For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted a dog. Maybe it was because I had grown up with two dogs. Maybe it was because, as my mom would say, I was born in the Year of the Dog of the Chinese zodiac. But owning a dog was just something I pictured when planning out my life after graduation.
Many people associate the decision to get a dog with impending parenthood and financial stability, so it’s often surprising to them that I chose to get my dog during my last year in college.
“But you’re so young!” they say, raising their eyebrows in surprise. “You haven’t even figured most of your own life out yet. Isn’t it annoying to not be able to do other things people your age are doing? It’s such a commitment!”
Their concern is not misplaced. Convincing ethical breeders and adoption agencies that, yes, I am qualified to be a dog mom was no easy task despite my endless hours of research and countless spreadsheets full of information. “Puppies need a lot of time and attention, and not always the best idea for a young professional,” one breeder wrote me after I inquired about a dog. Many adoption agencies are extremely strict about vetting potential adopters, and I knew that rescuing a 13-year-old pug with countless health problems was not financially practical when I didn’t even know where I was going to work after college.
Saving up the money for puppy supplies and vet bills was even tougher — I worked three part-time jobs during the last six months of my senior year, when most of my friends were partying. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, first-year dog owners can expect to spend anywhere between $1,500 and $2,000, depending on the dog’s size.
I wasn’t alone in my quest to become a young dog mom. According to the American Pets Association, millennials currently own 35 percent of all pets, beating out Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society estimated that 15 to 20 percent of their adopters are under 25.
When I finally brought my new pug puppy, Pinto, home last May and placed her on a potty training pad, I almost started crying because I felt so overwhelmed. It was already such a struggle taking care of myself — could I really give this dog a life full of fun and love as well?
But when she cocked her head to one side and looked at me with those big, trusting eyes, I knew I had to try my best.
As a recent college graduate, my life is constantly changing. I moved four times last year, shuttling Pinto from North Carolina to Chicago, Boston, and finally Philadelphia. (If she were a human, she would have racked up more frequent flyer miles than most kids her age.) I practically live on Amazon, trying to find the best deals on dog supplies, which usually ends with me purchasing enough poop bags to last five years because it’s the cheapest option. Not only that, I work in an office, which means that I’ve done the whole “rush home at lunchtime to take my dog out” thing.
Unsurprisingly, balancing my life and Pinto’s needs often takes more than a little brain power and extremely efficient scheduling.
During her puppy days, I raced from my journalism classes to her puppy kindergarten ones. (She graduated with a diploma two days before I received mine.) I can’t stay out at bars until midnight because I have to go home and feed her dinner. I wake up early so I can take her on a walk before I go to work, suffering through chilly standoffs when she decides that no, she doesn’t want to pee on snow. Once Pinto woke me up at 3 a.m. for an emergency bathroom trip, which meant that I nearly fell asleep at work the next day. I schedule my weekends around vet visits and trips to the dog park. When I look for housing, I expect to spend more time and money finding a place that’s a good fit for both of us — a short commute to work for me and plenty of green spaces for Pinto.
Pinto has also become a unique liability in my dating life. She once enthusiastically headbutted a guy I was on a date with, busting his lip and embarrassing me. Navigating a second round of drinks is a delicate matter when all I can think about is whether or not she’s going to pee on my rug. (Although, when a date doesn’t go well, I’ve used Pinto as a convenient ball and chain to excuse myself early more than once.)
But to me, those are all worthwhile sacrifices for her company. Although Pinto’s way of waking me up in the mornings — pawing at the sides of my bed incessantly until I open my eyes — is beyond annoying, eating breakfast together is one of my favorite times of the day. There’s no one else I’d rather Netflix and chill with. And falling asleep at night without the sound of her snores just feels wrong.
And because I’m a millennial, Pinto’s life is often colorful in unexpected ways. A few weeks after she came home with me, I threw her a “pugwarming” party to socialize her to people from all different walks of life. She stole treats from the pet rabbit I shared with my college roommates, attended (and fell asleep during) a math class at MIT in a Stitch costume on Halloween, and has become a pro at posing for Snapchats and Instagram posts. I recently took her on assignment for the first time to Sly Fox Brewery’s Bock Fest, where Pinto met goats and obnoxiously pawed at everyone’s knees, begging for a sip of beer. She’s also been in a lot of Ubers, which, yes, occasionally lowers my rating.
today i covered goat racing and i brought my pug with me because why not pic.twitter.com/oCll1KBmrZ
— Bethany Ao (@BethanyAo) May 6, 2018
In many ways, having Pinto around has forced me to be more responsible than I probably would have been without her. I clean my apartment weekly because the fur she sheds piles up in little mountains around my room. I go for walks with her even when exercising is the last thing I want to do. I make sure to save money for those emergency vet visits from every paycheck.
And while neither of us has being young figured out yet — Pinto turned 1 last month but still behaves like a 3-month-old puppy — at least we’re doing it together.