Class clown

Last night was our second puppy obedience session, and once again Stella was the second worst dog in the class. Well, when I say worst I mean she was pretty bad at walking on a leash and paying attention to me. When it comes to friendliness, she’s the best. She has such a sweet disposition that it’s hard to stay mad at her, even when she’s embarrassing me in front of a room of people with puppies half her age who are obeying their owners like a bunch of goddamn show dogs.

One of the lessons yesterday was learning how to have dogs safely greet each other. Stella and I were paired with another owner and we were supposed to let our dogs touch noses, say “Good dog one, good dog two” and then call our dog back to us with food. Except the puppy Stella was paired with kept jumping on her head and pushing her to the floor, so when I tried to call Stella back she was pinned down and couldn’t come back to me. She was trying to get the damn dog off her head. I feel like that was the fault of the other puppy and not Stella, but we both were told our dogs didn’t do it right. Boo.

A week before classes started we booked a private session with a trainer to get help with crate-training and house-breaking her, and during that session we were told to get her a martingale collar to help with her leash-pulling issues during walks. So I got her one, but it hasn’t been helping. I brought it to class last night to make sure it was fitted properly (it needed to be tightened a bit), but after seeing how bad she was on a leash the instructor told me that we’re going to have to get her a small-pronged training collar or the head-halter version of the Gentle Leader. So I guess tonight I’m off to PetSmart to buy her the fourth and fifth version of a collar that will hopefully help her learn how to walk on a leash without pulling. I really hate to put a prong collar on her since they look so mean, but we tried one on her at the end of class last night and she didn’t pull nearly as bad. She wasn’t too excited about it being on her, but she didn’t act like it hurt. Hopefully all that fur is acting as a buffer.

It’s funny how much I took for granted about dogs before I had one. I knew getting a puppy was going to be hard work, but I guess I assumed she would learn to walk on a leash somewhat naturally and house-breaking would come pretty easily since she was supposedly already house-broken when we got her. I saw all these people walking and playing with their dogs in public and assumed it was easy to get there. Who knows, maybe it was for some people. I can’t imagine the entire population of dog owners are these genius trainers who spend hours a day teaching their dog how to be perfect, but maybe they are.

She did learn the cue “down” the other day, which was cool. Although we had to do it in class last night and the trainer told me I shouldn’t have to say it more than once, so I guess we still need to practice that since she doesn’t get it until I’ve said it about 20 times. But at least she’s learning!

“You have brought shame upon our family”

That phrase was uttered several times last week during our first puppy obedience class with Stella. It’s not that she’s a bad dog, she’s just easily excited by other dogs. And people. And the smell of treats. And bugs. And her tail.

To say she’s unfocused would be an understatement.

The class she’s in teaches basic obedience but also allows you to socialize your puppy with other dogs. Well, before and after class. You’re not supposed to let your dog play with other dogs during class, and Stella does NOT get that at all. If she were a kid, she’d be getting sent to the principal’s office for talking too much.

Tomorrow is our second class, and I hope she does better. I’m not sure how long it takes dogs to recognize they’re not in a brand new environment, but I kept telling myself she was losing her mind last week because everything was so new. We’ll see, I guess. At least she wasn’t the worst dog in the class. That honor goes to the black lab who had to be given a chew toy because he kept crying/barking/chewing his owner during the introduction portion. Oh, and there was a cattle dog who looked to be a senior in there. I’m not sure what that dog’s deal was, since this class is supposed to be for puppies who are between 5 and 10 months old.

There are things she is really good at that are important to us, though, like riding in the car and how she acts toward the cats. She is such a good car-rider—she’s learned how to jump into the back seat and doesn’t fight us when it’s time to get in or out, and she isn’t nervous or jumpy when we’re riding around town. She’ll usually sit up and look out the windows for a while, but after a few minutes she’s content to lay down and take a quick nap.

She’s also better than I could have ever expected with the cats. I’m almost afraid I’m jinxing myself by admitting this out loud, but she is very respectful of them. She has gotten good at not chasing Gordo anymore, which I am pretty sure we owe to King Boo and can’t take any credit for ourselves. She still tries to play with them, but as soon as they hiss at her she’ll back off. Most of the time, though, she ignores them in favor of her toys or Ian and I. Considering that was my No. 1 fear about getting a shelter dog, I feel very lucky and relieved.

We took her to a local growler shop on Saturday (they’re dog-friendly, like many places in Chattanooga), and she did really well there, too. She did want to jump on anyone who walked in the door and said hi to her, but I kept her on a short leash and she eventually laid on the floor at my feet. (Giving her treats to stay in her “down” position helped, too.)

