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Oh, he is cute! There is something about those eyes…he could be a troublemaker. Okay, I am going for it.

After clicking through George’s photos, I crafted a thoughtful response, aiming to sound interested but not too eager, for a potential meetup. I was working on my graduate thesis, which meant I was spending long hours at home and had a fairly flexible schedule. I needed to mix things up a bit.

So, when I stumbled across a post on a Facebook forum searching for a dog-sitter, I responded, thinking it would be a quick way to make some cash.

Soon enough, a message from George’s mom and more photographs of her 10-week-old Corgi popped up on the screen. The next week, I was left with dog food, toys, treats, a leash, and a set of instructions so that I felt completely prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for was to fall in love with George.

The author and 10-week-old George.

The End, and the Beginning

I had just ended a messy relationship before I met George. It was one of those undefined expectations, friends-with-benefits situations that can only really end in either a moment of clarity…or as it happened for me, spontaneous combustion.

I was new to the city of Baltimore, and when a tall, dark, and handsome man approached me from the bar as I was dancing with my friends during a night out, I thought I had found my Prince Charming. For the next few months he took me on adventurous, spontaneous dates and showered me with gifts and captivating words. It felt too good to be true, and as I found out, it was.

After months of building this relationship, I mentioned the idea of dating exclusively, only to have it casually brushed aside. Not wanting to seem needy, I let it go. One night, as we were about to head a cocktail bar, I grabbed his driver’s license from the table and as I started cracking a joke about how everyone looks awful in photo identification, my eyes flickered to his birth date and I saw that he had lied to me about his age.

More red flags appeared, but I continued to make excuses for him. After some time, I could not ignore the inconsistencies in his stories: the way he never wanted to spend time at his own place, rolled his eyes when I insisted on meeting his friends, and had something come up at the last minute when he had to meet mine. The excuses became more frequent. His phone battery was always dying.

After one too many arguments and a final confrontation, the exciting new relationship shattered. Devastated with the idea of what it could and should have been, my researcher mind wanted to stay in bed and methodically play out every scenario of which variables could have been tweaked to make the relationship successful.

Puppy Love

Sitting for George was more than just feeding and walking him: after my breakup, it was a journey to recovery. Taking care of him forced me to take care of myself. Instead of hiding under the covers for as long as possible, my day started earlier because I had no choice but to wake up at 7 a.m. to take George out to pee. And as I mindlessly served George his breakfast, I poured myself some cereal, too.

When I sat at my desk to study, George also sat next to me, chewing on a sock with intense focus. Eventually, he would roll some toys over and paw at me, reminding me that I also needed to make time for play breaks. I would reluctantly turn away from my work, though I was grateful for the moment to pause and be in the moment for a game of tug-of-war with George.

Walking a small Corgi down the busy sidewalks of Baltimore was not an easy task! It was a whole new world for George, with stimulating sights and sounds all around him. Together we would maneuver down narrow sidewalks, past big busses and honking cars. I can only imagine the city smells that his little nose picked up on.

As we made our way to the park, I was vigilantly on the look-out for cigarette butts, broken glass, or anything dangerous that George could accidentally walk or choke on, determined to protect him from anything that could cause him pain.

I forced myself to put on the chewed socks and dig through my coat closet for a pair of sneakers even when I didn’t feel up to it—all because I knew how much George liked to search for sticks at the park. He would trot around proudly, showing his findings off to every stranger we encountered.

George was cute and confident—which meant that I would get a lot of attention from strangers wherever we went. Instead of being just another person on the street, people took time to stop and smile, or say “cute dog” or “aww.” With my thoughts still consumed with the breakup, it was attention I shied away from, but George eagerly soaked it up.

George the Corgi, ready to play!

We’ll Always Have Baltimore

My time with George flew by and ended just as suddenly as it began. George’s mom came home, and my new-found buddy and I had our goodbyes.

The next morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. and poured myself a bowl of cereal, but looking at the space where George’s bowl used to be, there was an unmistakable feeling of emptiness. It was a familiar feeling, similar to the ache of not being able to reach out to a certain person after a break-up. I knew that I had to do something different before I settled into that all-too-comfortable sadness again.

Still, as a graduate student, I was struggling with my own expenses, and even after manipulating my finance spreadsheet multiple times over, even cutting coffee out of the budget completely, it was clear that I couldn’t afford to take care of a dog of my own. I was at a loss for what to do. When I repeatedly sighed about this to a friend, she suggested that I join Rover.

Life—and Love—Lessons Learned

Since then, I have watched over fifty dogs, and even some cats, across Baltimore, Boston, and mid-Michigan. As the number went up, so did my confidence—not only in my dog-sitting abilities but also myself. I had to keep putting myself out there for new opportunities. Meeting George made me a firm believer in fate—who else would I be destined to meet?

I became the person who commented on other people’s dogs while walking down the street. I even started reaching out to dog parents at the park and leaving them with my business card, building up so many regular clients that I had to start referring other dog sitters, and I briefly considered quitting my nine-to-five job to start my own dog sitting business. This confidence translated to other parts of my life, including my relationships.

Spending so much time around dogs, I saw how proudly they carried their personalities, however stubborn or sweet. I began dating again and showed up to each date unapologetically, abashedly myself. The most important lesson I learned from dogs is just to be present in every moment. I allowed myself to feel excited to get dressed up to go out on a date, just to enjoy what the evening would bring.

When I had a string of first dates that didn’t materialize into relationships, I didn’t get down on myself and instead enjoyed meeting and learning about new people. I got better at accepting attention and talking about my own passions and interests; you can bet I talked about dogs.

Like George, who nudged a tennis ball at me to let me know it was play time, I also learned to express my own needs and desires instead of tiptoeing around them in the hopes of keeping someone around. And I certainly did not settle into any relationships where I was not made a priority—if a dog can so easily show his affection, his vulnerabilities, his loyalty, surely a prospective partner can, too.

I can honestly say that the greatest lessons I’ve learned about love haven’t been from partners, friends, or even family: they’ve been from dogs.

Good Men = Hard to Find. Good Boys? Everywhere!

It’s been years since I’ve seen George. His mom moved out of Baltimore, and eventually, I did too. Across all the changes that happened in my life, dogs became a constant I could count on.

I no longer feel emptiness or sadness when I finish up a dog-sitting gig, the way I first felt with George. Rather, I have learned to enjoy the time I get with each dog, and feel grateful for the unconditional love, trust, and memories that I receive in the little time that I am able to spend with them.

Isn’t that what love should be?

—–

Editor’s note: This is a true story, but the name of the dog has been changed to protect his and his family’s privacy.

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