Leon. (pic by my friend Mark Cuddihee)

The Most Insane and Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Done

[I wrote this in 2010, things were very different. I found this draft and edited it a little bit. Removed some references to my company which no longer exists. (#FML) Some people told me that they read this post in its previous home and it inspired them to adopt their own dogs. So, I wanted to post this again — if it inspires even just one person to adopt then, well, there’s that. With love, Sarma.]

FROM 2010

I adopted a rescued dog. His name is LEON. To say I love him like crazy would be a substantial understatement.

I have been falling in love with other people’s dogs for years. I’d do things like go to someone’s garden party and end up hanging out in the corner of the yard with their dog all day, ignoring all the people. Or, I’d lock eyes with a dog waiting in line with its human companion at the bank, and… fall in love.

During this past year, I began occasionally looking after Bazooka: a very mellow, sweet, and beautiful rescue dog adopted by one of the servers at my restaurant, Abel. One night at the bar I’d had a few drinks and Abel was telling me about his upcoming trip overseas. I asked who would be taking care of his dog Baz. He wasn’t sure yet. I said, I’ll take him! I’m going to my Mom’s in New Hampshire, he can come to the country with me!

BAZOOKA, IN THE COUNTRY, AT MY MOM’S

You know how sometimes when you’re drinking, you agree to things that seem like a fantastic idea at the time, and then you wake up the next morning and think, shiiiiiiit, why did I agree to that? Well, this was the opposite. It was definitely a great idea. Before Abel left on his trip, he brought Baz over to my apartment. Baz was a mellow and lovely polite dog, as easy to take care of as a dog could be. He came with me to my Mom’s in New Hampshire, where he got to roll around in the grass a lot, and eat good food. After we returned to NYC and Abel returned from his trip and came to collect Baz, I cried for a long time. I was going to miss him badly.

As much as I loved taking care of Bazooka, and love dogs generally, there was no way in my mind that I could adopt a dog myself. With my work schedule and the way I lived, I never considered it as something remotely feasible.

Around this time, I’d been spending time with a man who I cared for deeply, even loved. Except it turned out he really wanted a wife, and more kids, and with my focus on my brand and business, that wasn’t what I wanted. I also may have had a boyfriend at the time so… it was complicated? Anyway. I cared for him such that I very badly wanted him to be happy, and he seemed very unhappy at the time. Knowing how my own heart filled up taking care of Bazooka, my advice to him was, “Get a rescue dog!” It seemed like a brilliant and perfect thing for him to do, and he had plenty of resources to do it easily. My thought was that his loving a dog and being loved by a dog would bring him some happiness. There would be love in his life, he’d be exuding more love-energy, and so it would make sense that the perfect woman for him could then be lured into that love vortex? Seemed like a win-win, for him, and a dog out there. After this idea occurred to me, anytime I came across cute photos of rescue dogs in my inbox or on social media, I’d assault his email inbox with them.

Of course, I was insisting he consider only rescue dogs. The Humane Society estimates that 8–10 million cats and dogs are taken in by shelters each year. Of those, about 4–5 million don’t get adopted and are “euthanized” (killed). People should stop breeding dogs and cats and just let everyone adopt from shelters only. Do we really need fancy purebred dogs? No.

One day I was scanning one of the regular health/wellness related newsletters in my email inbox, and at the bottom of this one there was always a photo and link to a pet needing to be adopted. This time when I scrolled down to the bottom I saw the cutest looking puppy OF ALL TIME. Of all time, ever. I was dying. A floppy eared young dog. Immediately I clicked on the link and forwarded it to my wife-seeking friend, with the header “THIS is the one!” except as usual he wasn’t interested. My dog-e-mails generally weren’t being received with much enthusiasm. But since there was something truly special about this dog, in the days that followed, I pleaded with him, YOU MUST GET THIS DOG!

THE photo. Quinn.

Meanwhile, I kept going back and staring at the photo. In the middle of the workday, repeatedly, I’d go back and look at his photo. Thus began my own obsession. Finally I just downloaded his photo right onto my laptop desktop for easy viewing day and night. His name was Quinn. I was in love with Quinn.

At some point during all this dreamy gazing at his photo, the idea of actually adopting him myself started to ever-so-slowly seep into my consciousness. First, it was more of an unrealistic fantasy: Quinn and me, frolicking carefree through flowery fields under sunny skies, with all the free time in the world. But I’d quickly snap myself back into the reality that my getting a dog would be insane. There were (are) tons of reasons for me NOT to get a dog. I mean, a LOT. I won’t go into them all here. But if I did, you’d tell me getting a dog at this point in my life would be a crazy thing to do. This is also what those close to me said when I started hesitantly tossing the idea out there. I couldn’t help showing people the photo of Quinn. Look at this dog! Most asked how could I take care of a dog when they’re always telling me I need to take better care of myself. And, specifically, why would I get a young rescue dog, a pit bull, about five months old, no doubt needy and full of cuckoo puppy energy. If I had to get a dog, they said, why not get an older mellow dog, like Baz? But I didn’t have to get a dog, and this wasn’t about any dog, it was about Quinn. The image of his big ears flopping over his sweet puppy face continued to haunt me with its cuteness, and something more I couldn’t explain.