Even if she never learns how to walk on a leash properly, if we can end up with a cat-friendly dog who behaves at bars, I’m going to feel like we hit the jackpot.

Who peed the bed?

Well, I thought the cats were all doing fairly well with the dog, but then last night I went upstairs and found someone had peed on the bed in the guest bedroom.

Granted, we did just move our old mattress up there on Tuesday since we bought a new mattress for our bed, so maybe someone was protesting “their” mattress being moved upstairs. Or maybe whoever did it didn’t like the fake down comforter I put on the bed (it’s one we rarely use). I’ll admit the timing of a bed showing up and cat pee appearing on it seems like it could be related, but I can’t rule out the possibility of someone finally figuring out a way to express displeasure at the beast that has now been living in our home for two and a half weeks.

Finding the culprit, however, is going to be difficult. I can rule out King Boo because he has never peed anywhere he wasn’t supposed to. And while he’s pretty cranked up about the dog, he’s not scared of her and she does not keep him from going anywhere in the house he doesn’t want to. It’s the other way around, really. Plus, he very rarely goes upstairs. He’s always sitting near me or near the dog (and the dog isn’t allowed upstairs).

So that leaves Gordo and BK. They both spend time in the guest room, and both of them were upstairs shortly before I stumbled upon the scene of the crime.

Gordo has a history of peeing on the bed when he’s upset by a new pet; that’s what he did when we got King Boo five years ago. He didn’t like King Boo’s kitten tendencies to jump on him, so he moved himself upstairs and refused to come down. Even to use the cat box. We put him on kitty Prozac and moved a litter box upstairs and he quit peeing on the bed, and then after a year he came back downstairs and now he and King Boo are BFFs.

But Gordo seems to be handling the dog thing really well. He doesn’t try to kick her ass like King Boo does; he just hangs out on the couch like normal and swats at her if she gets too close. The first week we had Stella she would chase Gordo when she came back inside from playing in the yard, but Gordo learned the sound of the door opening and started making himself scarce when she’d come in, so he hasn’t been chased in a while. He’s also started smacking Stella on the nose when she gets too close, and I guess her experience with King Boo has taught her to heed that warning because she immediately backs off.

Gordo is acting totally normal: Eating normally, using the litter box normally, laying in his normal spot on the couch and sleeping in his normal spot in the bed (spooning with me). If it weren’t for his past behavior, he wouldn’t be a suspect.

BK, on the other hand, is visibly stressed out by the dog. She still avoids her by staying up in her cat tree while she’s out of her crate, but she’s not quite as quick to come down when Stella gets put back in it as she was at first. She is eating and using her litter box, but she looks and acts nervous the entire time she’s out of her cat tree. She also hasn’t been sleeping in our bed at night since we got the new mattress, which makes me think she might not like the way it feels (squishier than the old one, since it’s memory gel) and is peeing on the old one in some sort of ill-planned protest.

However, she’s never peed on the bed before when she’s been stressed out. She has peed on a bean bag chair and plastic bags left on the floor before, but never on the bed. In fact, when she was a kitten, one time the bathroom door got closed, separating her from her litter box. Instead of peeing on the floor, she got in the bathtub and peed right over the drain. So if she’s the one who peed the bed, this is a new thing for her.

Regardless, the guest bedroom is now off limits. I had been leaving it open so the cats would have a refuge from the dog if they needed it, but now they’re going to have to make do with only having the guest bathroom to hang out in upstairs. I’ve ordered a couple Feliway diffuser refills, which have helped in the past. We used them when Gordo was freaking out when we got King Boo, and again when we first moved to Chattanooga to help BK cope with being in the apartment.

Whoever it is, I hope they work their shit out soon. Or at least make it obvious which one is the bed-pisser so I can get them on some Prozac immediately. At least we learned our lesson in the past and use a mattress pad so the only inconvenience is doing laundry, not trying to remove a smell from the mattress.

What a weekend

I have developed a love-hate relationship with the early rising schedule having a dog has made me adopt in the past two weeks. On one hand, I hate it because I’m having to wake up an hour and a half earlier on week days and, hell, like three hours earlier on weekends. It wouldn’t be so bad if I were going to bed earlier, but I’m still turning in around 11 or 11:30 p.m. on weeknights.

But on the other hand, I love it because it forces me to get up and going with my day, something I have always struggled with on my own, especially on weekends. This weekend I was able to convince Stella to let me go back to sleep until 9 a.m. on Saturday, but Sunday we were up and at ’em by 7 a.m. The plus side to this, though, is that I felt like I had a very full, acceptably long weekend instead of feeling like I slept half of it away (which, if we’re being honest here, was never a real complaint I had to make).

