Why were you inspired to do this?
I had wanted my own dog since my childhood friend, Bandit, a beautiful cocker spaniel, had passed away when I was 9 or 10. As soon as I had my first place (not allowing pets did not seem to stop me) and a paycheck to support both me and a dog, off I went to a friend's parents' house. They had two dogs -- Shelby, a female chocolate Lab, and Max, a beast of a yellow Lab -- who'd just had a whole litter of black pups. They were all AKC registered, and because I was a friend of the family, I could have one for free, rather than the standard $1,000. How could I resist?
What were 3 things you did to make this happen?
I got a job and (tried) estimating what it would cost. Between vaccinations, food and treats, training, toys, gates, a huge crate (after she wreaked some serious havoc on my house), a dog walker while I was at work and an LL Bean bed with her name embroidered on it (which she promptly ripped into a zillion little pieces) -- I estimated I'd need to put aside about $150 a month to take care of a puppy.
I'd need to make time for training. And then more training. Labs are so smart and so much mischief, it's really important to set a schedule and rules, just as you would with a child. Except this baby never grows up.
I'd have to find a good vet who could give her the once-over and keep her healthy in case of emergency. Little did I know ahead of time how much a good vet would matter!
How did you feel once you had accomplished this?
When I first made my way through the litter, the seven puppies fighting and tumbling around were so adorable, I thought I'd never be able to pick. What I realized, as one big head-belly-paws baby as black as night and soft as velvet kept coming back to me: We don't choose our puppies. They choose us. I had planned to take a boy dog but this lovable cutie demanded attention. So she was it. She'll be 14 in February and though she has slowed down, she's still as sharp and as much mischief as ever. I never thought a dog could be such a constant. She's seen me through every change in my adult life and I'm grateful for every minute she's got here with me.
Additional notes and tips:
I have some of the funniest memories of Riley Scarlett O'Hara Braley Collins. She is a diva of a dog, commanding the best spot on the couch, huffing and sighing like a teenager when she doesn't get what she wants, making me spill my coffee every day (so she could drink it), barking an inch from my face at 7 every morning to be fed. I didn't know dogs could tell time.
I wish I'd kept a blog called: "All the things my dog ate that should have but didn't kill her." The list would be long and distinguished, including but not limited to a whole box of Godiva chocolates, socks and underwear in the thousands, a large bath towel, stuffed animals (whole), bread and the plastic bag it comes in, window sills, wicker love seat, rotten chicken, paint, the contents of an entire hors d'oevres table including the toothpicks, and my favorite: a man's razor (which she didn't swallow, just chewed into bits).
I remember deciding to get an SUV with a gate for her when we were flying down the highway doing about 75 and she leaped into the front seat of my tiny Toyota Corolla, banging my arm and sending the car into neutral. I thought I left my transmission behind us.
But beyond the mischief and aggravation, she is full of so much joy. She loves the ocean and swims for miles -- chasing the boats so far out in the harbor, I had to throw rocks for her to chase closer and closer to bring her back to shore. She was there when I brought my daughter home from the hospital after she was born. The first time I laid her in her crib, Riley did three circles under it, flopped down, her black nose sticking out from under the dust ruffle and kept watch, like: No one's getting my baby. She has been patient and rough-housed and loved.
We talk now about how old she's getting and I know, the next dog will be my daughter's -- she will be the one chosen. There's nothing like the unconditional love and security of having a dog.