When I was a kid, having a dog was almost no work.
After what felt like years of pleading (but was probably only weeks), my parents and oldest brother returned home from a breeder after my 6th birthday with Johann, our German shepherd, who grew to 110 pounds and 5 feet tall on his hind legs.
Johann kept me company when I stayed up late doing homework and often ate things he wasn't supposed to, like gravel. Once, he had a cyst surgically removed from his back, which led to a large bald spot with several Frankenstein-looking staples. He was also one of the only dogs our trainer had worked with who enjoyed the taste of the sour-apple spray intended to prevent him from chewing the window sills.
In Johann's surprisingly long, almost 13 years of life, my parents often complained about the bills they incurred on his behalf, but little else. It was this silence, in part, that inspired me to rescue a dog, like so many other people during the pandemic.
"Dogs are a lot of work," my mom told me after I mentioned that I'd applied to adopt Layla, a 4-year-old mutt with a pit bull head and dachshund body. "I know, but we'll be fine," I thought. "She did it, my brother does it, literally so many people do it!"
As it turns out, merely knowing lots of people with dogs doesn't actually prepare you for the responsibility of a living, breathing, emoting creature depending on you for most things. And because Layla was found covered in fleas, with a poorly healed broken leg and after recently giving birth, the stakes feel even higher.
My boyfriend and I took Layla home about three weeks ago, as long as her foster mom had had her. In that time, I've touched poop daily, taken her to multiple vets and seen my anxiety rise exponentially.
Playing with Layla, going for walks and snuggling were supposed to quell my pandemic-induced nervous energy. Instead, I have pretty much nothing to distract me when she scratches the mass on her face, which may or may not be cancerous. My brain twists every grunt to mean she can't breathe, even though I know what she sounds like when she's choking because that happened last week on a rawhide. Per Dr. Google, her snoring almost certainly indicates a thyroid condition.
With all Layla has been through — and I'll never know the extent of it — I believe she deserves the most comfortable life, but I've honestly felt unsure if I'm the one to give it to her.
At this point, though, she is my dog.
I first wrote "my dog" after I noticed worms on the couch, leaking from her anus, two days after we got her. I asked my boss for the afternoon off to take Layla to the emergency vet. Stool sample in hand, which I remembered from the Johann days, I carried a terrified pup into an Uber and across Brooklyn.
We waited on the street in the sun, and I forgot to bring water. She panted, probably from stress and thirst, until I left her in the vestibule due to COVID-19 guidelines. While waiting to get a call from the vet, I paced over a mile. On the phone, I asked so many questions that I drank an entire beer.
When Layla was returned to me, $450 later, I called an Uber, and she barfed in it while huddled on the opposite side of the car from me. In the days that have since passed, we've gotten to know each other better and avoided ride-share services. She's stubborn (won't go on walks unless treats are involved), affectionate (licks every part of your body), spunky (no longer terrified of the elevator) and resilient (loving New York City after rural North Carolina).
Through it all, I've continued to think to myself, something's going to happen to her because I can't be this lucky. She loves me even though most humans she's met have hurt her. She trusts me even though she's known me for less than 1% of her life. She sits in my lap even though I've just accidentally yelled at her.
Earlier this week, I took Layla to the vet for a wellness checkup after we'd had her for exactly 16 days. This time, she was too attached me to go with the tech right away, and when the vet called me, I heard wailing and soft barks in the background. For 27 minutes, she convinced me Layla was fine and that nothing was going to happen to her. Only a couple vaccines and some medication for her ear infection — notably, one part of her body I hadn't worried about — would be necessary.
We talked a bit about how our family had been adjusting socially, too. She's adaptive and brave, I explained, I'm just worried about all the things that can go wrong.
"Well, I'm glad you found her," the vet answered. "And I'm glad she found you."