So You Wanna Be a Good Dog Parent?

 

IMG_20180308_175527_669.jpgI adopted Nova from the Animal Humane Society, and the beginning of our story together is very cute, but this post isn’t about that. It’s about now, 8 months later, when my neighborhood mailman stopped me to say that he often saw us walking and thanked me for always having my dog under control. It’s about my friends messaging me to ask me when I knew it was the right time to adopt Nova, and “how is she so well-behaved?” Owning a dog isn’t easy, and at 24-years-old (now 25), I knew I’d have to be on top of things if I wanted it to work out. Thankfully, adopting Nova has been one of the most rewarding decisions of my life, but it wasn’t without its challenges.

If you’re thinking about adopting a dog, here’s some realistic and honest thoughts based on my experience as a single dog-mom to help you figure out whether or not a pup is right for where you are in life.

1. This train(ing) don’t stop.

First off, if you don’t have the time to train a dog, then you should not adopt one. Many people expect me to first mention the cost of owning a dog as a hurdle, and while I’ll certainly get to that, even more important is that you be committed to making sure your future pup is well-behaved. This isn’t just for the sake of your new shoes and carpet: having a dog that’s well-trained is crucial for the safety of your pup, yourself, other pups, and other people.

It’s irresponsible, yet common, for folks to consider training as an after-thought or something they’ll get to “eventually.” In reality, training is something you’ll begin doing the minute you bring your dog home, and will need to continue doing for much longer. And unless you’re a professional trainer, you’ll likely need the help and support that comes from enrolling in a training class. Because here’s the secret: you need to be trained just as much as your dog does. Being in class with Nova has taught me how to lead her outside of class, and how to be an owner who knows and understands my dog intimately, and other dogs generally. My devotion to training is what keeps her safe and happy and, ultimately, makes her a joy to be around.

I’m no Cesar Milan, okay?  There are some parts of Nova’s personality that I had nothing to do with, but go under the “good” dog category:

  • she never barks
  • she’s not aggressive
  • she plays well with other dogs
  • she likes to cuddle
  • I can leave a full plate of chicken nuggets in the living room and she won’t eat them even if I leave to go to the bathroom

That last one was a recent discovery, but the point is that she’s naturally a great dog in these respects and I’m well aware how lucky I am.

And then there are the Good things that took 8 months of hard training and diligence on my part to help her do, because she either didn’t know how or would do the opposite:

  • walking up and down stairs
  • sitting
  • laying down
  • laying quietly while mama has a beer on a patio
  • not jumping on strangers
  • not rushing up to people on walks
  • ignoring rabbits and squirrels
  • happily going on car rides
  • going into her kennel on command
  • staying
  • not pulling on her leash
  • walking by my side
  • coming every time I call her
  • not guarding her food
  • etc. etc.

My beautiful, loving, sweet angel baby of a dog is a lot of hard fucking work. Unless you’re #blessed with a dog who magically knows how to walk on a leash, every single walk will be a training session until they get the hang of it. Every time a friend comes to visit will be a training session. Meals. Car rides. Patio hangouts. You will be training your dog almost every moment you spend together, and if you can’t commit to that…don’t adopt one. For everyone’s sake.

(For local readers, I highly recommend training at The Canine Coach, as they’re affordable and their trainers are knowledgeable every step of the way)

2. Keeping up with the bills.

You have the time and resources to train a dog? Great! Now you need to make sure one fits into your budget. I don’t believe owning a pet should be a classist thing, and there are certainly low-income individuals who are able to make it work…but there are certain things that you can’t/shouldn’t skimp on for the sake of your pet. This includes:

  • nail trim (monthly)
  • grooming (varies, as needed)
  • flea/tick medicine (monthly)
  • heartworm medicine (monthly)
  • food (bi-weekly to monthly)
  • training
  • leash, food/water bowls
  • toys
  • vet visits

IMG_20180816_093456_837.jpgThese are things that your dog absolutely must have, and does not factor in the costs for things like adoption fees, poop bags, pet deposits (if you live in an apartment), treats, blankets/towels, a kennel, or services like Wag or Rover for those times when you work late or are out of town. Sometimes the costs are unexpected: Nova chews through a toy in a day or two, to the point where I had to start getting creative with making toys from scratch because it became so expensive to replace them. Altogether, I spent close to $800 in the first month that I adopted her, and it’s been about $60-$100 a month since then.

3. What’s your plan?

Lastly, you need to have a plan, and it’s best to come up with it before you sign any adoption papers. If you’re single or live alone, how will you make sure your dog is taken care of when you aren’t home? If you live with your family or roommates: is everyone on board with a pet and are they willing to also be a part of training your dog (or risk confusing your dog with inconsistent training). If you’re adopting with a partner: discuss whether either of you would realistically be able to take care of a dog alone, in the unfortunate case of a breakup. Does your housing allow dogs, and do you have the resources to find dog-friendly housing in the future? What breed/size of dog will work best with your activity-levels, home, and interests? Do you have any vacations planned in the next six months, and if so, what will you do for dog care? Why do you want a dog and are you committed to caring for one for the next 10 years?

