Anyone who knows me in the slightest — or has even just glanced at my bio — is aware of my symbiotic relationship with my son/dog. Yes, I’m one of those dog owners. Considering the number of times I’ve forced people to listen to our story, I’m shocked that I’ve yet to put it on paper. Sending it out into the interwebs for anyone to read until the end of time sounds like an even better idea. That way, my love for Abner will be forever ingrained in history. Am I being dramatic? Of course, but it’s warranted.
In the Fall of 2017, I was living on my own for the first time. I had just moved to Savannah, GA, for a fresh start at a prestigious art school. After facing several traumatizing events back-to-back, I was a bit surprised that I felt ready to take on a whole new adventure so soon. I think my fear of becoming stagnant outweighed the others. Fortunately, my childhood best friend from back home had already been attending the school, so I wasn’t completely alone. I didn’t, and still don’t, mind being alone. However, I found myself spending several nights scanning the pet adoption listings. I knew that a human roommate would’ve come with a laundry list of potential issues, but a furry cohabitant wouldn’t. In fact, having a pet as a roommate is really the perfect situation in my opinion. You don’t feel like you have to converse with them constantly to be polite, you don’t have to worry about them having sex in your bed, and there’s no possibility of them forgetting to pay rent/utilities because, actually, they are reliant on you for every aspect of their survival. Forgive me if my priorities are not in line with the vast population, but I would rather live with a freeloading animal than a spoiled, disrespectful one. I think anyone who has ever had roommates can agree that sometimes, humans are the real animals.
After a month of adding to this extensive list of pet advantages in my mind, I narrowed my search down to an adoption agency nearby. The agency’s website hadn’t been updated since the tones of dial-up had faded from our collective conscience, but this only furthered my instinct that this organization was run by pure-hearted volunteers. Since there was no physical address for the agency, I arranged to meet the dogs and their foster parents at one of their adoption fairs at PetSmart. They had two dogs in particular up for adoption that I felt would be the best fit for me and my apartment. The universe had other plans.
On November 11th, 2017, I walked into PetSmart with the assumption that one of the two dogs from their website would be my perfect match. The second I walked up to their booth, I recognized the senior female chihuahua that I wanted to meet. She was already sitting in the lap of an older woman as she filled out paperwork with glee. I was slightly bummed, but also couldn’t really be mad. The two of them looked happy together and at least one more dog was getting a home. I then saw another volunteer walking the black, mini-pin mix I’d also seen online. I introduced myself and explained that I had read about him on their website and was very interested. The volunteer let me take him for a walk to assess our chemistry together. Spoiler alert: there was none. The dog had an obnoxious amount of energy and didn’t seem too interested in spending it with me. Likewise, I didn’t feel that spark.
People often talk about experiencing “the spark” in reference to meeting their romantic partner. However, a similar sensation also occurs when fate brings together a dog and its person. One thing is for sure: the dog will choose you. They just know, and then you will too.
I sat cross-legged on the cold linoleum in that PetSmart, looking around at all the adoptable dogs that I knew weren’t right for me. I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that I would have to extend my adoption journey until such fate interceded.
When I looked up from the floor, I locked eyes with the most peculiar dog. He had quite charming markings: a white stripe ran down the center of his tiny head, disappearing into the black coat on his back and reappearing at the tip of his tail. His tail looked as if he had dipped it in white paint — a perfect little paintbrush. He was cowering behind a woman who had him on a leash — his owner? I was curious enough to ask the woman if he was her dog.
“Oh, no! This is Little Abner. He’s up for adoption.”
“Oh! I didn’t see him on the website...”
“Yeah, we got him from the shelter pretty recently. Haven’t gotten the chance yet to update the website.”
I looked back at him, feeling awful for how confused and terrified he must be. He looked into my SOUL with his eyes. As I started to ask the volunteer more questions, he began taking small steps, pulling the leash until the volunteer let go. Without any coercion, he made a beeline to me and climbed into my lap. As he closed his eyes and took a nap, the volunteers and I laughed.
“I guess he’s coming home with me,” I said in slight shock. I was so happy but so surprised. I knew that dogs have to be comfortable with their prospective owner, but I didn’t expect a dog to choose me as blatantly as he did. He chilled in my lap the whole time I filled out the paperwork. The volunteer guiding me through the quick process used the same phrase that’d been in my head: “He chose you!” I didn’t even have to analyze the situation or take time to think about it — Abner made the decision for both of us. Looking back at the (almost) 4 years we’ve been together, he was so right.
The first night he came home with me, he demanded to sleep in my bed (specifically, under the sheets). To this day, he has never spent a night in a dog bed — those are only for naps. We quickly became accustomed to each other’s routines and preferences, and I loved discovering his little quirks. I noticed that he likes to follow me to the bathroom and even sits on the bathmat while I shower. I’m sure part of him is always thinking, “Mom, are you okay in that wet torture chamber?” He always tries his darndest to give me “lick down service” when I step out, no matter how politely I try to decline. He is a determined doggie, no doubt.
He loves the sun. He often stops during our walks to simply sit and squint at the sky. Even if there’s only a sliver of sun in a room, he will find that spot and bask in it. He thinks everything I cook is delicious, with the exception of most fruits and vegetables. He hears a bag open from outer space and quickly wiggles over to see what’s inside. If he’s lucky, it’s a packet of smoked salmon.
He goes pretty much everywhere with me. If we’re going to a cookout, I bring his stroller to use as a high chair. Roll your eyes all you want, the stroller is beneficial for both of us. It has two cup holders and storage space underneath. Besides, I’ll never get tired of the look on people’s faces when they realize the baby in my stroller is of the furry kind.
