There is only one appropriate word to describe the first few days I spent alone in my new apartment… and that word is ‘strange’.
It had been years since I dwelled in my own private setting, and even then, the space I occupied was on temporary loan from the acting contract I was completing. This October was the first time that I had my very own permanent space and was actually financially obligated to it. When I was first given the keys, I opened the front door and looked around the empty space. It’s a one-bedroom and modest, probably, by most people’s standards. But to me, there was so. Much. Space. It was bare; a blank canvas to start over and fill with new dreams. I looked around and I started to cry– the ugly, scrunchy-faced and snotty type of cry. I just kept thinking, “Why do I deserve this?” I felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude and an odd obligation to call one of my parents and ask permission to occupy the space… I guess a part of me still felt like a child who needed guidance before taking the next steps.
The next few days were filled with twice daily shopping trips to Walmart and Target. I spent too many hours (and probably too much money…) sprawled out on the living room floor building furniture with only the help of tiny printed, complex instructional manuals. I planned and almost instantly began executing, I stocked up and organized, I sat in silence… and when that became too intimidating, I started polluting the space with words from audiobooks. At about day four my adrenaline started to wear out and I was suddenly very aware of how quiet it was in my cozy apartment complex. It was… strange. Day four was when I acted on an impulse that I had been suppressing for quite some time– I adopted a dog.
October 15th was the day I met my best friend, my German Shepard (and maybe Akita?) mix who I named Alice Primrose. Simply for entertainment purposes, I had been browsing the Williamson County Animal Shelter’s website and selected a couple of dogs that I thought were completely adorable. I woke up on day four and strangely enough, my casual browsing had transformed into a list and before I knew it, propelled me out the door and into my car, on the way to the shelter. I expected to fall in love with one of the dogs I had seen online, but as fate would have it– most of those dogs either weren’t available or just simply weren’t the right fit. Thinking it was possibly not meant to be, I thought I’d ask the ladies at the shelter if they could recommend a dog before giving up. I told them I loved to hike, so an adventure companion would be ideal. I wasn’t into the tiny floofy kinds, but I also didn’t think I could manage a dog the size of a Great Dane. My final criteria was that I needed a dog with some basic training. As a person that grew up in an all-cat household, I was clueless on how to train dogs and therefore didn’t want to start out with a spastic puppy. “Well… we just got one dog in this morning… we don’t know much about her… she’s maybe three to five years old? You can have a look if you’d like.”
Sight on seen, Alice was perfect. She was 40 lbs– not too big and not too small. She had a friendly face and immediately sniffed me, then began wagging her tail. I took her on a brief walk around the shelter complex and it was just so effortless to be in her company. The ladies at the shelter warned me that Alice had originally come from a kill shelter in another county and because they only just got her, they didn’t know much about her demeanor. They knew that she had previously lived with an older woman who had died in the home. They weren’t sure how long Alice had been in the home after the woman had passed… Without knowing much about her, I did know that she was meant to be my dog. We were both strays– I had just been kicked out of my previous home when I was rejected by my ex-boyfriend and Alice was reluctantly abandon by her previous owner and left without a home. As I contemplated taking her, it occurred to me that we both needed a fresh start. We both needed a friend and we both deserved a second chance. I thought of a quote from one of my all-time favorite books, spoken by a character that I once had the opportunity to portray six days a week and two to three times a day– Alice in Wonderland:
“It’s no use to go back to yesterday… I was a different person then.”
And so, I named her “Alice”.
My dear friend– and coincidentally enough, the fairy godmother that helped me, in a whirlwind of a couple of frantic hours, move out of the house the day after the breakup– accompanied me as I brought Alice home. We watched her cautiously sniff around the apartment and as though claiming her new territory, plop herself on my bed, roll around the carpet, and squish between the couch pillows. Alice seemed right at home– at last. The first couple of days were calm as we got to know each other. I learned that she absolutely hated squirrels– so I got a harness for her to wear on walks so when she decided to bolt, I wouldn’t lose my arm. I learned that she’s a glutton for belly rubs and rawhides. She also a murderer of plush toys, but throughly enjoys anything that squeaks.
