I never considered myself a dog person until Christmas 2010. My family welcomed our very first dog into our home, Diva (yes, you’re allowed to laugh at her name – sorry mom!) and the funny thing is, she’s a big, clumsy, *drooly* Boxer/American Bulldog, and the furthest thing from a diva. I loved her immediately and she quickly made her way to a special place in my heart. She led to my appreciation and deep love for dogs – for their individual, quirky and amusing personalities, and their ability to connect with humans, while giving us their pure, unconditional love, no matter what. I had no doubt in my mind that one day I’d have my own.
That day came around sooner than I'd anticipated, after spring 2020 permanently altered the routines and familiarity of everyday life. Within the first months of lockdown I transitioned to working remote, ended a relationship, and found myself with a lot more free time and alone time than I was used to or comfortable with. I, as most people did, fell into a slump of helplessness and depression, often going days without leaving the house, even for a mental health walk.
Prior to the pandemic I had just moved to an apartment that was walking distance to Piedmont Park in Atlanta, and shortly after lockdown restrictions were implemented I began imagining what it would be like to have a dog to take on long walks during the day – along the beltline, to the park and back. I also realized it probably couldn’t hurt to get in more daily steps than the average few I’d take between my desk and the kitchen, and I don’t know, maybe get outside for some fresh air and sunlight on the face every now and then. The idea of a little companion by my side throughout the day during a time when socializing took place solely through screens and each day creeped by, blending seamlessly into the next, was getting more compelling. A companion that would love me unconditionally and give me a purpose to get up in the morning when the world felt heavy and uncertain; depleted of any previous semblance of real connection.
After weeks and weeks of daydreaming, I decided I was ready to turn these thoughts into reality. I had done far too much research on puppies, read too many advice columns for first time puppy owners, and had too many puppy toys and treats in several online carts to turn back. I was in deep. In November I had finalized my decision, and by January I had my very first puppy, Rue, sitting on my lap in the car on the way to her forever home. I remember January 2 and its rollercoaster of emotions like it was yesterday. I remember the pit of anxiousness and excitement in my stomach as we pulled up the driveway, and the feeling of “oh shit, what did I just do?” as I was handed this tiny eight-week-old animal. It really set in that my life was about to change. In the blink of an eye, I had become the most important living being in this little animal’s life – a responsibility unlike anything I had ever known before. Voices of doubt crept in right around the time she started fidgeting in my lap. “You’re not ready for this commitment, you can hardly take care of yourself!” “Look at her, she must be fidgeting because she doesn’t like you!” Looking back, I definitely could’ve been just a tiny bit easier on myself.
As soon as we got home all my nerves flew out the window and helicopter mom mode took over in full force. There was no time to sit there and worry about nonsense; I had an adorable new puppy to protect, play with, and stare at for hours. My mom, sister, and roommate, Courtney had been part of the whole journey and joined me in gushing over her every move for the rest of the first day. From then on she was *my Rue*, and boy was I excited for the start of our life together.
The first few months with her felt like I really was a new mother – waking up every two hours of the night to crying and doing whatever I could to be there for her. The sleep deprivation was REAL. I still remember one afternoon when my mom came over to watch Rue just so I could catch up on sleep for a few hours. Many long nights, early mornings, and accident clean-ups later, I finally felt like I was getting the hang of the whole dog mom thing.
By the time restaurants and businesses started to re-open, Rue was old enough to go out in the world. Family, friends, and complete strangers were absolutely besotted by her. I was amazed by how much joy her presence brought people, and by how quickly a stranger’s stern expression would immediately soften into a warm smile as soon as they saw her trotting along on her merry way. We finally had established our routine and I was waking up every morning with purpose again. Through learning to take care of her I was relearning to take care of myself. I began to journal again during my rare moments of alone time while she napped, which did wonders for my mental health. Not only was I writing again, but I was more active and overall just generally happier – in every aspect of my life.
Reflecting on my first year with Rue, my life changed for the better. I grew and matured as I took on more responsibilities, and I learned how to take care of something other than myself. I couldn’t just bop around and do whatever I wanted nilly-willy anymore; I had new priorities. Not only have I grown emotionally through this experience, but I also met some of my very best friends because of her. People are generally more friendly when you have a cute puppy, because I mean, who doesn’t love a good puppy cuddle to make their day a little brighter?
Because of Rue I was reminded of how important human connection is to me, especially after going through a period of barely having any. I’d typically consider myself an omnivert, having qualities of both introverts and extroverts – with a tendency to be a bit shy and reserved when first meeting someone. Thanks to Rue and her magnetic pull of strangers, I learned to push past social anxieties and have meaningful conversations with all kinds of people again. I have to say, conversations with fellow dog owners at the park really are some of the sweetest, most wholesome conversations there are. I even met one of my best friends at the dog park, a neighbor in my old apartment complex who I probably wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise. Having Rue by my side in social settings has been like having my own personal little ice breaker – people are quicker to chat and let their guards down around her and the conversations just flow naturally.
Over the past year I’ve had my fair share of defeating moments and meltdowns (...and FOMO when having to leave functions early…I can’t lie), but every single tear shed and ounce of frustration has been more than worth it. More than anything, being a single, first-time dog owner has been rewarding. Despite the initial thoughts of incapability and doubt, I pushed through and proved to myself that I’m more than capable of raising a puppy singlehandedly on my own, and that Rue and I are beyond lucky to have each other. Through this I was reminded of the fundamental truth that should be applied to every aspect of my life – that I’m deserving of good things and can succeed in anything as long as I believe in myself.
Rue has been there for me through all the peaks and low points of the past year. She’s always there to offer cuddles and emotional support on the days I need it most, and she’s drastically improved my quality of life as my constant source of happiness, love, and of course, entertainment. I could’ve never predicted just how much love I’d have for her, which will only continue to grow throughout the rest of our lives together. If you’ve ever been a first-time pet parent – no matter what kind, dog, cat, horse, you name it – be proud of yourself for making it through the challenging days and cherish every single moment you have with them. Don’t feel ashamed for clogging your camera roll with 349384728 photos of them sitting in the same spot because trust me, I’m right there with you. Finally, find peace and comfort in knowing that no matter what, you’ll always share a mutual unconditional love; that you’re bonded forever – and that to me, is one of the biggest blessings we have in this world.