how we met stanley: a dog story

You know how some people ask couples to share the story of how they met?

I do that too, only to pet owners.

I love hearing how someone made the decision to bring a fluffy friend home, and what happened along the way. Considering today is the third anniversary of how Stanley, our pug, entered my world, I thought I'd share my own story.

First, I've never been a dog person. I thought dogs were kind of . . . annoying. The slobber, the jumping up and down on you, the having to play fetch, the barking, ugh. My family owned dogs over the years (s/o to Dawson the lab/weimaraner mix, Shelby the black weiner dog, Shadow the big white mutt and Jack and Maggie, the bro-and-sis mini schnauzer combo), but I just wasn't that into them. 

Instead, I was a true, blue cat lady. No shame in my game. Kittens stole my heart every time, plus I liked that cats were cuddly and curious and had personality for days. I had no desire to own a dog, and planned to wholeheartedly stick with cats my entire life. I loved on the cats we had while I was growing up, and then after college, when I moved to Chicago, I got a cat of my own, and then added another a few years after that. 

So at 25, I was single with two cats, living in a tiny apartment off State and Division in the city. Like, I only had room for a daybed, a bookshelf and a tall two-person cocktail table. I had a "walk-in closet" which literally meant I had to walk into it to get to the bathroom. I kept the cat litter box in the shower to hide it from guests, which was weird, but an efficient use of space. When I look back, I feel a wave of nostalgia for that little place of my own, the first place I lived in by myself entirely. Where I spent hours writing and watching bad television on my laptop and drinking cheap wine and recovering from a broken heart and finishing grad school while working full-time and eating the most random meals I could afford and listening to the thump-thump-thump music of the bar underneath me and wondering what in the hell I was going to do with my life.

I moved shortly thereafter. I left Chicago the way you leave a lover—with eyes glued backwards to the rear view mirror and one foot pressed down hard on the pedal to move forward. I gave my cats away. And to keep a very long story short, I eventually met and married my now-husband, who loooooved dogs.

We agreed to get a dog eventually, which meant we spent the first couple years of our relationship pet-less. Then one weekend, we babysat the dog of some friends down the apartment complex hallway. This dog happened to be a pug mix, and we were obsessed. After we returned our pug visitor, I felt the strange urge to own a dog. Not just any dog, a pug. So I started Googling, "just to look"—of course, you know where this is going.

I found a breeder 90 minutes away, who had pug puppies available. I emailed her, just to ask some questions, and she responded promptly: she had a boy and girl, ready that weekend. I told her we would come see them, but no promises. We were just going to look. (Right. Lol.)

That Saturday, I told my then-boyfriend that I had a surprise for him. We were going on a road trip! "To where?" He asked. "You'll see," I said smugly, knowing that if I told him, he would shut this option down quickly, but I knew he also deep down wanted a dog badly. We drove for almost two hours in the snow, in the middle of nowhere Iowa, where I entertained his guesses that we were checking out a semi-local distillery or brewery as an early birthday celebration for him.

Eventually, we arrived at a ramshackle trailer where a man with a long gray ponytail sat on the outside stoop smoking a cigarette. I looked at my boyfriend, who looked pissed. "Let me guess," he said dryly. "A dog." I grinned.

We walked into a small room with wood paneling; it was clean, but smelled of dogs and urine. I could hear muffled barks all the way back. A woman wearing glasses greeted us, and motioned for us to follow her to the next room, where two tiny pug puppies (OMGGGG, THEY WERE SO CUTE) wrestled and mewed in a black wire cage. I picked up the little girl, assuming that's what we'd get (no idea why), and handed her to Jared.

Then I looked at the little boy dog, and my heart dropped. His bitty black face and droopy eyes peered out toward me, and I just knew that we would be taking him home. I turned to see Jared's reaction, and I could tell he was also sold. He picked up the little boy pup, who started licking his hands feverishly, and we both started laughing the way you laugh when something is unbelievably wonderful and good.

We named him Stanley: after Jared's favorite Cardinals icon Stan Musial and my desire to give him an old man name due to his wrinkly skin. He became a centerpiece of our life together, one that brought us closer together as a couple and taught us about unconditional love. I cannot imagine our days without this snore-y, pudgy, gremlin who likes to race around at top speed outside but only for like, 2 minutes before taking his fifth nap of the day.

It also brings me such joy to watch Stan interact with our son, Ezra. At age one, E is pretty into grabbing everything and putting it in his mouth, including dog tails and paws—and Stan is pretty tolerant. E giggles wildly when Stan races around our home, and he likes to lay his head on the dog on the couch, which is the sweetest thing. And when I go to rock E to sleep, Stan lays directly in between my feet and the crib, looking toward the door, as if to protect us.

Stan, we love you so much. In honor of your third year with our family, here's a lovely Mary Oliver poem about her own dog:

Percy wakes me and I am not ready.
He has slept all night under the covers.
Now he’s eager for action: a walk, then breakfast.
So I hasten up. He is sitting on the kitchen counter where he is not supposed to be.
How wonderful you are, I say. How clever, if you needed me, to wake me.
He thought he would hear a lecture and deeply his eyes begin to shine.
He tumbles onto the couch for more compliments.
He squirms and squeals; he has done something that he needed and now he hears that it is okay.
I scratch his ears, I turn him over and touch him everywhere. He is wild with the okayness of it. Then we walk, then he has breakfast, and he is happy.
This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.
— Mary Oliver, Swan