Written by Nicole Enberg Vaz
In February, I decided to do the unthinkable. I adopted a 9-week-old puppy. I grew up with dogs my entire life so I always dreamed of having a pup of my own one day. Ever since I moved out of my parents’ house and darted half way across the country to attend college, I’ve always felt like life was a little less complete without a pet in my life. Fast forward to graduating college, moving to a new city and starting a crazy career, I quickly learned that getting a dog might be years away. I lived in New York City, a beautifully chaotic metropolis where, unfortunately, my lifestyle was just too crazy to have a dog. I just couldn’t bring myself to make the commitment for nearly 11 years…and then I relocated to Boston.
For anyone who has made a big move, its not easy. In fact, it’s far from easy. Of course, I thought I would be different. Six years ago I moved to Washington, D.C. for an incredible job opportunity. One year later, I moved back home to the Big Apple and ended up sticking around for another 5 years. Fast forward to six months ago, as I was packing up my Manhattan apartment, I was ready and energized to start fresh and make the 4-hour trek to Boston. I thought it would be a breeze… It was a big adjustment. And that’s when I found myself on PetFinder….
On one very snowy and cold Boston Friday, my dear friend and her young dog came to visit me for a long weekend. I was feeling a little homesick for New York and her company was the ultimate treat. We spent the afternoon being lazy, lighting a roaring fire in my old stove and sipping wine. As I laid on the couch petting my friend’s pup, my friend declared that I “needed a dog of my own to love” and we started searching through PetFinder. I was on a quest to find the perfect canine companion. I reluctantly started scanning the website and found myself clicking on photo after photo of adorable puppies, young and old dogs, all in need of homes. In that moment, I knew I needed a dog – and maybe even two.
Before I knew it, I was eagerly scrolling pup profiles and adoption agencies, submitting my application for a chance to win the heart of one of these adorable dogs in need. I sent in 20 applications, but only one came back. It was from an amazing organization called 3 Dog Rescue in Southern Maine. They find abandoned dogs in southern states and drive overnight to rescue mother and babies before placing them in safe, loving homes. The moment I saw a picture of a black lab mutt named Bradley, I knew it was all over. I wanted him yesterday and apparently, 3 Dog Rescue wanted me to have him too!
Three weeks later I got into my car and drove 2 hours to Maine to meet Bradley at his foster home. The agency warned me that Bradley and his 9 other siblings would be there. Some were already adopted, and some were not. As I sat on the floor playing with Bradley, I noticed that he kept wandering away from me. I was trying to force a connection with this pup and I was a little hurt. As I sat there confused, Bradley’s sister started crawling towards me, playfully mouthing my hand and rolling onto her back so I could pet her small, puffy stomach. I realized then and there that my heart didn’t belong to Bradley, but his sister, Miss Penni Lane. In that moment, there was no question in my mind. Penni was my dog. We picked each other.
Thinking about adopting a pup of your own? Here’s everything I can share about the doggie adoption process, the challenges of raising a young puppy, and random things I didn’t know about dogs. While there is no question that puppies are a ton of work, there is no greater gift than saving a helpless animal in need. And trust me, you will be thanked every day with the immense joy and unconditional love that only a pup can provide.
Be Open to the Possibilities. When I first started looking on PetFinder, I was focused on having a black lab mix puppy. Don’t know why, it just felt right. Penni is a lab mix that looks almost more German Shepherd and hound than Labrador Retriever. I never imagined my dog would look like her but I love everything about her. So many dogs need homes so don’t focus on one breed or even one age group, just know that regardless, a new dog will change your life. As long as you know what you are in for, nothing else matters.
The Right Dog Picks You. When I drove up to Maine to meet Bradley, I was convinced that he was going to be ‘my dog.’ But when I started playing with his brothers and sisters, I realized I actually liked the personality of some of the other pups better. Bradley seemed lethargic and disinterested in me, which I felt were signs that he was not the best fit for my home. While I was initially trying to rationalize his behavior, I realized that Penni, his shepherd mix looking sister was super into cuddling and wanted to play with me. She was trying to impress me and stood out from the pack – and I took notice. Bottom line: Trust your gut. You want your dog to love you as much as you love them.