The shelter where Quinn was being kept was in Brooklyn, so I google-mapped it to see where exactly it was. Why? I didn’t know. But then knowing exactly where he was (and how to get there) of course only made me feel more connected. His adoption description said he’d been found with “severe demodectic mange” so I googled that to find out what it was. Ugh! The photos online of dogs with mange are terrible. Poor things. Apparently, however, it’s a treatable condition and Quinn’s description explained that he’d healed quite well on medication. Then I emailed the shelter just to check if they still had him. I was hanging on to hope that maybe I’d be able to convince my friend to adopt him after all. The shelter emailed me back letting me know he was still there, and they attached an application for me. Really? For moi? Ruh-roh. I printed it.

Later that night, or the next, I woke up at around 4am, crying. It was about Quinn. For whatever reason my heart was hurting badly over this puppy. It felt as if he was there sitting in a cage at that shelter waiting for me, and I had to go get him. Why was I feeling this way? It was just a photo. There are tons of rescue dogs out there. Why this one? I was lying there thinking about this, when it occurred to me that his profile said he was about five months old, and counting back five months meant he was most likely born the previous March. March!? That was when I lost my 11-year old feline soul mate Dallas to cardiomyopathy. (Anyone whose follows my stuff online may remember Dallas because when he got sick I kept posting on social media for advice on his symptoms, what to do, etc. Then after he died, I wanted to write a whole kitty eulogy, to memorialize him, and also to say thank you for the vast amounts of helpful advice and support I got from everyone out there. People I’d never met mailed me hand written condolence cards. I love these people.) Anyway. Maybe the timing of this puppy’s birth was a coincidence, but it was like an extra special small sign.

And so, despite all the apparently obvious reasons I should not adopt a dog (or a child, or anything else), I resolved that night that I would just go and see him. This particular dog was all jammed up in my head and heart and there was nothing else I could do. I had to go.

I didn’t tell anyone I was planning to go see him until right before I went. I was sort of afraid no one wanted me to get a dog. I was also afraid that it was horrifically stupid, given my home was also the One Lucky Duck main office and that Tiffani, Karen, Adina, and Chelsey who all worked there five days a week would also have to deal with this giant puppy dog I’d be imposing on them. Not to mention, he’d probably eat all our inventory? And/or chew up all our computer cords? And how in the world would I manage walking him every day all the time? A puppy! A pit bull puppy! What if he barked all day and night!?

I got to the Sean Casey Animal Rescue shelter late in the afternoon on a Thursday. I’d called the day before, and again that morning, to make sure they still had him. (At this point, if they’d told me someone else adopted him I would have been devastated!). Finally, I got there and met him. In my head I’d imagined one of those Lassie-type moments from TV, but there wasn’t any slo-mo running towards each other. And he didn’t stare up into my eyes pleading to be taken home. He was just a very hyper distracted puppy. But he was damn cute. His fur was still a little mange-y. And did I mention he was hyper? We walked around the neighborhood. I talked to Sean (who founded the shelter). He was (is) very cool.

Sean told me about Quinn’s history, and the severe mange he’d had when they found him laying out on a street in Brooklyn. He showed me the photos they’d taken. I couldn’t believe it was the same dog. Poor baby! He was all scab, no fur. Sean said it was so bad that when they’d handle him, he’d bleed. He said that whoever had him before probably just dumped him after the mange got so bad. Quinn spent his first month at the shelter in a cage healing on medication, and then they took the super cute photo they posted on their site, that was reposted in the newsletter, that I fell in love with.

I told Sean I needed to think about it. But then I left him the application I’d printed at home and filled out, very thoroughly, just in case. I even already had a leash, collar, and dog treats in my bag… just in case.

They put Quinn back in his cage and I went in to say goodbye. All the other dogs were freaking out barking, but Quinn had flopped down in his cage quietly, and finally looked up right at me with his puppy eyes. I mentally told him not to worry, I’d come back to get him. So, of course, that was it. Really? There was no decision, I couldn’t not come back and get him.

I got home later and started running around freaking out… shoving all my sneakers into closets, combing the floors for paper clips, binder clips, hair clips, anything a puppy could swallow. And generally just running in circles thinking, OMG OMG OMG I’m getting a dog! Not knowing what I’m supposed to do. And wishing I had two weeks to get ready.

I left the next morning early enough so I’d get there right when they opened. On the way there, I was crying hard and couldn’t stop. Exploding heart. People on the subway probably thought I’d just gotten dumped by a boyfriend, lost a family member, a job, something. No, I was just about to adopt a puppy! Whatever it was that was coming up and out of me, I knew I needed to get it out of my system so I didn’t cry at the shelter — I didn’t want them to think I was a basket case and therefore possibly an unfit mother.

I arrived, Quinn was there for me, and a trainer there named Charlie spent a good two hours with me before I took Quinn/Leon home. Sean Casey Animal Rescue is a great and interesting place. They take in all kinds of animals. At one point I had to pee so I went through the back room full of cages of freaking out dogs to a tiny bathroom. While peeing, I casually glanced over into the sink next to me, and there was a giant turtle in it. Oh hello turtle.

