Adopting a dog

pet collage

“Pearl” by Suzanne Hollifield: Pet collage inspired by teacher Kittania Miller for Olga Furman’s Paint Your Heart and Soul class

The last four dogs I’ve had were adults. I haven’t had a puppy since I was only a little older than a puppy myself. When my cocker spaniel/poodle mix, Benji, died, I knew I wanted another dog, and I started looking almost immediately even though I was aware that I needed time to grieve before bringing a new dog home. Still, looking seemed to console me. I’d felt so much guilt when cancer took Toto, my dog before Benji, that I waited years before getting another dog. I didn’t want to wait that long again.

I immediately decided I wanted a rescue dog. I didn’t have the time to train a puppy, and puppies have so much energy! I knew I wanted another adult dog, preferably one who had already been housebroken. I went online and to the newspapers to find out what dogs were available at the Animal Shelter, the Humane Society and at the rescue organizations.

photo of dog

Reference photo of Pearl for collage

If you go online to www.petfinder.com, you can type in your zip code and then go from there. It will ask you what type of pet you want (cat, dog, snake, rat, etc.) Then, you can pick size, age, breed, and other relevant details. The search engine will show you all the animals within your parameters in an increasingly larger radius from your home. There are other engines, but this is the one most shelters use, and it is the most complete, in my opinion.

I also visited the Humane Society and went to Pet Smart on Saturdays when they have rescue organizations set up inside their store. Meeting and holding the dogs helped me realize I wasn’t yet ready. I still needed to grieve for Benji. When I finally met Gingersnap and held her, I knew she was the one. I had called the rescue group, SCRATCH, because I saw a Yorkie online. Gingersnap hadn’t been put online yet, but the rescuer offered to meet me and bring Gingersnap along. It was a perfect match. She was just right for me.

I kept Gingersnap for seven years. She was a sweetheart, and when she died of kidney failure, I again went to www.petfinder.com and found my next furbaby, Pearl. She was at the Catawba County Humane Society.

The Humane Society of America has question to ask yourself if you are thinking of adopting (www.hsus.org). Quoted from their site, they are:

  • Why do you want a pet? It’s amazing how many people fail to ask themselves this simple question before they get a pet. Adopting a pet just because it’s “the thing to do” or because the kids have been pining for a puppy usually ends up being a big mistake. Don’t forget that pets may be with you 10, 15, even 20 years.
  • Do you have time for a pet? Dogs, cats, and other animal companions cannot be ignored just because you’re tired or busy. They require food, water, exercise, care, and companionship every day of every year. Many animals in the shelter are there because their owners didn’t realize how much time it took to care for them.
  • Can you afford a pet? The costs of pet ownership can be quite high. Licenses, training classes, spaying and neutering, veterinary care, grooming, toys, food, kitty litter, and other expenses add up quickly.
  • Are you prepared to deal with special problems that a pet can cause? Flea infestations, scratched-up furniture, accidents from animals who aren’t yet housetrained, and unexpected medical emergencies are unfortunate but common aspects of pet ownership.
  • Can you have a pet where you live? Many rental communities don’t allow pets, and most of the rest have restrictions. Make sure you know what they are before you bring a companion animal home.
  • Is it a good time for you to adopt a pet? If you have kids under six years old, for instance, you might consider waiting a few years before you adopt a companion. Pet ownership requires children who are mature enough to be responsible. If you’re a student, in the military, or travel frequently as part of your work, waiting until you settle down is wise.
  • Are your living arrangements suitable for the animal you have in mind? Animal size is not the only variable to think about here. For example, some small dogs such as terriers are very active—they require a great deal of exercise to be calm, and they often bark at any noise. On the other hand, some big dogs are laid back and quite content to lie on a couch all day. Before adopting a pet, do some research. That way, you’ll ensure you choose an animal who will fit into your lifestyle and your living arrangements.
  • Do you know who will care for your pet while you’re away on vacation? You’ll need either reliable friends and neighbors or money to pay for a boarding kennel or pet-sitting service.
  • Will you be a responsible pet owner? Having your pet spayed or neutered, obeying community leash and licensing laws, and keeping identification tags on your pets are all part of being a responsible owner. Of course, giving your pet love, companionship, exercise, a healthy diet, and regular veterinary care are other essentials.
  • Finally, are you prepared to keep and care for the pet for his or her entire lifetime? When you adopt a pet, you are making a commitment to care for the animal for his or her lifetime.

The Humane Society acknowledges that this is a long list of questions, but it will help you decide if adopting (or buying a pet, for that matter) is right for you. Furthermore, many of the animals at shelters have already had a hard time of it. They need someone to be their person who will love them and care for them everyday for the rest of their lives, not someone for whom owning a pet was just a whim. In fact, it is because someone got tired of the responsibility that many animals are in the shelter.

For example, my Pearl is a Boston terrier/poodle mix of a Bossipoo. I know because I had her DNA done. She had so many allergies, I needed to know if they were breed specific. I feel sure that the costs of her medical care are one reason she was surrendered. Unlike, Gingersnap, she had not been abused. Indeed, she has a really sweet personality, but she has to go to the vet at least once a month for allergy treatments, or she licks her fur off and scratches her ears until they bleed.

So don’t make the mistake of adopting just because you think a pet is cute. Think about why you are adopting before you adopt. If you are ready to commit your time, money, responsibility and love to a new pet, you are going to be rewarded with joy and unconditional love. Animals are often spiritual teachers. They take you as you are and love you for what you are. They don’t care about your money, your looks, or your reputation. That is their blessing to you.

