Three years into our relationship, my (now ex-) boyfriend moved more than 500 miles across the country for a job. When we eventually broke up, Chicago became an overwhelmingly lonely place.
Three months later, on a Saturday, I stopped by a local animal shelter that was holding an adult dog adoption event. It wasn’t until my second lap around that I noticed her. Her name was “Mandy,” the adoption volunteer told me, and she had just arrived that morning after spending seven hours in a van. She had kennel cough, a double ear infection, and a staph infection. It was also possible, they said, that she had previously given birth to a litter of puppies and was abandoned. She sat timidly at the back of her cage, probably scared from the other dogs’ incessant barking and whining.
When I took her out to play, she rested her chin on my lap, and eventually mustered up enough courage to make eye contact. When she did, there was an instant understanding that we needed each other: It was tough being alone in a place full of so much noise, and nothing hurt more than feeling dispensable. I wasn’t planning on adopting that day, but I filled out the forms, my application was approved, and I took her home that night. One year later, “Mandy”—now called Ellie May—has taught me more about being human than I ever imagined. Here are five very important life lessons I’ve learned from my rescue pup.
1. When you want something, use your voice.
It might not get you want you want right away, but it will get you noticed (especially by the neighbors). Ellie May usually speaks up when she wants something—her dinner, a walk, a belly rub…and I tend to listen and take action. She has encouraged me to use my voice more, instead of being afraid that I’ll be labeled as “needy” by asking for what I want.
2. Always be happy when your person walks through the door.
Some days I come home feeling sad, stressed or downright unlovable, but I know I’ll be greeted by a wagging tail and a kiss (OK, hundreds) when I walk through the door. Ellie May has made me realize that unconditional love is even more important on days like these, when the rest of the world seems to be against you. I remind myself of this often—that when I have someone to come home to, I will make every effort to be happy to see him at the end of the work day—no matter the circumstances.
3. Just because someone has abandoned you before doesn’t mean everyone in your future will do the same.
Yes, there are some people in the world who don’t have your best intentions in mind and will leave you behind in the dust, but there are a lot of great ones that will take care of you, too. You can’t give up on looking, or you’ll never find your forever.
4. Be patient.
As a rescue, Ellie May has had her fair share of issues. She isn’t too fond of men, she hates loud noises, and when I first brought her home, she wouldn’t eat unless I sat on the floor next to her. Now, she loves my dad and brothers, stays put when I slam a cabinet, and downs her food in two minutes flat—even if I’m in the other room. While I’m a firm believer that people don’t change, sometimes their better selves are buried beneath bad experiences. Be patient and give people the chance to open up and show you their worth. They’ll probably surprise you.
5. It’s OK to love things too much.
There may have been times when that love wasn’t reciprocated (or completely rejected), but there will be times when it is, and you will be so glad you didn’t give up.