July 21, 2014

My Boo Boo Has Been With Me 10 Years Today:
Never underestimate the rewards you'll get from adopting and loving a shelter pet.

Ten years ago today, I failed my first driver's test. Less than a hundred yard from the Department of Motor Vehicles building, I made an illegal turn. I felt stupid, not the least of which was because I was in tears nearly as soon as the instructor had finished dutifully instructing me back to the DMV.

My dad was in Iraq. It was 2004. In our family, every time Dad was deployed, Mom would get a dog. It's probably amazing that she'd made it the four months she had without getting one. That day, our local animal shelter just happened to be on the same road as the DMV, and what better way to cheer up your sobbing teenager, right?

My mom stopped, and I immediately became fascinated by the puppies in the first two cages. They were adorable! I couldn't imagine a puppy living its early life in a cage. I was ready to sign on.

My mom was smarter. She had wandered through every cage. In the very back corner, she drew my attention--grudgingly, I'll admit--to a cage. This was the face on the other side of the bars:

How could I say no to that?
We took him out into the play area. I had a tissue in my hands. He stole it. I sat on the ground. He stole my hair tie. He was generally just...well, an asshole.

But I was enamored.

Mom, of course, was not. We took him back inside, and we tried to take out another dog, who was far too neurotic.

The staff impressed upon us as we left that we could bring back my little sister and our older dog to see how our caged friend interacted with them. We got in the car, and began to drive home.

I needled Mom all the way. Finally, she relented--we would bring back my sister and Sugar and we would see how he was with the whole family.

And he was a perfect angel during this second visit. He let my sister walk him without even pulling on the lead. The rest, as they say, is history. He came home to stay.

It wasn't long before it became apparent that we had bitten off a lot. He was clearly abused at some point, and half terrified of humans. We also quickly found out that our local animal shelter wasn't the best at identifying breeds--they called him a shepherd mix. He's a Basenji mix, and he had some of the breed's more...interesting characteristics. For instance, he couldn't bark, although he would eventually learn to. He could also climb most anything. He had a tremendous capacity for destruction.

We bonded very quickly, my Bootsie and me. Throughout the lonely last year of my high school, when my major depressive disorder manifested seriously for the first time, he was there for me--needling me, pushing me, reminding me that I was part of a larger world.

Two weeks before my high school graduation, I attempted suicide. There were many reason that I won't delve into, but Boots was the one that alerted my parents, scratching and clawing at the door until they forced their way in. He was the one that saved me, in many ways.

Boo was my first shelter dog. He was a lot of work, but he was worth it. He is my best furry friend, and I often find myself lost in conversation with him, while he tilts his head to the side and looks so involved. His favorite spot (as in the photo above) is under my feet--especially when bacon is involved.

When we brought home my oldest son, I was terrified that Boo would be jealous. But he sniffed the baby sleeping in the carrier, and he laid beside it and went to sleep. That night he slept at the foot of the bassinet. Every night since, he's lain by my boys' beds until they fall asleep. He's fiercely protective of them, and I love him for it--once again, he's able to read my moods and what's important to me.

A shelter animal--any rescued animal--is a commitment. In those early months, we continually reminded ourselves that we had committed to him. There could be no giving up, no going back. He was a part of our family.

But the effort? It was so worth it.

Happy Adoption Day to my Boo Boo baby. Here's hoping we have at least a few more wonderful long years ahead.

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