I’ve always been surrounded by dogs.
As a child, our family included a St. Bernard, a collie and a golden retriever. But I didn’t realize the full extent of my bond with animals until I adopted two dogs of my own.
I believe in rescue dogs.
In 2010, I adopted a shelter dog with my then-boyfriend, now husband, Evan. First, the puppy was shy and unsure, but he grew into a slightly neurotic but blissfully happy dog named Mickey.
After teaching him the necessary commands and housebreaking him, our new townhouse in State College was calm and peaceful.
But that all changed once Milo came into the picture.
He was a 3-year-old “Morkie,” a Yorkshire terrier mixed with a Maltese, found by casually scrolling through the adoption site Pet Finder.
I visited the shelter, Pets Alive in Elmsford, N.Y., reminding myself to keep an open mind. The waiting area was full of happy dogs with wagging tails cheerfully auditioning for their prospective adopters.
But when I mentioned the Morkie, he was fetched by a volunteer from the “no visitors allowed” area in the back.
When I saw him, I knew I couldn’t leave the shelter without him.
Any conventional “cuteness” had been stripped away by a difficult upbringing. He was so thin I could see his spine sticking out from his back. He had scars all over his body, presumably from abuse. They hadn’t been able to get him to eat any food since he’d arrived.
Even our exuberant dog Mickey, who accompanied me to the shelter, treated him delicately.
I was approved for the adoption that day and returned to my parents’ house with the new dog in tow.
Milo immediately formed an attachment to me and began eating when I hand-fed him. He followed me everywhere, curling himself into a ball on my pillow while I slept.
But his interactions with other people were less affectionate. Unfamiliar people were greeted with growls and an aggressive posture. I was completely unprepared; I had never owned what would be considered a difficult dog.
So Evan and I focused on creating an extremely strong bond with him while figuring out his triggers and fears.
In the two years we’ve had him, Milo has gone from a skimpy 8 pounds to a robust 20. He has begun to trust new people who visit our house, introduced under careful conditions. Now he spends more time cuddling than growling and more time eating than crying.
Most recently, Milo attended my bridal shower in New York, happily pushing presents out of my lap to make room for himself and accepting pets from the 40-plus people in attendance.
These are things I never thought would be possible when we first adopted him.
Milo still prefers to be held at the dog park, carefully observing the other dogs before venturing to the ground. He continues to growl at people on bicycles, even with our attempts to distract him.
His training seemed difficult at times, but we wouldn’t trade Milo for the world. He taught us that sometimes the most difficult things to do are the most rewarding.
I believe in rescue dogs.