Let’s Talk About the Dogs in Our Lives — We’ll Go First

For National Pet Day, our writers share how their dogs came into their lives and what impact they've had. Let's hear about your dogs, too!


Last month, Team Dogster shared memories of the childhood dogs who helped shape our lives. Now, in celebration of National Pet Day on April 11, a few of us are introducing you to our current pups. We hope you enjoy reading about them, from their puppyhood to today, and we want to hear about your dogs. Please share your stories and photos in the comments.

Annie Phenix, Dogster resident trainer: Radar and Echo

After purchasing my first horse at thirtysomething, I embarked on a yearlong search to find ranch land in Texas that still had grass growing on it. One small Central Texas town kept drawing me back to it, although for a horrible reason.

My horse was with a trainer there for a 30-day tune-up. I visited every weekend and got to know the town well. I even looked briefly at some ranches with a real estate agent in the area, but the amount of dog abuse I saw turned me against the town — puppy mill breeders called it home and kept parent dogs in small, live-animal traps that barely allowed them to turn around.

I never imagined that the cowboy who had my horse was also involved in this cruel business. One weekend, during a riding clinic, his wife walked out to a rundown horse trailer in the middle of a dusty field. She took something out and put it in her basket. The “something” turned out to be six somethings: Border Collie puppies.

She only brought them out of the dark horse trailer to meet potential buyers who came for the horse clinics. I didn’t like that these pups were missing out on socialization in their formative first few weeks of life. I had four big dogs at home, and I certainly didn’t need another, but as I watched the puppies being handled, it was clear they were terrified. They could barely stop blinking in bright light of the sun. I said I would take two.

Radar and Echo are now 10 years old. They are way past being frightened and shut down, under-socialized puppies. For years, Echo would not function inside of anywhere except our home. She’d shake, drool, and try to flatten herself to the ground. Today, she is a well-adjusted therapy dog who loves her job. Radar was the same kind of scared little pup. He now has obedience titles and competes in nose-work trials. I marvel at their resiliency.

And I shudder to think of where they could have ended up — either thrown away or abused because humans ensured they had a very rough start in life. We now live in Colorado, where my two Border Collies and I delight in exploring the gorgeous mountains, abundant snow, and a sweet life free of fear.

Read more from Annie:

Wendy Newell, Dogster writer: Riggins

When I brought home the little Puddle — that’s what I called him, Puddle — of black and white fur, I was living with my then-boyfriend at the time. He wasn’t as invested in the puppy as I was. In an effort to encourage a bond between the two, I named him Riggins after my now-ex’s favorite football player, John Riggins.

As a puppy, Riggins was a source of never-ending energy, which could not be corralled. Always demanding entertainment and attention, he was the king of the apartment and reigned over it like the charming dictator he was.

Just after he celebrated his first birthday, Riggins and I moved out. During the very painful breakup, he was my everything: friend, confidant, social activity chair, therapist, and protector.

Riggins is now nine years old and has slowed down considerably. I no longer have to throw a ball down the hall nonstop while I watch TV, as he is happy to curl up next to me and nap. He still gets me up at 6:30 a.m. each day, but now will happily head back to bed for a few zzz’s after breakfast. When we are at the dog park, he no longer engages in his favorite boyhood activity of nonstop doggie wrestling.

I cried when he got to the age at which he should no longer run with me every day. I cried when I took him to his first “senior dog” checkup. It’s no fair that dogs age faster than humans, but no matter how old he gets, he will always be my baby boy!

Read more by Wendy:

Lisa Plummer Savas, Dogster writer: Gizmo

I’d always wanted a Pug. There’s something completely irresistible about the breed — the funny personality, sweet roll-shaped tail, smashed-in mug, and big, soulful eyes. So, at 36 years old, I finally got my wish.

Gizmo was the last boy in the litter, and when I knelt down to pick him up, he practically flung himself into my arms. “Take me home!” he demanded, showering my face with puppy kisses. So I did, and I named him Gizmo because he looked like a wind-up toy. Almost 12 years later, I can’t imagine life without him. We just “get” each other. I take care of him, and he makes me happy. I call him my Puggy antidepressant.