I’d rather be dreaming

This story was originally written in 1993, when I was a participant in the Appalachian Writing Project, a part of the National Writing Project, at Appalachian State University. It features my sister, Dawn, who died nine years ago this month and who was my best friend. I am happy that the story will be out here in cyberspace and not lost to the world when I die, too. It is a tribute to her and to my also deceased father.

original painting by hollifield

Original painting by Suzanne Hollifield

I despise getting up in the morning. After I get up, I’m fine. It’s the opening of the eyes, the moving away from warm comforters into chilly space, and especially the interruption of interesting dreams that I can’t stand.

My sister Dawn and I share this aversion to getting up. We’ve discussed it at length as we’ve grown older, especially since it seems to annoy our families, friends, and employers so much. We’ve decided that it was our father who made us so passionately hate waking up.

Dawn and I always slept together. I think it made us friends. Having the common enemy of our Daddy and his wake-up antics made us grow even closer. Daddy was not content to simply touch us or shake us or in some way to gently arouse us from our dreams.  No-o-o. He had already been up an hour or so, spending quiet time drinking coffee and talking to my mother. By the time Dawn and I needed to wake up, the caffeine and nicotine had kicked in, and one of his diabolical plans to scare the slumber from our sleepy heads had blossomed.

Sometimes he’d just blow in our ears or kiss our noses. Other times his idea of a good wake-up strategy was to turn on the lights and jerk the covers off us; he especially liked to do this on cold winter mornings. One of his best tricks was to get a broom straw or a feather and tickle our noses or our feet. Once, he blasted us out of bed by turning the stereo and “Purple Haze” on full volume.

Occasionally, he’d pick up one side of the mattress and dump us into the floor. It drove Dawn wild when he did that. Then there were the times he took a medicine dropper and dropped water alternately on each of our faces. Oh, yes, I can’t leave out the time he just threw two glasses of water, one each, directly into our faces. (Mama put a stop to that one.)

Dawn and I fought getting up. Every morning we hated that man and his “Wake up, Honey” or “Get up, Sweetheart”. We would hang on to each other, kick, whine, and growl. We kept our eyes shut tight. Sometimes he would leave, and we could go back to sleep a few minutes. Our peace was always short-lived. He was a terror in the morning.

I’m forty-one years old now. I haven’t lived in my father’s house in twenty years, but every morning, I fight waking up. I have a clock, a clock-radio (full-blast), and a wake-up call for which I pay fifteen dollars a month. I can sleep through all of them. When Hurricane Hugo woke me, I walked to the door, looked out, drank a glass of tea, and went back to sleep. After all, what could I do about the forces of nature?

I’d love to be one of those people who wakes up early, watches the sunrise, washes a load of clothes, is never late for work— you know, all those things early risers celebrate. But I know I’ll always have those blankets pulled tightly around me, struggling desperately to shut out the world in favor of my dreams.

Just Begin

I wanted to begin this blog with a really attention-grabbing story about how I have grown as a student artist over the last year. Then I realized if I wait for the perfect, entertaining beginning, the blog will never get started. The best way to tell my story is just to start telling it.

Before about a year ago, I had never painted anything beyond some cutouts for bulletin boards. (I taught public school for thirty years, and then went to massage school and became a massage therapist.) I started painting on my own last summer to make some things to decorate my massage room after changing locations, and I found a new passion.

I’ve had other passions in my life, and over time, I’ve either lost interest or reached a level of proficiency that seemed to mean I’d never get better without committing more time than I wanted or that I was as good as I needed to be to accomplish what I wanted to do.

Painting is different. I think this is in part because of the online classes I’m taking. I’ve never taken a face-to-face class; I don’t know if that would be markedly different. The first online class I took was Kelly Rae Roberts’ Spirit Wings. I discovered Kelly’s work in a shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee while on vacation, and after doing an Internet search, found this six-month class in painting angels for a special price. I signed up immediately.

One of the things that impresses me about Kelly Rae Roberts’ work is her personal story and philosophy. She calls herself a Possibilitarian, and much of what she believes and includes on her art reflects ideas that can also be found in the research of Brené Brown. It came as no surprise to me to learn that they were friends. Those ideas include believing that vulnerability is the only way to be truly strong, that we have permission to ask for what we need (and to say not to what we don’t), that it’s important to have people around us who can share our successes and our failures without making us feel that we are loved for what we do rather that for what we are. You get the idea. Kelly’s class was for me.

WhispersMy first angel was the Angel of Whispers. We started with journaling what it is our hearts most want and really listening for the answers. Then, after the preparation, we began to work on the mixed media canvas and to paint about the second week. There was a Facebook closed group where we could share with each other, and we could ask Kelly questions in the online classroom.

I was amazed at the support the other students gave each other. Really. I could not believe how freely everyone shared and how everyone encouraged each other and nobody shared hurtful criticisms. It blew me away! I’ve been in a classroom all my life, and I’ve never been in classrooms like these online groups. People help each other. Don’t tell me that there’s something bad about not being face to face in a live classroom. If you think that, you’ve just not experienced what I have. I got as personal interaction with the teacher as I have in many college courses, and I certainly interacted with my classmates more and felt more validated.

So I’m going to stop for now and post my Angel of Whispers. I look at her now and want to change her eyes and work on the proportion of her face, but then I go back to Kelly’s classroom and see the first paintings she did. I think I’ll keep this angel. In a way, she is a muse for me.

By the way, the header for the blog is the second Angel of Whispers I did. Like the first, I see mistakes in her, but she reminds me everyday to be grateful for all the many blessings I have.

I’ve since taken a number of other online classes. I’ll be writing about those as time goes on. I really encourage you to risk it and take one. You won’t be sorry, even if you think you can’t draw a stick woman.