. He didn’t jump (as I did) when Lyle randomly shouted “Boo!” in my face, or when Matt purposely dropped a set of keys nearby a couple times. Furthermore, although he was eager to get to the other dogs out on the patio, he stayed with us when commanded and didn’t bark once in that entire hour. He appeared to be in decent health and was the first shelter dog I’d liked that wasn’t underweight. After talking through his medical exam and having our interview with the shelter staff, we decided to adopt him.
We named him Gus. Gus is a 3-year old Bichon Frise; the jury is out on whether he is also part poodle, and he certainly looks an awful lot like our sweet neighbor dog, he’s just a bit bigger. The poor guy hadn’t been neutered yet and so they’re doing that this morning. We’re counting down the hours until we can pick him up today at 4pm (7 hours and counting!). It was heartbreaking to leave him behind in the shelter, and I tried to convince them to let us take him home and we’d pay to get him neutered today, but they aren’t allowed to let a dog go without neutering him first.
In the end, though, it was rather helpful for us to have a day at home knowing which dog we are taking home. We finished up our preparatory shopping (helpful to know you have an adult dog rather than a puppy) and Matt had a chance to buy and install a gate. Although Gus is 3 years old and supposedly house trained, we’re keeping our expectations low, especially after the trauma of leaving home and spending 5 days in the shelter. We’ve removed all rugs and anything interesting to chew (other than plenty of dog toys) from our kitchen/dining room area, and put together a cozy crate, dog bed (for daytime naps when we’re home) and eating area for him. Cords are under wrap and we put up hooks to hang the leash by the back door.
On Saturday night, Lyle was working in a journal that asked him to draw a family picture. We were touched to see him draw four family members and a dog. He also made a welcome home sign for Gus that he turned into a “welcome mat” to go in front of his crate. I’m still working on helping him understand that if he wants to keep it intact he might need to find another spot, but it’s extremely sweet. Baxter is a serious dog lover, so this is his dream come true. He stayed pretty distant from Gus on Saturday because he had been let down so badly when the other dogs he’d loved weren’t available that morning, but he is beyond excited. It has been very hard for him to get through these 48 hours. The boys each chose a special toy for Gus at a local pet supply store yesterday, and we’ve got food and treats ready for him. Gus couldn’t come into a more prepared or excited household!
All this doesn’t mean I’m without fears. Gus seems like a laid-back, responsive dog. It will be helpful that he’s not a rambunctious puppy. He was reportedly in a home with children and was not aggressive with them. At the same time, we don’t know what his first three years have been like. How was he treated? What are his experiences with humans? Why was he surrendered? I will also be grateful when a private vet spends time examining him and can give us more information and guidance about him. And although it helps that we’ve spent loads of time with a Bichon-Poodle mix without allergy problems, that will remain my greatest fear, probably for a couple months. I’ll jump at every sneeze. It’s not helpful that now we’re experiencing our typical spring allergies and Baxter and I are already sniffly.
I will be the primary caregiver for Gus and with that joy will come a lot of changes for me as well; I don’t know yet how he will do when I need to be away for part of the day, and I will have to adjust to keeping the dog’s needs on my radar at all times when I schedule my days. It helps to have referrals to great dog-walkers and pet-sitters who can help out as needed. But this is a time of change for me already. Knowing that I need to figure Gus into the equation ahead of time will allow me to make decisions that work for all of us, and I’m completely dedicated to doing that.
And so it begins. Wish us luck!