When I decided to get a dog, I had great ambitions of adopting a lazy little pound puppy from a local shelter. In my head, this dog would be my copilot on the couch while I vegged out and watched hours of Netflix every night. They would curl up tight in my bed while I slept in on the weekends. Big stuff.
After searching adoption sites online, I found a dog, put in my application, and was then told by the shelter that because I lived alone and was single, I “wouldn’t be enough for a dog.” This broke my heart. Then it happened two more times with two different dogs and two different shelters.
So I found a breeder and was texted this photo of a tiny little puppy. I called them back and said “she’s mine.” I drove eight hours and picked up the little friend I’d call Ava.
In truth, I wanted a dog because I was lonely. I lived in a house with three bedrooms where I only occupied one half of one mattress. I had a fenced-in yard that sat empty aside from a single lounge chair. I had hung a lone stocking on my fireplace at Christmas and when I posted a photo of it to Instagram, my mother and aunt both called me to tell me “they never saw anything so sad” and ask “are you doing alright?”.
So I brought Ava into my house to be the lazy companion I thought I needed.
Within minutes it became clear that Ava was not the sleepy little couch potato I had envisioned. She was four pounds of pure atomic energy, a brick wall of stubborness, with zero tolerance for taking it easy.
Ava would wake up sharp at 5 a.m. every morning, crying out for me to get up. If the cries wouldn’t do it, then she’d turn to piercing sharp barks. And because she’s a dog, there was no snooze button. “Five more minutes” didn’t translate.
So I would drag myself from bed and do my best to entertain this little furball until she decided she was tired several hours later. She had toys and games and stuffed animals to mawl, but she preferred biting my hands and ankles with her needle-sharp puppy teeth.
My new dog was an adorable little monster, but she was my little monster. I had posted too many photos to Instagram to go back now. And because I loved her, I had to change some things.
If Ava was going to wake me up at 5 a.m., I couldn’t stay up late watching Netflix anymore. I couldn’t keep watching Futurama over and over until my eyes turned red and the clock read 3 a.m. on a Tuesday.
So I went to bed at 9 p.m. I turned off the lights, turned off the iPad, reminded myself that tomorrow would be a new battle with the ferocious, fury beast at the foot of my bed, and that I needed my energy. Amazingly, I slept better. I felt better in the morning than I ever had when I woke up after noon.
A strange thing happens when you start watching the sunrise every morning. Your day has a beginning. Before work takes all your energy, you have a moment to consider the world around you. Perhaps it has more to offer.
I had to take Ava on walks, which meant I had to leave my house and explore my neighborhood. I had lived on my block for three years and suddenly I was walking by houses I had only ever driven by. After much delay, I suddenly had to meet my neighbors — usually when Ava was barking at them and trying to attack their dog.
I had to say “hello” to strangers. I had to make small talk that eventually became more sustained conversations day after day. I had to learn their names, I had to learn about their lives, I had to share some of my own.
As Ava grew, some of the puppy energy faded, but she didn’t grow into a calm dog. She still barks like mad at anyone who dares to walk by the house. She once discovered a burrow of bunnies in the backyard and murdered them all. It’s an especially grim day when you have to wrestle a decapitated bunny from your dog’s mouth and later collect the head from the lawn.
Which is to say that Ava kept me busy. I didn’t have the time to sit in my head, get stuck in my head, get angry in my head, get alone in my head. Any temptation to sit in my thoughts was quickly interrupted by the imploring eyes of my little schnauzer who needed attention and adventure.
My day-to-day life was no longer mine alone to wallow about in. My dog — the little creature I hoped would just lay beside me on the couch and never make a peep — wasn’t about to let me give away the day. I had to make something of it, even if it was to just go on a nice walk and get some fresh air.
With her boundless energy and relentlessly dirty snout, with her brown eyes that stare into my soul and seem to always ask, “Why aren’t we having more fun right now?”, Ava kept me accountable. I didn’t just have myself to take care of, I had this little creature too. And in putting in the work to give her what she needed, I learned to give myself more of what I needed.
I look back on these three-and-a-half years with Ava in my life and it’s not a surprise that it’s been a time of intense personal growth. I’ve started therapy, I’ve invested in exercise and eating right, I’ve grown my community of friends and relationships, I’ve started to truly live life for the first time. Had I got that little couch-potato dog I had initially envisioned, I might not have done any of it.
So Ava, thank you for being my little monster, my ferocious beast, the barking, yapping, nipping little dog I needed. Thank you for getting me out of bed, out into the sunlight, and out into a life that’s so much better. You’re my little partner in crime, and I love you forever.