Post Author: Stacy N. Sergent
I remember the day in 2010 that I first saw his picture online. That night, my friend Sarah and I were having dinner at Los Arcos, and over our fajitas I passed her my smartphone so she could share in my delight. “Oh, he’s so cute!” she gushed. “I love his eyes.”
“I know,” I said with a smile. “I really think he might be the one.” Even though I hadn’t actually met him yet, I just had a feeling after reading his profile that we would be a perfect fit. The next day, I made a phone call and set up a time for our first encounter. I was nervous as I pulled in to the parking lot. What if he didn’t like me? What if we didn’t click? I said a silent prayer that all would go well, and walked through the doors of the local Petco. The moment I laid eyes on him, it was love at first sight.
The dog of my dreams did not instantly take to me, however. His history was unknown, since he had been found on the streets in pretty rough shape before being brought in to an animal shelter. That much I knew from reading his online profile, which also told me that he was now perfectly healthy. With the woman who had been fostering him for the past six weeks, he was very friendly, wagging his tail, nuzzling her hand, making excited noises, and taking treats from her. When I came near him, he cowered, turning his head away from me, never making eye contact. Things didn’t go much better when I took the leash from her and attempted to take the dog on a walk around the shopping center. He stayed low to the ground, shaking a bit, and kept looking over his shoulder as if to see whether he had lost me yet. It was discouraging, but when we returned to the store and he saw his “foster mom,” he was once again all happy tail wags and smiles. She assured me that before too long, he would react the same way to me. The hope of that was enough, and after buying dog food, a few toys, a new crate, and lots of treats, I brought Hurley home.
Adopting an adult dog with a possible history of abuse is not for the faint of heart, and I found myself in tears more than a few times over the next two months. Some people even told me to send him back to the rescue group, but I took seriously the commitment I had made. I believed (and still do) that the life of this creature mattered to God, and that he had been entrusted to me. I thought of how often I have mistrusted God’s love, and how patient God has had to be with me. Progress was slow, but it was there. I learned that I had to work at Hurley’s pace, not mine, and build trust bit by bit. The first few weeks, he would sleep hidden behind a chair in my living room, as far away from me as he could get. Eventually he started sleeping in his crate in my bedroom, and by three months into our relationship, he was hogging more than half my bed. I didn’t mind, even on the nights he snored.
As a way of getting Hurley over his social anxiety, I took him along with me to parks, restaurants, the beach, the farmers market, local festivals, and even enrolled him in a doga (dog yoga) class, anything to expose him to new people and places in an enjoyable way. We also joined a terrific obedience class that allowed Hurley to be part of a group of other dogs working on commands amid real world distractions. His canine friends helped Hurley feel secure in crowded shopping centers, busy pet stores, large parks, and other areas. Through all of these activities, I was exposed to new places and people as well. Being an introvert and still relatively new to the area, this was a little scary for me, but I formed strong bonds with a few of the people (and dogs) we met. It was good for me as well as Hurley to be outside our comfort zones.
I knew that getting a dog would be a big responsibility. What I didn’t realize was how much I needed to be responsible for someone else. Having lived alone for so long, I was not used to putting someone else’s needs ahead of my own. Hurley changed that. Before Hurley, a breakup with a boyfriend or some other perceived crisis could leave me too heartbroken to get out of bed all day. Now I have to get up no matter how I feel, to make sure Hurley gets walked and fed, and that reminds me that I need exercise and food as well. There are no days off from this. He also serves as something of an early warning system in the treacherous world of online dating. The first time I let a potential boyfriend meet my dog, I have learned the hard way that if Hurley barks at him (since Hurley almost never barks at anything), that guy is bad news. Dogs are excellent judges of character, if you ask me.
Three years after adopting him, it is hard to imagine my life without Hurley in it. My neighbors know his name as well as they know mine, and I would probably never have met most of them if not for the daily ritual of walking the dog. A couple of my friends were so moved by the bond they saw between Hurley and me that they decided to get dogs of their own, and it seems to have improved their lives, too. When I come home from a long shift at the hospital, exhausted from ministering to people in crisis, it makes all the difference in the world to know that Hurley is waiting for me. No matter what mood I am in, he will run to the door to greet me, wagging his tail, making his happy noises, and showing me his famous smile. If I have been crying, he will give me kisses when I kneel to pet him, and sometimes will even put his head on my shoulder. I can’t help but be cheered up by that. We will go for a walk, and I will begin to let go of some of the stress and sadness of work. If I have time to take him to the beach or the park later on, Hurley will let me know that this is the best day of his life, again. I need that reminder of the joy in small things and the gift of the present moment. Hurley is an excellent teacher. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank God for entrusting us to one another.
Image by: Kristin Marshall
Used with permission