Puppies Have Worms (Gross, I Know). I was not prepared for this reality, and it really freaked me out. It’s nothing that the vet can’t fix with monthly heartworm medication, but its jarring the first few months you have an adopted dog. Mother dogs often pass worms onto their babies early on so if you do decide to adopt, just know you will probably experience this joy sooner than later. Don’t be alarmed, just make sure you find a wonderful vet to help you navigate and heal your pet. If left untreated, worms can cause serious damage to your dog and your family members.
Great Vet = Your Best Friend. In the first year of your pup’s life, you are going to be at the vet…a lot. There is no way around the rigorous course of vaccines to prevent everything from rabies and kennel cough to Lyme disease and heartworm. In the last two months, I have made more than one 4am run to the emergency animal clinic. It just happens. Make sure you find a vet you love that works close to your home and is available in a jam. You will be calling him/her regularly for refills, accidental chocolate inhalation, teething issues – and many other things you wouldn’t imagine.
Puppies Lose Teeth. Call me crazy but I never thought about this until Penni started dropping teeth out of her mouth like they were loose coins. I’ve found little baby molars on the couch, front teeth in the dirt at the dog park and much more. Most puppies probably just eat their baby teeth so its probably not a big deal, but it can still be shocking to find dental work all over the floor. The best tip I can offer is to brush their teeth from an early age with a peanut butter or meat flavored doggie toothpaste. This helps with inevitable teething but also prevents tooth and gum decay as they get older. I admit, I’m absolutely terrible at doing this but I will keep trying.
Crate Training. I can only speak from my experience, which is limited, but crate training seemed to make my life easier. Crates create a safe place for young pups when you are away and helps them feel secure. I just leave mine open for Penni so she can go in and out of it as she pleases. Experts say it is important to make your dog’s crate feel special with lots of soft blankets, towels, toys, whatever they need to make them feel like its truly THEIR refuge. If the crate feels like a home, your dog won’t go to the bathroom indoors or chew up their bed because they don’t want to ruin their house. Just a quick word of warning: Do not leave a puppy in a crate for more than an hour at the beginning. Puppies are only supposed to be in a crate for as many hours as they are months old. Start slowly and work your way up.
The Wonders of Coconut Oil. When I got my pup, her coat was a little ragged and messy. Her coat was very dull and she was always itchy so I knew that something was up. With the approval of my vet, (please ask your vet before doing any of these suggestions), I started putting a tiny teaspoon sized portion of organic coconut oil in her food. Today, Penni’s coat is incredibly shiny, the itching has stopped and she absolutely loves the little treat in her bowl everyday.
Set Ground Rules Early. Socializing your puppy at a very early age with older dogs or in a controlled play setting is the best thing you can do for your dog. Penni is a truly happy-go-lucky puppy that literally greets every dog, human and animal with a wagging tail and shaking butt. She loves to play and socialize, but that is because we made it a priority from Day 1. In general, puppies can get scared or mean at times because they are learning a new world with you. Pushing your pup to experience new things everyday only helps them in the future. Simple things like walking your dog outside multiple times a day, going to the dog park with the pup on a leash or signing up for a Pup n’ Play class at your local ASPCA is a great start before obedience training classes begin.
Mental Stimulation & Exercise. Sure, run around the backyard with your dog or take them to the park but that’s only half the battle. Exercise makes a young pup tired but doesn’t always cure their mental anxieties, which can lead to unnecessary destruction of furniture, teething wounds on your hands and bathroom accidents around the house. Mental stimulation helps keep puppies focused and challenged, which helps eliminate bad behavior. We have a giant Kong toy that we fill with a handful of dog food that our puppy pushes around the house. It’s like a puppy video game and she absolutely loves it. Playing catch and release is also good. Anything that makes them think and move at the same time is awesome.
L-O-V-E. It sounds obvious, but puppies, especially adopted puppies and dogs, need a lot of love. Make your pup feel comfortable with your touch early. Stroke their ears, paws, tail, belly, top of head, etc. as often as you can to get them acquainted with human contact. (This will be helpful later on when your dog is getting vaccines, gets sick or needs help). We will never fully know what their lives were like before they came into our homes. Compassion, affection and love is everything, especially if your dog has experienced unthinkable emotional or physical trauma.
Adopting a pet will change your life in a million ways. Do your research and ask questions. PetFinder and your local animal shelter are great places to start. And if you are still on the fence or unable to commit to a dog in your life, offer to volunteer at your local clinic, shelter or sign up to foster an animal. You won’t regret it!