We got so much done, though. Saturday Ian and I went to buy a new mattress (you know you’re old when you get excited about memory gel), and Stella got plenty of outside time via walks and playing in the yard (i.e. digging holes and getting really dirty). Ian had put together a drawer unit I ordered from IKEA on Friday, and then Saturday he put together our back patio furniture.

Sunday we made brunch and cleaned the house, and then I took Stella for a long walk as Ian started putting the guest bed together upstairs. Freaking IKEA stuff, I swear to god. It’s cheap and looks decent, but god damn it always comes in five million pieces. The bed actually wasn’t as bad as we were expecting it to be, so I shouldn’t complain too much. I was a bit miffed when I realized that I didn’t grab the under-the-bed storage drawers (I thought they were included with the bed frame), but I think the boxes will be small enough that I can fit them in my car the next time we’re in Atlanta and stop by there.

Later in the day I ran out to Bi-Lo to grab some staples since Publix was closed for Easter (I always forget how inconvenient the South’s kowtowing to Christians is until a holiday rolls around and I’m out of food or booze), and got a wild hair up my ass to bake some homemade dog treats for Stella. I found a really simple recipe that only calls for wheat flour (or rolled oats, but I went with wheat flour because my dog is not currently following the gluten-free trend) and baby food. I don’t have a dog-bone cookie cutter and my star cookie cutter is way too big for dog treats, so most of them are just plain old squares. Stella didn’t care—she patiently sat at my feet while I made them, and she was being so good I fed her a few pieces of the “raw” dough (don’t worry, it’s just flour and baby food) which cemented me as her favorite for the evening. Since she prefers chewier dog treats I undercooked them a bit, and she loved them! I may be a shit cookie baker, but apparently I’m great at making dog biscuits. Or I have an easy audience.

She’s still not sleeping through the night, and she had two accidents in the house yesterday, but we’re getting there. She starts obedience class tomorrow night. FINALLY.

One week, four days

We’re about a week and a half into being dog owners, and while it’s not exactly getting easier it is getting more familiar. We’re learning to communicate better with Stella, and she seems to be figuring us out, too. My biggest concern with getting a dog was how the cats would react, and though I think it’s too early to tell exactly how we’ll all end up, I am pleased with the progress over the past week.

King Boo started out hot, claws blazing every time he saw her. It seems to have worked, though, as she never chases him and generally steers clear whenever she sees him in her way. A few times she’s gotten excited and ran past him a little too closely and he’s let her know that’s not cool. The biggest issue I’m having is that when she does get too close and he swats and hisses, he doesn’t just stop when she moves away. He often goes after her, like he’s taken it personally. I don’t want to stop him too much because I don’t want him to think he’s wrong for defending his personal space, but I also don’t want the dog to be so scared of him that one day she snaps and hurts him fighting back. I’ve taken to letting him swat her when he’s been encroached upon, and if he continues to follow her all the way across the room to beat her ass some more I’ll pick him up and move him somewhere else (telling him he’s a good kitty and petting him a lot so he doesn’t feel scolded for protecting himself).

It seems to be working, as I am having to do that less and less. And yesterday Stella tried to play with him! She got down low and stuck her front paws out like she does with other dogs, softly barked at him and then rolled on her back, showing him her belly. He looked interested, but as he got closer she rolled back over and I guess it scared him because he hissed and swatted at her. But then later, as she was playing with some of her toys in the living room, he approached her and acted like he was going to chase her leash. But she is still a bit scared of him, so when she saw him approaching she moved away and stopped making eye contact. I’m hoping this is all normal “figuring each other out” behavior that points toward an eventual friendship, because they both would benefit from having a high-energy companion in the house.

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Gordo has figured out that if he runs she’ll chase him, so he tends to make his swift exit upstairs as he hears the back door opening, a signal that Stella is coming back inside. Once she’s safely occupied with a treat or a toy, he makes his way back downstairs and is content to sit in his spot on the couch and watch her. She leaves him alone now for the most part—as long as he’s sitting still she really doesn’t care much about him.

BK is another story. I don’t think Stella knows she exists. I mean, ok, I know she realizes there’s another cat in the house, but she spends so much time up in her 6-foot-tall cat tree that they’ve hardly had any interaction. When Stella is in her crate, BK comes down and hangs out. When Stella is out of her crate, BK is up high, either watching her or sleeping. She’s spent a ton of time in that cat tree since we got it so I’m not really surprised that’s still her place of refuge, but I am a bit surprised that she’s not more curious about the dog. She’s so big—and has never been one to shy away from swatting or hissing something she doesn’t like—that I figured she’d be the one to whip Stella into shape, not King Boo (who had previously been afraid of his own shadow). I guess she figures she’s just above it all.

