When Ian and I were in the process of buying our house, we said that we would wait until June to get a puppy. That would give the cats long enough to be comfortable in the new house and feel territorial enough to defend it and themselves against a strange new beast.
We talked about getting a purebred German Shepherd, and I had been in contact with a breeder in town who I really liked. She’s a vet and gave me all kinds of great information about the breed, as well as what to expect in terms of introducing a dog—any dog—to the cats. But she did warn us that German Shepherds can have a high prey drive, even ones that test as more relaxed (she gives all of her puppies temperament tests to help place them with the right family) and suggested we might look into other breeds as well if we’re concerned about bringing a dog into the house with cats for the first time.
So then we started looking at Australian Shepherds, which have a lower prey drive and are supposed to be good dogs to have with cats. I found a couple breeders in town who looked like they have their shit together, and sent out some emails. I never heard back, but I never called, either.
The thing with good, reputable breeders is that their puppies are in high demand. For each of the breeders I liked, for both German Shepherd and Australian Shepherds, there were long waiting lists with expensive deposits. We knew getting a purebred dog would be expensive, but I didn’t think about having to wait for months, possibly until the fall, to get a puppy. We wanted to get one in the summer when the weather would be nice so we could get used to taking it for walks and housebreaking it.
(Let me emphasize right here that I fully support purebred dogs and cats, as long as they’re purchased from reputable breeders who care about the breed and aren’t “backyard breeding” just to make a quick buck. We don’t tell someone who announces they’re trying to get pregnant to go adopt a baby, and we shouldn’t do that with people looking for a dog, too. Pets are long-term companions and, especially with dogs, take a lot of fucking work. So if you want a specific breed and are willing to do the research and buy responsibly, go for it.)
As Ian and I discussed what breed we were going to get, and even made plans to go out to the German Shepherd breeder’s obedience school and meet dogs she had bred in the past, I started looking on Petfinder because I was in full-on puppy fever mode. The cats had gotten comfortable in the house quicker than anticipated and had been doing really well with Millie, our neighbor’s dog who had been coming over to visit, so I figured if we found a puppy now instead of in June it would be OK. And I guess I was a bit fatigued by all of the talk of waiting lists and deposits with the breeders.
One night I got drunk and favorited a bunch of puppies on Petfinder in various parts of Tennessee and Georgia, but when I woke up the next morning none of them really spoke to me anymore. I checked out our local shelters for a while, but they only had adult dogs or small breed puppies.
But then, I saw this listing:
The video is what got me, she just looked so cute. Ian said she looked too old, so I sent an email to the adoption agency listed inquiring about her age and temperament. Someone emailed me back and told me I’d have to fill out an application in order to speak with an adoption counselor about her. I filled out the very detailed application that day, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. After sending two more emails, I got a phone call from a very apologetic woman who was the adoption manager at the agency. It turned out she and her husband were fostering this puppy, so she could give me all sorts of good information.
She pulled her out of a high-kill animal shelter the day she was scheduled to be put down, and had been fostering her for a couple months. She told me she was about five or six months old, was a shepherd/collie mix, weighed 23 lbs, and was microchipped and spayed. She wasn’t aggressive with the cats in the foster home, was fairly house-broken and crate-trained, and was super sweet and friendly. When she told me that the puppy had a case of “always a bridesmaid never a bride” when it came to adoption events, I wanted to cry. I’m a sucker for a sad story like that.
So I set up an appointment for Saturday, April 5, to drive down to their shelter in Alpharetta, Ga., and meet her. They were also bringing another puppy for us to meet named Sapphire, an Australian Shepherd mix who was still waiting to be old enough to get her second round of shots.
Ian and I drove the two hours down to Alpharetta last Saturday, and I was freaking out the whole time. He kept telling me not to get my hopes up because we might not like her, or she might not like us, or for whatever reason we might not come home with a puppy. And I tried to stay ambivalent as best I could because I didn’t want to bring home a puppy that I didn’t connect with just because I was afraid of coming home empty handed.
Well, it turned out none of that mattered. When her foster dad opened the door, she ran into the building and jumped right into my arms. I almost started crying, it was such an unexpected and emotional reaction to have with this creature I had never met before. (Are you barfing from the sweetness yet?)
Because there was a ton of people and other dogs in the small shelter, we took her outside to a small grassy area (along with Sapphire, who was super cute but looked pretty freaked out by the whole thing) to play with her. She was pretty interested in smelling the grass and jumping around, but she also would come to us when we called for her and was perfectly happy to get petted and loved on out there.
Ian had been wanting a slightly younger puppy, but I guess he saw how in love with this dog I was because he relented and we took her home. She did great on the car ride—she was nervous and drooled all over the place, but she didn’t puke and when we stopped to let her out to pee she did her business and was happy to get back in the car and keep going.
On the ride home we discussed possible names, which is always tricky with us because we end up calling our pets by some nickname eventually instead of what they are actually named (See BK instead of Gwen, Gordo instead of Finnegan and King Boo instead of Link). We called her Mags for a while, short for Magic Hat (my favorite brewery), but that didn’t really fit the more we used it. I mentioned Stella, after Stella Artois, and Ian loved it. The more we called her that the more it seemed to fit.
We had to stop by PetSmart on the way home to get a crate, food, toys and a couple hundred dollars of other random puppy things (seriously, these beasts are expensive), and then we took her home to meet the cats.
Gordo and BK watched her from a distance, but King Boo immediately went on the defensive and tried to kick her ass. I can’t tell you how funny it is to watch the smallest animal in the house scare the living shit out of the largest one. But not wanting Stella to feel too intimidated, to the point of snapping back at King Boo, we monitored them closely for the next couple days and they seem to be getting better. (There is still a lot of monitoring going on, though. This is going to take some time. And she has picked up on Gordo not having claws, I guess, because he’s the only one she chases.)
The first couple days were hell, I’m not going to lie. Puppies are exhausting, and being in a strange place seemed to undo some of her crate-training and housebreaking and I definitely cried a few times out of frustration. But we’ve been working on that, and it’s finally getting better. It’s still a learning curve for both of us, so I’ve signed her up for obedience classes starting in a couple weeks. When the day comes that I can take her for a walk without her pulling the leash all over the place I’m going to throw a party. Not kidding.
I know people all over the world have dogs, and I knew having a puppy would be hard work… just not this exhausting. But now I know. Oh boy, do I know.
Good thing she’s cute.