Since there’s no point in writing unless I’m writing from a place of heartfelt honesty, I’ll be real with you– at first, owning Alice was just as stressful and confusing as it was a joyful addition to my new life. Naive first-time dog mom that I was, I thought that because she seemed completely chill sleeping in my bed at night, that she didn’t need to be crated when I left the house… on day four or five of dog motherhood, I came home to find my apartment destroyed… And I don’t just mean that she chewed my shoes (though my sparkly pink house slippers were a bitter casualty to this massacre)… Alice had emptied the trash, chewed up the carpet that met with the sliding screen door, and chewed almost entirely through the front door. The metal front door. I was devastated. The first thought that hit me was, “My apartment complex will make me get rid of her”. Then all the other nasty realizations of paying to fix the damage, figuring out a potentially expensive training solution, managing my dog’s and my own anxiety, and having to sadly crate against her will bubbled to the surface. I tearfully called my parents because the situation seemed out of my control. I was responsible for this living thing. I had to find a solution and I couldn’t under any circumstance, be that person that took her dog back to the shelter. It didn’t escape me that if I rejected Alice for being destructive while she was anxious, I would be no braver than my ex who walked out on me while I was in the midst of a panic attack. As a person who boldly proclaims that she struggles with anxiety, I simply couldn’t reject this creature who might be suffering from the same mental demons. Yes I know… dogs process emotions differently than humans, but you get what I mean here. Morally, I had an obligation to Alice. No matter what.
In the weeks that followed, I bought a carpet to cover what she tore up and had some helpful friends of my dad’s patch up the front door. I started working with Alice on basic commands to boost her confidence and I learned some tips on how to make crate training a positive experience for both of us. It wasn’t easy. She destroyed two crates within two days and chewed the first of two rugs I bought to mask the mess in front of the sliding door. She also started to reveal to me that she prefers those annoying squirrels more than other dogs… making walks and hikes a challenge every time we pass another dog. Again, I’ll be honest– there have been times when I’ve thought that maybe I was a little too impulsive by adopting her like I did, with no previous experience in caring for a dog and without the knowledge of what she was like living in the shelter. I feel like life with Alice, at first, was one big mystery that I was piecing together slowly. She’s extremely excitable when I take her outdoors–maybe this means she didn’t get out much with her previous owner. She doesn’t seem to like other dogs, but she seems comfortable around cats– maybe her previous owner was also a cat lady. She has extreme separation anxiety– maybe her previous owner never left her sight. In any case, I quickly realized that I will never know the answers about Alice’s past life. Instead of focusing on what she can’t do, the only productive solution was to focus on what she can do.
In many ways, Alice and I share the same qualities– both good and bad. She’s kind and gentle (to humans…), but she’s best one on one than in large crowds. I consider her an introvert because she prefers to run around the dog park solo than with other dogs. She’s anxious and needs a lot of positive affirmations and attention to remind her that you love her. She likes to snuggle. She loves to eat. She likes long walks and basking in the sun. She’s an early bird. She has extreme highs and lows– one minute she wants to sleep and be left alone, and then BOOM– she’s jumpy and playful. She loves to travel. And I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s a sucker for Hallmark movies.
It’s been two months since I brought Alice home and nowadays, she’ll happily trot her her crate the moment she sees her hot pink Kong toy stuffed with Cheese Whiz. Within a month, Alice and I traveled to a different state together… After an appointment with a therapist, I had her registered as an emotional support animal. This allows me to bring Alice on plane rides with me, so together we spent Thanksgiving in Tallahassee with my parents. (And we’re going back for Christmas!) Alice and I provide support for each other. I can’t state in words just how helpful and healing it has been for me to provide care for another living thing– and receive endless, unconditional love in return. Being a dog mom changed my life because it granted me a much needed lesson in selflessness. I have a reason to wake up early because Alice needs a walk– and there is nothing that I love more than our quiet morning walks. I have a reason to go home because Alice is waiting and probably wondering where I am.
After three days of silence, the first time I laughed in my apartment was the night I brought Alice home from the shelter. She yawned and stretched in that downward dog pose. I cooed, “Alice! Who’s a pretty girl?” and then she plopped on the ground and started to do this goofy crawl across the floor towards me by just moving her front paws. I laughed out loud. I completely adore my silly, anxious, sweet dog.