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These are all questions I made sure to answer before even logging onto the animal shelter’s website to see which ones were available. And when I did meet Nova and decided that she was the one for me, I took two days to make sure I had everything she’d need before I brought her home. To some folks who didn’t know, it might have seemed like I suddenly adopted a dog out of nowhere, but there were months of planning and saving involved. I’d encourage you to take at least a month after saying “okay I’m gonna do this,” before you actually do this. It’s a huge responsibility to own a dog, and setting yourself up for success beforehand is the best way to make sure that you’re ready.

And when you’re ready, cheers! Loving and being loved by a pup is one of the greatest experiences you can have. Tell the world, get lots of cuddles, and be prepared to start every conversation with, “Have you seen my dog yet?”

  I didn’t edit this photo at all. I just want to say that even though being alive is hard sometimes, it’s also very beautiful and surreal and nonsensical in a way that always makes me want to see it through. I felt like I was in love looking at this sunset last night (you […]

I am a queer woman. I will not be attending another Pride.

I am a bisexual, black woman. I have been out for over 3 years, but had yet to attend a Pride parade, so I wanted today to be my first. I hold issue with a lot of aspects of Pride festivals, including its insidious corporate stronghold and inclusion of uniformed police in the parades. But like so many people, I thought I could shelve the voice in my head in favor of queers in tutus, party floats, and rainbow confetti.

After the experience I had, I will never attend another Pride parade, and if you have any sense of allyship, you will examine the ways you celebrate Pride, too.

 

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Exodus: Decisions

Part One. “Exodus” is a series of vignettes, posted till completion, describing my experiences growing up and out of an evangelical church. All names have been changed to account for privacy.

“Do you want to be baptized?”

I was seventeen and desperate — to please and be loved, among other things — when I heard those words. Desperation is funny in the way that it convinces you that you don’t have a choice. So when my friend Megan, a card-carrying member of the Going-to-Heaven-Club, asked me if I wanted to join the walk on that narrow road…I knew that I would say yes, regardless of how I felt.

The prospect of baptism had sat like lead in my heels since I’d first been told of it as a child. The weight of it caused me to drag myself spiritually for years, avoiding the topic while many of my church friends took the holy plunge at ages as early as fourteen. The only way to get to heaven is through baptism, said my Sunday school teacher. Some churches teach that you can pray Jesus into your heart, but we know that not to be true, said my pastor. People who aren’t baptized disciples go to hell, said my church. I felt broken every time I heard these “truths” and felt everything but the relief I was told comes with knowing that eternal life could be mine. Why didn’t I want that? Who wouldn’t want that?

Anxiety is funny in the way that it convinces you that you couldn’t possibly know what you want.

I envied Megan, and the way she truly loved the church we’d grown up in. I looked up to her—my first memories of friendship were of her and the other girls my age, and I desired their affection and acceptance more than most things. Megan was one of those intelligent, kind, funny people that everybody genuinely liked, including me. And even though I knew from years of conversation that her attitude and demeanor were not effortless on her behalf, I still wondered what I could do to be like her. Her response would be to say that she just wanted to be “like God,” a common, but meaningful, phrase in evangelical churches. So I considered that, perhaps baptism—a ceremony that our church believed not to be a symbolic, but literal, washing away of all sins in exchange for committing your life to God—was the way to acceptance and approval. A life less dominated by desperation, or enslaved to anxiety.

Of course, I was also into the whole peace-in-heaven-instead-of-being-tortured-in-horrific-ways-for-all-of-eternity thing.

I was careful to take my time before answering, though. It was the summer before my senior year of high school when Megan asked me this question. I was attending an arts school that had already saved me in a lot of ways, and studying theater had helped me explore experiences outside of my heavily Christian upbringing. I loved the challenge of taking my “self,” and denying it in order to fully embody a character. My entire major revolved around finding the humanity in people, discovering the good among the ugly, learning that humans are never always good or always bad. Theater is, in a sense, the expressed study of people. And my studies were leading me to become more open minded, more skeptical of the hyper-religious life I was leading.

While this growing skepticism had increased the space between the question and the answer, it had done nothing to change the answer itself. I was intensely afraid of rejecting 14 years of effort and immersion: attending church every Sunday since I was 3-years-old, midweek studies on Wednesdays, youth-services on Fridays, a week of summer camp, spiritual retreats, praying before every meal, praying before bed, praying, praying, praying. I was living my life according to the idea that baptism, and the believed connection it gave my soul to the creator of the universe, was the reason I was alive, the reason behind all of my actions.

And who the fuck is going to reject what feels like a reason to live, when they haven’t yet found what else there is to live for?

Megan stood in front of me looking expectant and hopeful, as expectations and hope are the fuel Christians run on. “Yeah. Yeah, I do wanna get baptized,” I told her. She squealed and hugged me tight. I hugged her back, her enthusiasm and loving nature contagious in the moment.

I can do this, I thought to myself.

I can be this person that loves God, loves her neighbors, loves religion.

My parents will be happy.

My sisters will look up to me.

I won’t be a disappointment.

And I’ll go to heaven.

This is the right decision.

This is what I want.

It’s not lying to say I want this.

This is my decision.

Dear God, if you’re listening…

I’m not lying.

I’m not.