Dog adoption anxiety (and meet Pepper!)

Dog adoption anxiety (and meet Pepper!)

I'm a dog person at heart, but have been owned by cats since 2009 because the two places I've lived didn't allow dogs. The first one was a duplex with a no-animal rule, but I asked my landlady if I could adopt Pumpkin. And then I brought home Mistletoe without telling her.

Then we moved to a high rise condo building in Chicago, and they had no limit on cats, and we adopted Joe after falling in love with him while fostering him.

There were no dogs allowed, period. Not even assistance dogs. There was this huge legal fight after one person brought in an emotional assistance dog, and it left everyone skittish.

Then the condo board president's daughter, who also lived in the building, needed an emotional assistance dog, so the rules were rewritten.

But we didn't own our apartment yet. Not until last summer when we finally bought it from our landlady. My pining for a dog again got stronger. People said we already had three animals and two people--isn't that enough creatures in a one-bed apartment? I demurred. You can't take a cat on a walk. I know. I've tried.

IMG_2751Finally, my husband and I started thinking seriously about adopting a dog, which consisted of me falling in love with cute dog pictures at the animal shelters, showing it to my husband and saying, "Isn't this one cute?" and then saying, "I want a dog some day..."

I had a list of criteria for a successful fit.
*Must be quiet and not bark a whole lot. (The occasional woof is okay.)
*Must be small. (Probably no bigger than a pug/30 lbs).
*Must be good with cats, people, other dogs, and kids. (I want a social dog, and we'll have kids eventually.)
*Must be easy enough to train. (No overly spoiled pups here. That's for the cats.)
*Adult. (Their personalities are set, and we can make sure to get a dog that's good with cats.)

We tried an adorable little chihuahua who was very sweet and quiet at the shelter. They cat-tested her by walking by the cat windows and seeing if she'd bark and she passed that test--but she didn't pass the real-life test at home, lunging and barking at the cats if she even caught a glimpse of them, like when we took her on a leash to go out. The cats were afraid for their lives, and Missy was voiced her extreme displeasure that we've heard only once.

See, our two older girls used to hang out with dogs, and Missy is the nanny of the house. If she approves, the others will, too.

But she disapproved, and it wasn't fair to the cats or the pup for this to continue on. We had to take the pup back. Meanwhile, my anxiety hit the roof during and after.

I thought maybe it just had to do with a bad fit. Plus I'm not familiar with chihuahuas. I added my familiar dogs to the list. *Must be a schnauzer/poodle/type dog. Even though I told my husband I wasn't ready to try again for another dog for a while, because I was grieving the pup--I still prowled Petfinder and various shelters. It's not easy finding a poodle or schnauzer--they seem to be popular.  I figured it might be a couple of months.


Missy gives her blinks of approval.

Then a week later the Anti Cruelty Society had a miniature schnauzer.

We went to see him on MLK day. He wanted to greet every body and every dog passing by. He sat happily in our laps. They tested him with the office cat--up front and close. He went up, sniffed it, and walked away. He passed with flying colors, so we took a chance.

As I stood there in the cinderblocked hallway while my husband filled out forms and paid the fees, I started panicking.

WTF are we doing? I'm not ready for this. I'm going to fail. People will think I'm crazy. Irresponsible. I don't want to disappoint the dog.  He was in the shelter for only three days after his last owner gave him up because, as the owner printed in clear letters on the intake form, "no time."

But this time I remembered to take my lorazepam.

And Pepper was a much better fit from the start. We kept him separate from the cats for several hours. Then Missy slipped out of our bedroom to see him. He stayed quiet, his eyebrows barely moving as he lounged on the floor. Then Punky did--and he stayed quiet. Same for Joe. They hissed at him when he got too close to them or their food, and he let them be in charge.

He has his flaws and his sweet parts. He doesn't have accidents anymore after we adjusted to each other's schedules. He doesn't like his crate, and he behaves--so we discontinued that for the moment until we get Dog Appeasing Pheremone sprays. He's warming up to learning tricks, though he gets tired still. He stays still while I try to put on his winter boots.

And he has separation anxiety (barking. Constantly. No breaks.) which is apparently common in newly adopted dogs, leading to one call from the security guard so far. We had to buy a citronella collar to supplement the other training.

It's been a week, and I still am anxious. I don't want to fail. I didn't even announce it on Facebook right away like the last dog, just because I felt anxious that some friends would judge me. I felt utterly unqualified to own a dog, and wondered about how we'd have space for the future. For when we're ready to have kids.

I confided in my husband all my anxieties, because it's better to let them out than to keep them in. Anxiety has a tendency to breed on itself like Tribbles if left to its own devices, but naming them, talking about them, whittles their half-life down considerably. He said, Don't worry. We'll have space. We can do this. It'll work out. My friends have helped too--either with tips or with a listening ear.

100_1456I suspect that my anxieties are greatly tied to Bailey, the last dog I owned, and had to leave at home when I moved out on the last day of 2008.  I already felt bad about not being home as often, for paying my siblings to feed her and pick up her poop in the back yard. And I felt even worse when my parents told me they were "shocked" I left Bailey behind instead of moving her out with me. She was a burden to them was the impression I got in their emails to me.

I abandoned her. Left her at home with my dad whom she's afraid of, whom she protect me from. I didn't want to, but I had to. Dog-friendly apartments aren't affordable. I had to finish school. And she could stay and mentor my brother's nervous wreck of a dog. And cuddle with my siblings.

Adopting Pepper has forced me to think more about Bailey, in many ways. I think my anxieties and fears of "failing" Pepper has to do with my feelings that I "failed" Bailey.

And yet Pepper distracts me from the anxieties. In fact, as I cry thinking about Bailey, he's snoozing in the comfy chair right next to me. He often pats me with his paws, or nuzzles his head on my arm for attention. And he sighs happily even when he cats slowly circle him, still evaluating him.

He's a good pup, and he's settling in. I still am anxious about failing, but I'm optimistic. My husband is right. It will get better.

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