Why Get a Dog?
After spending most of my life in California, in May 2012 I retired to St. Marys, Georgia. A week later I left for Europe, where I spent four months traveling by myself, returning to St. Marys in September and renting a small house downtown. I had never iived in the south, nor outside a large metropolitan area. St. Marys has a population of about 16,000, is on the Atlantic coast just north of the Florida border and is surrounded by small, rural communities on the north and west. I knew one person there. It was not long before I felt terribly lonely. I often went three or four days without leaving the house.
Loneliness grew into what I can only imagine was borderline depression. I considered moving back to California, but I didn’t want to give up after only a few months. I am shy and don’t make friends easily. I considered various activities, including taking classes, volunteering or joining local clubs, but nothing appealed to me.
I noticed a lot of people walking along the St. Marys riverfront walking their dogs, and it occurred to me that having a dog for a companion might assuage my loneliness. I had owned a dog many years before, but most of my life I had cats. I realized that dogs are much more dependent on human company, but company was what I needed. The independent cat was not even a partial solution to my loneliness. The negative was that I loved to travel, and although I could board the dog while I traveled, I didn’t feel right about leaving a dog with a boarder a long time. Three or four month trips would be out of the question. I also knew that dogs required more attention and care, but it seemed like I needed that responsibility. I let these thoughts percolate for a while.
By February 2013 I decided to get a dog. I would get one from the County Humane Society so that I could rescue a dog that might be euthanized. She would be a she because I didn’t want to deal with a dog that marks his territory. I also don’t care for the little yappers. I wanted what I regarded as a “substantial” dog. I wanted one that was young, but not a puppy I would have to housebreak. Finally, I wanted a shorthaired dog who would not shed a lot––more on that later.
I pulled up the website of the County Humane Society and selected five dogs whose pictures and descriptions met my criteria. Arriving at the facility with the anticipation of a new father, I told the lady the names of the five dogs I had selected. She took each dog out of its cage to a little play area out back. Seeing tens of dogs caged, many waiting for imminent death, was heartbreaking, but I tried to keep my mind on the task at hand. The first four dogs were all friendly and loveable. My emotions were flooded with the desire to take them all, but good sense prevailed. The fifth dog was Penny, and there was no doubt in my mind that she was the one, a lab mix of copper color, smaller than most labs, but clearly meeting my requirement of a “substantial” dog, Penny was very excited to see me, enthusiastically giving and receiving affection, but gentle in her enthusiasm. I read her history and the evaluation of her behavior and physical condition by a veterinarian. She was a year old and had been in shelters since she was a four-month-old puppy, but she had no apparent physical or behavior problems. I told the lady I wanted Penny. She told me to come back the next day with a collar and leash and $100 to cover her shots and evaluation costs, and she would be mine.
First thing the next morning I went to the local pet supply store and purchased food and water dishes, toys and a leash and collar. I drove to the Humane Society with my heart racing. When I went in, Penny was waiting in the reception area. She raced to me with tail wagging. After taking care of the paperwork, I put on her collar and leash and said goodbye to the Humane Society people. I led Penny toward my car. She wagged her tail so vigorously I thought she would sprain it. I opened the car door, and without any hesitation, she jumped right in. Yay! I got me a road dog, I thought. She sat in the seat all the way home. Her eyes danced, and I could almost see a smile on her face. Her love of riding in the car continues to this day.
That summer we went on a three-month road trip across the country. She loved it. She had been sleeping on the passenger seat when we exited the Interstate, 10 miles from our house. When we reached the end of the exit ramp, she stood up in the seat and began barking. Somehow, she knew she was almost home.
Having a good road dog was just icing on the cake. What Penny brought me was companionship, relief from loneliness and a loyal friend. She had lived with me about a month when we were walking along the riverfront about a mile from home. We reached the riverfront park, and a woman called out to me, “Good morning.” She was sitting with a man and a couple of women in a gazebo. I walked over with Penny, and we all introduced ourselves. The woman, Diane, had a small dog named Bobby. The man was the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in town. Diane explained that a few folks got together with Pastor Rick most mornings at the gazebo around 7:30 for chatting and praying and enjoying the beauty of the riverfront park. That was three years ago. Diane and Rick have become close friends and have introduced me to many people in town. They have enriched my life enormously. Penny and Bobby are pals too. We still meet at the riverfront gazebo. I can’t say that I never feel lonely anymore, but the all encompassing, debilitating loneliness is only a memory.
Penny has given me more than relief from loneliness. The loyalty of dogs is legendary, and Penny is no exception. I know, if called upon, she would give her life to protect me. Penny has helped teach me that I need to be needed. When my children reached their 30’s they no longer needed me. That left a void in my life. Penny has filled that void. She relies on me to take care of her and to be her companion. Dogs are needy. Some may feel that as a burden. They should get a cat. I don’t feel Penny’s needs as a burden, but I urge anyone considering getting a dog to be aware of those needs and not get one unless they are willing to meet them. Taking proper care of a dog takes time, effort, compassion and money. Penny recently tore a ligament in her left hind leg. To free her from pain and inability to walk long distances, I agreed to surgery, an expensive choice and one that requires even more care than usual.
Penny is not perfect. Although she is short-haired, she sheds constantly. She doesn’t fetch; she often pulls on the leash; and she sometimes barks at me for reasons that I cannot discern. But what loving companion, animal or human, is perfect? Adopting Penny was one of the best decisions of my life.