The dynamics in this house have been so interesting to watch after just a week. I can already see how Stella reacts differently to Ian (PLAY TIME!) than she does to me (rule-enforcer/food source/safety from King Boo), and I imagine her relationships with all of us in the house will evolve as she gets older and more settled in here.

For now, though, we are continuing to work on crate-training and house-breaking. And leash-training, god help us all. We start obedience classes next week, and I cannot wait.

Five things I miss about Murfreesboro

Ian and I have lived in Chattanooga for nine months now, and while it often feels like we’re still brand-new here, Murfreesboro feels less and less like home when I pass through it every month on my way to Nashville for work.

That’s not to say there aren’t still things I really miss about it, even beyond friends, family and the general nostalgia I’ll always feel for it. In the past months, I’ve found myself missing some very mundane things that I haven’t really found a replacement for in Chattanooga, including:

1. A good grocery store. Now I know what all you East Nashville people were talking about with your food desert. There are no Krogers in the Chattanooga area, and I’ve been to six Bi-Los and they are all shitty. Well, there’s one up in Red Bank that’s so-so, but Bi-Lo doesn’t really carry the brand of staples that we eat so I always end up leaving there feeling like I spent a bunch of money on crap I don’t want to eat. We can’t afford to do our full grocery shopping at Whole Foods, either. We did find an amazing Publix a couple months ago—it was so great that I kept running around finding “our” foods and exclaiming “This place is tits!” The only problem? It’s way the hell out in East Brainerd and takes a good 20 minutes to get there, 30 if we go before 8 p.m. even on a week night.

2. Our vet. I do like the Chattanooga Cat Clinic’s vet, but their staff was pretty rude and actually endangered BK’s life back in the fall when she had a reaction to her rabies shot and they kept telling me she was acting normal when I knew for a fact she wasn’t. Now that we have a dog we’ve had to find a new vet that sees dogs, and while I like the staff and the vet at the place we took Stella to on Saturday, it’s old and dingy and dirty. I miss Dr. Barker at the Barfield Animal Hospital—we took our cats there for nearly 10 years and he and his staff were excellent. He saw us through Gordo’s bout with depression, BK’s random allergy troubles and was the one who cremated Evil Twin when we had to put him down. He always suggested ways to treat our cats without spending a ton of money and found a way to blend compassion with realism into his practice that I haven’t seen in many vets. Plus, his staff was really outgoing and friendly and we knew our cats would be in good hands whenever we had to leave them there overnight.

3. Julia’s Bakery. I’m sure there are amazing bakeries in Chattanooga, I just haven’t found them yet. Maybe I should make that a goal for the summer.

4. Knowing where I am at all times. (OK, most of the time.) Murfreesboro was spread out enough that I could drive out into the country and not really know where I was, but I would always eventually find a landmark that brought me back into town. Ian calls me Towelie (“I don’t even know where I’m at, man!”) because I tend to be directionally challenged, but at least in Murfreesboro I knew how to get anywhere I needed to go. I might not have always taken the most direct route, but I knew that city like the back of my hand. In Chattanooga, not so much. It is really fun getting to explore a new city, but it’s been nine months and I’m still having to rely on Google Maps to get to new (and sometimes not-so-new) places. Probably because I work from home and don’t get out and drive around as much as I need to in order to learn the layout of the city.

5. Our old liquor store. We lived right down the block from a place called Murfreesboro Wine and Spirits that must be an anomaly in Tennessee. It had a great wine selection, was reasonably priced and had knowledgeable and helpful employees. So far in Chattanooga I’ve found liquor stores that have all of those things—but not all at the same time. Riverside, my favorite, has a great wine, liquor and beer selection but has rude employees and their prices are just so-so. The wine shop next to Whole Foods has really helpful and kind employees, but they’re small so their selection isn’t great (surprisingly, their prices aren’t the highest I’ve found). I’ve been to a few places with decent prices, but they’ve been in not-so-safe areas (think bars on the windows and cops arresting people nearby) and haven’t had much of a selection. Chattanooga is a pretty booze-heavy town, though, so I know I just need to keep exploring before I find “my” liquor store.

Oh, I should mention that so far the best place I’ve found has been Beverage World, which is actually in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. It’s only about 15 minutes from my house, so I probably should stop by there more often. It’s out of the way, but they’re open on Sundays, sell high and low gravity beer along with wine, and I’ll benefit from Georgia sales tax. Ok, maybe I did find “my” liquor store after all.

