If one of my neighbors were to have looked out their bedroom window last Saturday morning around 7:15, here’s what they would have seen: Me, dressed in sweatpants, a gray fleece and moccasin slippers, sprinting across my lawn and around the block, an empty leash in hand.
And thus, I learned my first lesson about owning a dog at school: Just because she was okay off the leash at home doesn’t mean she won’t take off on you once you let her loose in your Oxford backyard.
Lilly is a three-and-a-half-year-old shepherd mix whom I adopted over winter break. I’ve known her for just under a month now, though it took all of 20 minutes — when she took a break from looking frantically out the car window as we drove away from the kennel to nestle her head on my lap — for me to fall for her, absolutely and hopelessly.
She’s small for a shepherd, about 45 pounds, though she makes up for it in boundless energy, which she uses to tow me through the woods on our daily walks before settling down once we’re back inside. Her coat is jet-black and smooth, with flecks of brown on her chest and legs, and two golden-brown eyebrows that give her a constantly expressive face. She’s quiet and unlikely to voice her concerns out loud — like me, she prefers to express her discontent through low grumbles and passive-aggressive sighs.
In a word, she’s perfect.
Of course, I’m biased. Not only is Lilly my dog; she’s the first dog I’ve ever owned.
Now, some of you might not agree with my decision to take on the responsibility of owning a dog — let alone my first dog — while balancing a college course load and the duties of a newspaper editor. It’s a valid concern. It’s one I struggled with myself while poring over the adoption application.
But, what I ultimately decided is that I’ve never been in a better situation to take care of her. As a graduating senior, I’m taking a minimal number of credit hours, and as the semester progresses, my extra-curricular responsibilities will slowly wind down. I’ve got a steady income, which I can earn remotely (i.e. on my couch, with Lilly cuddled up next to me). I have three responsible house-mates who can keep an eye on her when I’m in class, not to mention endless offers from friends and co-workers interested in dog-sitting and walking pro bono. And, perhaps most importantly, after quitting drinking and taking steps toward addressing my mental health concerns over the past couple years, I’ve never been in a more levelheaded state of mind.
This isn’t to say, of course, that what I’m facing is easy. In addition to the wisdom gained from the aforementioned escape-from-the-backyard incident, here are a few other lessons I’ve picked up over the last couple of weeks:
1. Walking along Slant Walk means walking past a lot of squirrels. Lilly will see them before you do, and she will test your ability to hold on to that leash.
2. If you take her to the dog park, she will have the time of her life. She will also get muddier than a pig at the county fair.
3. When she gets that muddy, she will require a bath. She doesn’t like baths. And, despite her usually gentle demeanor, she will make sure you know she doesn’t like baths.
4. Always be cautious when opening the front door. This includes when the delivery guy arrives with your food.
5. She loves Greenies, those post-breakfast treats that help with dental hygiene — that is, until you buy them in bulk off Chewy.com. Then she’ll suddenly lose interest, and you’ll be out 40 bucks.
6. She’s going to want to sleep on the bed with you. If you let her, she’ll make it her bed and proceed to stretch out and gradually push you off.
7. When you bring a dog to school, everyone and their mother is going to want to come meet her. Be careful. This is your home, but it’s still very new for her. She’s going to be overwhelmed, so always be there to comfort her when it gets to be too much.
I could list 50 more, but even then it’d only be a start. I have a lot to learn over the next few months, and I hope to take you along for the ride that is dog parenthood as a college student.
I have no idea what the semester has in store, what new lessons I’ll learn and how our relationship will evolve. What I do know, however, is that when I take her out to go to the bathroom tomorrow morning, I’m going to keep her on the leash.