I’ve learned so much from this beautiful, one-of-a-kind creature. Obviously, I’ve learned practical things related to pet care, vets, etc., but it’s Abner’s way of life that we should all try to emulate. This dog lives to live. He is happy to do just about everything. He’s eager to go to bed at night, but also when we get out of bed in the morning. He’s jumping for joy when we leave for a walk but runs up the steps with glee to go back inside. He twirls his paintbrush tail and spins around in circles when he’s about to go for a car ride, but he also excitedly whines and paws at the window when the engine turns off. I hope that this zest for life, and appreciation of the small things, comes from a positive place in him. Sometimes I worry that previous owners weren’t kind to him, but I try not to ruminate on those thoughts. I direct my attention to how happy he is now, and how happy he makes everyone around him.
Although a broken soul when we first met, terrified of everything and everyone (especially men), he has been so brave and grown to be such a friendly, trusting dog. He is always being “oohed and awed” over by people on the street and in stores (yes, Abner goes shopping). People will come up and ask to pet him, then walk away saying that their interaction with him made their day. Just yesterday, a woman came up to him, squealing, and explained that she just had to hold his head in her hands. He seemed slightly overwhelmed by her energy, but mostly just unbothered. Did I mention that he is simultaneously a high-maintenance, needy infant and an unbothered, sophisticated older British gentleman, on a perpetual search for his lost monocle?
The small moments together are the best, but a few events make up significant moments in our history. I once thought I lost him, and I’ve never experienced such panic as I did in those awfully long minutes. We were still living in Savannah, going out one evening to take out the trash. I dropped his leash — partially because I had so much to carry and partially because he was always good at walking right beside me. A short walk to the alley surely couldn’t be dangerous. I had tested him off-leash many times before and he always stayed nearby. This time was different. I was so sure he was next to the trash bag I was carrying, but when I hurled it into the dumpster, he wasn’t there. He is notorious for being right under my feet, but multiple 360s revealed that this time, he wasn’t. The repeated callings of his name and pacing up and down the small alley were fruitless. I was so upset with myself. How could I let this happen?
The sun was setting. It would be harder to find him. I started thinking of what phone numbers to call first. I should probably alert every nearby Animal Control that he’s microchipped and that I will come to get him ASAP if they find him. Should I call the adoption agency I got him from? What if they try to make me give him back? Am I a bad dog mom?!
As I turned the corner on my walk back, I saw him. It was such a picturesque moment — truly something out of a movie. The antique lamplights lined the ivy-covered courtyard, leading up to the wide, stone steps underneath the wooden French doors. Abner sat calmly on the top step, turning his head to me as if to say “Oh, there you are. Are you ready to go back in now?” If that’s not the definition of “good boy,” I don’t know what is.
One of the great takeaways from this ordeal is how it proved he knew where his home was. His instincts were to go straight home and stay put, rather than wander around and further the potential distance between us (and decrease the chances of us finding each other). An even better part of this moment was that he wasn’t upset — he trusted that I would find him. Looking back on it, he probably didn’t even realize that he was “lost.” He most likely assumed he was free to do his business as long as he returned in a reasonable time. I know everyone says this about their dogs, but this guy is seriously the best.
I spent the first wee hours of my most recent birthday at the emergency vet with Abner. He got his nail caught in a tiny grate-like contraption, panicked, and ripped it out. One of his nails didn’t move with him. I felt so bad for him that I cried, even though he didn’t. In fact, no one was worried about it except me. We didn’t get home until 3am. It wasn’t how either of us wanted to spend that night, but at least we were together.
The mere privilege of knowing Abner is enough to look past any challenges, but I have learned of a few nuisances that typically come with owning a dog. Vet bills are more expensive than human bills and yes, they will have to go to the vet for some random disturbance at least once (Exhibit A, above). Depending on where you live and your pet’s needs, pet insurance might be something to look into. I also highly recommend “shopping around” and getting quotes from at least a few different vets. I saved OVER a G by having his teeth cleaned in a different state.
Socialize them as often as possible, particularly if they’re a rescue (which I hope they are!). However, respect their preferences and don’t put them in stressful positions if you can help it. For example, Abner prefers to not have grimy child claws on him, so I typically turn them away. Sometimes it upsets the children, but I have to do what’s best for my child.
Explain things to them, especially if you’re leaving. Exiting their space abruptly is confusing to them and honestly, only psychopaths do that. They most certainly recognize words and phrases you repeat to them, and they understand more than you might think.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been just under 4 years since Abner came into my life — I feel like he’s always been with me, bathing me in kisses when I come home and barking at strange men who try to talk to me on the street. Perhaps there’s a common psychological theory that could explain this, but part of me thinks he’s the culmination of all my guardian angels. I know that the physical limitations of a dog’s life would prevent this, but I would be so content with life if I retired on an island and spent the rest of my days writing at a tiki bar with Abner asleep in his stroller next to me. Am I crying at a cafe as I type this, thinking of how that will not happen and how his eventual demise will probably be the absolute worst moment in my life? Yes. I’m trying to snap out of it, not because of concerned onlookers, but because it would be even worse to waste my precious moments with him in the present. Abner’s great gift to me and to the world is his pure joy and appreciation for life. As I ask him if he has any closing thoughts, he seems to be telling me this: “Open yourself up to love again — it’s what we’re all here to do. Don’t let the ways you’ve been hurt in the past close you off to a beautiful, new connection.” Couldn’t have said it better, Abner.