I walked slowly down a dimly-lit hallway lined with steel cages taller than me. Each housed a different dog. Some stuck their nose through the gate, tails wagging. Most cowered in a corner, barking or howling as I passed by.
But then I reached the end of the line, the last dog. He was silent. Big with long legs and a narrow frame, I’ve never seen a dog like this. With his head down, he slowly approached the gate. He stood up, almost as tall as me. His warm brown eyes pierced mine. I was startled, as I never soul gazed with a dog before. His whole expression changed. Eyes widened, ears perked up, he was curious. Then he gently licked my hand.
I knew he was the one.
Unexpected pet adoption has been the norm for me from a young age. My mom took in birds her friends didn’t want, a pitbull wandering the streets near our house, and a bunny that was shoved under a shelf of some pet store. She deeply cared for these animals and they were kind and gentle in return.
When I decided to get another dog, my instinct was to adopt from the local animal shelter. In sharing this news, I discovered that most people wouldn’t even consider adoption. They’d rather purchase dogs from breeders or pets stores for reasons like:
“I don’t want a used dog, I want a new one,”
People buy dogs from breeders or pet stores because they are looking for certainty. They want control over their commitment. In a marketplace of dogs, why not meet your expectations? They look for known personality traits, potential health risks, and colors that match their home decor. Most importantly, people don’t want a dog with “trauma.”
If you’ve ever met my dog, you know Bode carries some lingering trauma. He crouches and runs from the garden hose, cries when he’s outside alone, and loses his shit when Huskies walk by (I don’t blame him, wolves are scary). Worst of all, he gets very territorial past 9:00pm, and will flash his teeth at you if you approach his pillow fort.
Bode is far from perfect, but I began to see his ‘flaws’ as personality quirks. Through daily soul gazing and exchanging moans in a range of pitches, we learned to trust each other. This discovery phase was an opportunity for both of us to grow. He’s become a 90 pound mush, panting with his long tongue dangling out the side with his eyelids relaxed and half-open, while I became a more patient and accepting person. These are things that no one (shelter, pet store, or breeder) could’ve predicted. He’s the sweetest dog if you know how to treat him.
The highs of adopting a dog outweigh the lows of its history. With an open mind and the right attitude, dogs can overcome trauma, and you might even learn something about yourself. I cherish the unique relationship I have with Bode. I’m grateful to provide him with a better life every day.
The perfect dog might give you what you want, but the shelter dog gives you what you need.
Stop trying to control your life and let it happen.
Adopt, don’t shop.
Visit Bode's Website: www.bode.dog
Special thanks to Taylor Foreman, Chao Lam, Sandra Yvonne, Steven Foster, Indiana-Jonas, Charlie Bleecker, Arman Khodadoost, Keith Conway, Brian Astrove, Ishan Shanavas, Alan Hibbard & Joojo Ocran for the valuable feedback on this essay.