As a kid, I remember my family getting our first dog. Winston was perfect. He had the gentlest of temperaments, which, as a boxer, contradicted his gruff appearance. He was loyal, relaxed, and protective. Winston was my first dog, and I fell in love instantly.
The number of canines steadily increased over the years. Murphy was the first join Winston, and when she had her first litter, we kept Shortts (you know, like boxer shorts). I remember Oreo and Maggie, but my memory fails me in trying to recall the others. What I can’t forget is all the poop they left for me in the backyard.
Poop Patrol was an ever-present item on my daily to-do lists. Tackling it in the afternoons during the cold, winter months of suburban Toronto was the easiest. The rubber boots that remained year-round at the back door became literal shit-kickers, and I imagined I was making field goals with frozen feces. I can’t believe I did that. Ew.
My family fell in love with boxers, and we eventually started breeding them. Growing up, it was completely normal for me to share my home with 10 or more dogs. Having so many dogs to care for, to train, to feed, to clean up after, and to mourn, made me long for the opposite extreme once I left home. Although I loved dogs, I didn’t want to have them as companions any more.
Being married to Ligeia, we traveled a lot. Our lifestyle wasn’t conducive to having a dog. We had tried having bearded dragons, but our nomadic drive was too powerful to keep us at home to properly care for them. We eventually decided to re-home Mosel and Rhein, and that was really hard for us. We felt we had failed them, and got them to satisfy a selfish need in us. We both committed to never doing that again.
Fast forward to 2020, when it seems like all things unprecedented are smack-dab in the middle of likely, and my situation has changed. Travel has come to a grinding halt, and my work-from-home job keeps me home way more than it typically would. Add in the end of my marriage, moving into my own apartment, and a global pandemic, and it’s a recipe for loneliness.
For the first time in decades, I longed for the companionship of a dog. The wag of a tail, the pounce of play, the unconditional love.
My heart was clearly ready for a dog, but my apartment wasn’t. I had to get it cleaned and ready for a canine roommate. I also had to ask my landlord if it would be ok, and I was worried about him saying no, so I procrastinated. It was, after all, better to live in the possibility of having a dog than having to accept the fact he wouldn’t allow it. Thankfully, when I finally built up the courage to ask, he approved.
I went to a small adoption event at a local shelter (as a vegan, I was only considering a rescue dog, and wasn’t looking to add any sort of demand to a breeder), and had a shortlist of qualities I was looking for in a dog:
- be young enough to have years ahead of us together
- weigh 35lbs or less, to meet the condo association restrictions
- active enough to keep up on my long walks
- have a clear and immediate connection of companionship with me
Shouldn’t be too hard, right? There were about eight dogs up for adoption when I visited. They were all incredibly cute, but just by looking at most of them, I knew they were too big for me.
Then I saw a small, black dog named Piper. He was growling and barking at a family who was trying to introduce their daughter to him. When they left the front of his pen, I went over quietly. His reaction was completely different. He wagged his tail, gave me kisses, and rolled over for a belly rub. My heart melted.
“You can go in and sit with him, if you’d like.” The invitation from a shelter volunteer was way too good to pass up, so I crawled through the pen’s gate, and sat with this 32-pound pup. He proudly grabbed his chew toy and sat down next to me, resting a front paw over my thigh.
His front teeth – top and bottom – have been removed, apparently a common practice performed on bait dogs in a fighting ring. It converts his bite attempts into gummy kisses, his tail wagging the entire time.
This was the one. I signed the foster-to-adopt paperwork as soon as I wiggled my way out of the caged pen. Piper came home with me that day, and the new chapter of his life began with a name change. Let me introduce you to Toby.
This memory was only intended for me to be a foster parent. But I knew the moment I met him, I was going to adopt him. He’s found his forever home, and both of us couldn’t be happier!