Gizmo has always been a calm, centered dog with a mischievous, playful side, but as his face has grown grayer, he’s become more serious and less interested in anything other than his main passions: food, naps, people, food, car rides, belly rubs, food, and me. He used to like the dog park, but now can’t be bothered with other dogs, unless they’re Pugs. He basically just goes there for the people — they might have snacks!

Some believe that Pugs are not as intelligent as other breeds, but behind Gizmo’s seal-pup eyes is a thoughtful, emotional, sentient being. He was brought up with German Shepherds, and I think that must have raised his IQ a few points because he’s definitely smarter than the average Pug.

Though he’s still pretty strong and healthy, my little man is slowing down. His elbows bother him, he has a chronic bronchial disorder, and I practically have to force him to go on walks nowadays. But instead of worrying about losing him, I try to follow my dog’s example by living in the moment and appreciating every precious day that we have together. I have so much to be grateful for, and yet it’s so easy to forget. I just need my Gizmo to remind me.

Read more by Lisa:

Jeff Goldberg, Dogster writer: Rocky

When I was a small boy growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut, a big dog in our neighborhood knocked me over and menaced over me. It was a scarring experience, and I lived in fear and distrust of dogs into my 40s.

But in 2011, my wife, Susan, after much urging, finally convinced me to let her adopt a small dog. For her, I agreed. However, grudgingly and privately Susan worried that I would never truly accept our new pet.

Then we adopted Rocky.

Within seconds of picking him up off the transport from his foster home in Tennessee, Rocky had stolen my heart. A 10-week-old Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix, Rocky put his “Velcro dog” personality into immediate effect, and Susan and I quickly learned all the ins and outs of dog ownership.

Rocky breezed through obedience school and even learned to ring a jingle bell on the back doorknob to let us know he needed a bathroom break. He also figured out very quickly what faces to make and poses to take to guilt his bleeding-heart parents into giving him his favorite treats. Works every time.

And the more I played with Rocky and his toys, the more he gleefully accepted treats from my hand, the more he curled up at my side, especially as I recovered from knee surgery shortly after his arrival, the deeper our bond grew and the faster my life changed.

Soon, I found myself encouraging neighborhood dogs to sniff my hand and lick my face when I took Rocky for walks. I looked forward to viewing pictures of Rocky and his puppy pals when his daycare provider put photos up on its Facebook page. I even enthusiastically agreed to dog-sit a friend’s pup last summer when she went away on a long business trip.

Because of Rocky, I became a full-fledged dog lover. I even write about them now on Dogster.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Read more by Jeff:

Melvin Pena, Dogster writer: Idris

In early April, 2014, I lost my dog of nine years. I was bereft; it wasn’t even two weeks before I ached to fill the dog-shaped hole in my life. Like anyone rushing from one long-term relationship into another, I found that one does not simply plug one living being directly into the space once occupied by another. Especially with a puppy who had already gone through the upheavals of being weaned, placed in a shelter, adopted, and then put up for adoption again within her first six months of life.

Within a day of bringing her home, I’d renamed her Idris, but the name, like our friendship, seemed slow to take. I realized I hadn’t raised a puppy since elementary school, and had forgotten what a challenge it could be. She’d start biting at my arms or elbows while we were crossing a busy street, or want to wrestle when we got home from our daily walks, even though I was already worn out from trying to manage her surprising strength and power. As we struggled to develop a new routine, I’d all but given up on calling her by the name on record at the vet’s office.

I started calling her Baby, partly as an affectionate nickname, but more importantly, to teach myself patience. The profound relationship I’d had with my last dog was the work of a lifetime; the process of bringing up Baby would be as well. Now, more than six months later, my Baby is a beautiful, healthy, and good dog. We learn more about each other every day. I no longer have my early doubts or fears about whether I am right for her, nor she for me. With every day of training and every hour we spend together, we are growing better for each other.