Barb

As Ian and I were cooking dinner and wrangling the dog Saturday night, I got a text from my youngest sister that my paternal grandmother had passed away at 6:05 p.m. She had recently been moved into an assisted living facility (or maybe a nursing home?) and they called my dad to tell him she died, and he called Emily. Apparently she had been suffering from respiratory problems and wasn’t taking in enough oxygen. She also had a dead leg as a result of a sore on her foot that became infected and spread.

Because my dad and I haven’t spoken in years, I also hadn’t spoken to my grandmother. My first thought was that I should have written or I should have called. Whenever I was in town I avoided going to visit her because I was afraid my dad would show up at her apartment (my grandma wasn’t someone you could just drop in on) when he heard I was coming, so I hadn’t seen her in years. From what I hear, though, she died the same sassy lady I remember her as.

After Emily gave me, my sister Katie and our mom the details, we started reminiscing about old crabby Grandma Barb. The first and only time Ian met her was about 10 years ago at my parents’ house in Mt. Prospect. We were in town and my mom was throwing a barbecue for the family and my dad had gone to pick up my grandma from her apartment. Ian and I were in the living room when she walked in, and the first words out of her mouth upon entering the house were “I’m going out back to smoke—bring me a beer, and none of that light shit!” She kind of yelled it out to nobody in particular, but she got her beer and her smoke and then the introductions and pleasantries could begin.

Growing up, I was always told I looked a lot like her when she was younger. Not much is known about her ancestors, though, because she was adopted. One night at dinner when I was in elementary school, a woman knocked on our door in Des Plaines and claimed to be a long-lost blood relative of hers. Since this was pre-Internet, and thus pre-Ancestry.com, we were all a bit skeptical and my parents turned the woman away after several minutes of her pleading her case.

Despite having been adopted by fairly well-off people during the Great Depression, she fell onto hard times as an adult and lived a rather tumultuous life. I can’t remember if she divorced my grandfather before he died when I was very young, but I know they had a contentious, abusive relationship and moved around a lot looking for work to support their four kids. There would have been five, but her oldest son, Jamie, died when he was a baby after choking on food. She lost her youngest son, my uncle Jeff, to AIDS in the early 90s.

I’ve always felt an odd connection to her throughout my life, and I regret not reaching out to her as an adult to talk more about her life. Most of what I’ve heard of it has been through my dad, recounted at family dinners throughout my childhood. But my dad’s not known for being a truthful person, and I’ve had to get my mom to verify a lot of things over the years. What I do know is that she loved cats more than people, smoked and drank a lot, and resembled the real-life version of the Shoebox Greetings lady.

One year in school I was doing some project that required me to pick a certain city in the United States and I selected Winter Haven, Fla. I don’t remember what the project was about, but when I showed it to my dad he was surprised I selected that city—my grandma moved the family there for a few months when my dad was young, and her parents had lived there for a few years at some point. (When my dad was starting high school they also lived in Cocoa Beach, Fla., for a year.) And despite never visiting her there, whenever I think of Florida I think of her. Although, that could also be because she was an old lady my whole life and when I think old ladies I think Florida. Who knows. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want visit Winter Haven to see if there’s anything to this connection I feel.

Anyway, she’s gone now and I can’t ask her about anything, and I regret that. I’m sad that I let my desire to avoid my dad make me reluctant to visit her before she died, but I made that choice and there’s nothing I can do about it now. She lived a pretty long life, and despite having a lot of heartache she seemed pretty comfortable in her later years. I think even if I had spent more time with her as an adult, she’d still always be the crazy old lady wearing her sunglasses indoors and smoking cigarettes in the dark in our wood-paneled basement, sassing anyone who got between her and her vices.

Best laid plans

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:

Stella's Petfinder 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.

It's been a fun morning. Bringing this girl back from Atlanta now.

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.)

I mean, that faceThe 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.

It happens most when the seasons change

This rainy, crisp weather reminds me of years ago when Ian’s car was being worked on by a friend of a friend, way out in the country. Over a period of a couple weeks I’d drive him out there, and as I drove back home on those winding Rutherford County roads I’d roll the windows down and listen to Matt Nathanson’s “Some Mad Hope.”

The older I get the more the years blend together. Their singularity disappears as they meld into fluid blocks of time, and while I’d have a hard time telling you something that happened in a specific year, if I hear certain songs I can recall where I was, what I was feeling and what the air smelled like at the precise moment I associate with them.

Funny how the nostalgia works on the brain like that.