After about three hours, the good people at Sean Casey called me a car and we loaded it up with the crate and everything else I bought from the pet store next door. Below is the photo I took of a very nervous puppy in the car. He looks freaked the fuck out. Our first afternoon was a little nerve wracking. I was sort of afraid, not knowing what his full background was, if he’d ever been abused beyond just neglected, and if he might get aggressive. But after a little suspicious getting to know each other, of course it turned out he’s about the sweetest thing ever. Hyper, yet incredibly sweet. He slept the first night in his crate, but after that on a dog bed next to me, and then of course now he sleeps with me.

I still had a name dilemma. I knew him as Quinn, but the trainer at the shelter said it was probably best if I renamed him. New life, new name. Shit. New name? It took me days to sort out. It was hard for me to think of him as anything other than Quinn. I’d finally come up with Leon as the top running alternate (explanation below) but kept thinking of him as Quinn. One night on a walk passing through club crowds in my neighborhood, I took a poll of all the drunk party people who stopped to pet him and asked his name. I’d say: Does he look like Quinn? Or Leon? They ALL said Leon. So, the drunk party people voted. I listened. I figured Quinn could be his middle name.

LEON QUINN TRUJILLO STERLING BRITT is my beautiful dog’s full name. LEON is the character in my favorite movie of all time. The Professional, with Natalie Portman when she was young, and Jean Reno, who played the character Leon. I love him, I love that movie. So I kept Quinn, his shelter name, for a middle name. Trujillo is for Rob Trujillo of Metallica. (sigh). Then Sterling and Britt were my boyfriend’s middle and last names, respectively. At the time, they felt much more distinguished sounding than my own last name. Anyway. Howard and Beth Stern’s dog was named Bianca Romijn-Stamos-O’Connell. Why should dogs have only one name?

At the shelter, they said it’s really hard to get pit bulls adopted because they have such a bad reputation. They kept thanking me for taking him. I was like, no… thank YOU! For paperwork purposes, my dog is officially labeled an “American Staffordshire Terrier” but everyone I pass on the street goes, “Oh! A red nosed pit!” I think he’s definitely a mix of some kind. Of what, who knows. I like to think he’s part pit bull, part rabbit (his ears!) and part piglet (he’s so pink! and snorts a lot!). And for the record, he hasn’t chewed up any inventory, or any computer cords. There are chew toys everywhere.

So, has my life turned upside down with Leon? No, and yes. I mean, it already feels upside down so maybe he’s turning it right side up. As I type this he’s gnawing away on a chew thing in my office, and Sydney (my cat, sister of Dallas) is on her cat-bed on top of my desk snoozing away. Cats of course require way less attention. They do their own thing. But dogs, especially puppies, are a whole different story. Getting a dog for me seemed insane, but then, not. For months I’d been trying to figure out if there was something wrong with me, wondering why I was feeling so shitty and exhausted all the time. Which is not something I should really be admitting out in the open, given my company and brand and what we represent, but then should I be lying? No! I’ve been very open here and elsewhere about feeling shitsville and looking for more answers. Thyroid issues? Low iron? Candida? Parasites? Chronic Fucking Fatigue Syndrome? The only conclusion I came to was just being overworked and over stressed. And specifically tired of people telling me I need to take better care of myself. So adding yet another “responsibility” to my life seemed crazy. But I couldn’t help it. Maybe I rescued a dog because I want to be rescued myself? Oh wait, we’re not in therapy. Never mind. I’ll sort that out myself. There are studies that show people are far more relaxed in the presence of a dog? No matter what, I know he’s good for me.

I’d always thought I wouldn’t be a good dog-mom because I’m so busy, but really, I’m here so much of the time. Working in a home office means Leon doesn’t have to spend all day stuck in a crate or a room or an apartment all by himself. Since other people work here, he’s not alone too often. I think he’s a pretty happy puppy. And, of course I feed him well. He’s not a fully vegan dog, but he’s mostly raw.

This city, every city, is full of shelter dogs. Even if you work all day in some outside office or anywhere, your home — even if it’s a tiny studio — is a much nicer place than a cage in a shelter.

Leon’s keeping me happy. He gets me outside every morning, even now in the cold weather, which feels good. I’m now acquainted with so many more of my neighbors than I was pre-Leon. When you have a dog, particularly a very cute one, people talk to you a lot more. We go to the dog park in Madison Square, and meet people. All of this gets me out of my own head where I can otherwise easily wallow in a stressed out state. Sometimes I’ll leave my place to take him for a walk feeling in a bad mood, but then when people look at him and smile as we pass by, it’s hard not to feel better quickly. Like… everything will be okay. The world just might be an okay and happy place after all. Dogs know. ❤

He knows.

Leon is here, on Instagram. and on Twitter.

It’s 2017, Leon and I live in Harlem now. We love it here and everyone here seems to love him. Things are very different. But adopting him remains the best thing I’ve done. I will miss him badly while I’m incarcerated this Summer.