Read more by Melvin:

Daisy Barringer, Dogster writer: Monkey

“Are you sure you want to get a puppy?” everyone asked. After all, I was 36 years old, and this was going to be my very first dog ever. The masses were worried I had no idea what I was in for. They warned me about how much work it would be, how I would lose sleep, how he would make a mess, and how if I didn’t train him properly right away, he’d make my life hell. But I was determined. And so I brought Monkey, a Saint Bernard puppy, home when he was eight-and-a-half weeks old.

The masses were right. Monkey was a handful. He took months longer to potty train than I expected. He chewed my armchair. And my couch. And then my other couch. He pulled on his leash. And kept pulling on his leash even as he catapulted from 14 pounds to 140 by his first birthday. He got diarrhea. And then an ear infection. And then more diarrhea. He was stubborn like his mama, and “sitting” just wasn’t his thing, no matter how many treats I offered.

The thing is, though … I didn’t mind any of it. (Okay, fine: maybe the couch chewing if I’m being perfectly honest.) Because Monkey was a family member. And just a baby. And it only took me that first day to love him more than I’d ever loved almost anyone. (Sorry ex-boyfriends!) And even more than that, Monkey taught me something new every day.

First: patience. Ohmygosh, so much patience. But it was good. Turned out, that was something in my life I needed to learn. Then, he taught me how to chill out and let things go. That material possessions were just material possessions. And that my home didn’t have to be spotless every single second of every single day. And it turns out that was also something in my life I needed to learn.

Then he taught me how to see the world in a new way. To look up at the sky on our walks. To notice details that had been in front of me for years, but that I’d never taken the time to see. And, waddya know? That, too, was something it turns out I needed to learn. Then he taught me how to be silly again. To run in the snow and frolic in the grass. Yup: also something I needed to learn. Or at least remember. He also made me get out of the house and showed me how to appreciate being alone. To go on long hikes. Meander on walks. Hang out by the lake. Although, I suppose, it’s hardly being alone when I’ve got Monkey by my side.

Mostly, though (and you probably know where I’m going with this one): He taught me what it was like to love unconditionally. We had our moments, sure. No one likes to come home to an apartment covered with sofa stuffing and poop. But no matter what, we got past them. Because this dog of mine, this appropriately named Monkey, he’s a good one. He’s loyal and affectionate and, sure, he snores louder than a 90-year-old fat man, but he’s a good dog. A great dog. I’m so incredibly lucky to have him in my life. And even though his facial expression is naturally sad most of the time, I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some slobber to wipe off of the wall.

Read more from Daisy:

Lori Malm, Dogster Community Manager: Hank

I adopted Hank three months ago from the Humane Society of the North Bay in Vallejo, California. She is a 13 month-old bully mutt, part Pit Bull, part Bulldog. Hank was found wandering the streets with a mite infestation and a terrible infection on her face, the latter likely as a result of foxtails.

Since bringing Hank home, I have asked myself several times: “Why would anyone get a puppy?” It is all about Hank, all of the time; caring for and training Hank is an around-the-clock job! I cried twice during the first week. Hank had very little training or socializing when she came to live with me, and she was not house trained. Fortunately, though, I work from home a couple of days a week, and when I go into the office, I can bring her with me.

Every morning, I am up before the sun to take her outside. After she eats, we go for an hour walk in the park. We practice sit, stay, down, come, and place throughout the day. I used the Umbilical Cord Method to house train Hank, so when she wasn’t in her crate, or outside in the backyard playing fetch, she was tethered to me. I am delighted to say that except for a few accidents a week (usually my fault), she now goes outside to potty! YAY!

Hank completed “Basics 1” training at the SFSPCA, and will start “Basics 2” next month. Having a puppy is a huge responsibility, but I am confident that with consistent training and socialization, a stable home, and lots of love, Hank is going to be a wonderful companion. I am happily up for the challenge, and don’t regret adopting Hank one bit; she amazes me with her progress every day.

Good dog Hank!

Now it’s your turn, readers. Tell us about your dogs in the comments — and we’d love to see photos, too!

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