The Sum of My Fears.
Two years ago, I walked up and down the cement-floored aisles that separated each row of kennels. I didn’t want a dog, but I had bought a house, where I lived alone, and I hadn’t slept in months.
Every car door slam, each set of headlights illuminating my porch caused my adrenaline to spike. I found myself peering out through the curtains at 2 a.m. more nights than not. The coffee I drank to get through those long mornings fueled my anxiety, my dread of sundown.
“Why don’t you get a dog?” friends asked. I loved to travel; I didn’t want hair all over my house — I had rational reasons. But after half a year with my house alarm key fob always in arm’s reach, those reasons started to dim.
My mom and step-sisters came for a visit, and on the first night of their stay, a man left a note on my door, his email address surrounded by unnerving gibberish.
As she patiently listened to me cry in frustration and fear, my mom, who had been steadfastly against pets through all my childhood years of begging for one, gently patted my arm and suggested that getting a dog might not be a bad idea.
With family support in tow, I decided to go to the local shelter — just to look.
There was a Benji dog who leapt four feet in the air, aiming for proffered treats. A small gray pit bull named Daisy sat quietly, looking up with sad eyes. A tiny black lab puppy gnawed on my finger and elicited coos from people gathered near his kennel.
None of them seemed right for me. As we reached the end of the last row, we all shrugged. I glanced back before walking away.
“Wait,” I said, “did we see Bella?” There was a little brown face, sporting a huge grin, looking at us. I was sure that kennel had been empty a moment before. She was medium-sized and tan, with a white patch on her chest and one speckled front paw. Her ears stood at attention, but the tips flopped forward. Her brow was wrinkled in curiosity.
“She’s two,” one step-sister said, “that’s a great age. She looks smart.”
After a walk and some play time in the yard, my step-sisters declared her perfect. I, however, had hung back, feeling unsure of myself. I didn’t know anything about dogs, but this one seemed much happier connecting with the others than with me. I realized that all my excuses about why I didn’t want a dog were covering up my fear that a dog wouldn’t want me.
Feeling defeated, I said I just wasn’t ready, so we headed out to wander around the wine store. My exhausted, sad heart couldn’t rest; I prayed silently for a sign. I prayed that if this were my dog, someone would find a bottle of wine with her name on it.
Just then, my mom called out, “oh, look! This wine — Isabella!” It seemed foolish not to trust this answer to my desperate plea for help. I told them about the sign, and we realized we had just enough time to make it back before the shelter closed. We drove back and giddily ran inside, and I told the woman at the desk I had come back for Bella.
Her face fell. “She’s been adopted,” she said. “They just left five minutes ago.”
I started crying before she finished her sentence, filled with frustration and grief over losing a dog I didn’t even know. My mom and step-sisters were crying, too.
“She was your angel dog,” my mom said. “Now you know it’s ok to want one.”
The next day, my family headed back to the airport, and I went back to the shelter. “I heard you were getting some new dogs in today,” I explained to the new woman at the front. “I tried to adopt Bella yesterday, but she was already gone, five minutes before I got here.”
Excitement overcame her as she exclaimed, “you’re the girl who wanted Bella! They brought her back! She’s here!” The woman had turned out to be allergic, she said, and she lowered her voice to say Bella might just need a bath.
I took Bella for a walk, and I felt painfully awkward holding the leash. Once we rounded the corner, I bent down and whispered to her, “are we going to be ok?” She turned and licked the tip of my nose. I remembered my mom’s words and decided it was ok to want this dog, even though I was afraid and inexperienced.
So I filled out the paperwork, loaded her into my car, and thus began a great adventure. Now my couch is often covered in a veneer of dog hair and I never get to sleep past 7 a.m., but I sleep soundly until then. Bella is sure to notify me when strange men walk by, particularly the mailman, who seems the strangest of them all. She wants to be near me, especially when I eat an orange. She sits politely, making desperate eye contact until I give her a bite. Droplets of the juice inevitably end up on her whiskers (and often on my throw pillows), and I laugh about the pure happiness I get from seeing this sweet soul with a juice mustache.
She has taught me that something as simple as going outside is an exciting event, and that I am more than the sum of my fears. I am a giver of treats, a warm backrest in the night, and a source of real, unwavering love. And that is a pretty good place to start.