IMG_3795a warm puppy. Do you know how I know this? Let me tell you. The first time I got a puppy, I was 5. This is true—it’s actually one of my earliest memories. There I am, sitting in the old house living room, wearing a party dress and surrounded by my friends (did I have friends? I must’ve had friends), opening presents. I kept getting real-life dog supply presents, which they told me was for Emmy, my favorite stuffed dog, and naturally, being the unquestioning and trusting child I was, I believed them. Little did I know that in the upstairs bathroom was a beagle puppy, romping around in the bath tub and peeing on the mats (as puppies do). When they brought her down, I remember being dazed—that’s the best word I can think of for the feeling—totally dazed, by the reality that refused to sink in. I remember—in fragmented pieces, in vignettes of memory—how my childhood hands looked against her black hair, how my heart swelled to burst that this little wriggling body, of fur and heat and wet nose, was mine. Now that I have another puppy, this time at the much more reasonable age of 23, I don’t feel that much different, although my emotions now are laced through with a much deeper sense of consternation. When we pulled up to the curb at Mountain Home Kennels to meet Bill and the new puppy—still nameless—I was maybe  the most nervous I’ve ever been. More nervous than before any climb, any test, any race, any date, anything, because now the stakes were greater—I’ve always known I can take care of myself, but another living thing? A little wriggling body, of fur and heat and wet nose? A little wriggling body that would turn into a big, powerful body—one that would want birds and open land and a hard run every day—could I keep that thing happy the way I can keep myself happy?

The answer, I think, is yes. For most  of my life I’ve sought out dogs, their easy, open companionship, their exuberance for the simple act of living and their steadfast loyalty. There’s something about a dog, that look in their eyes, that strums my heart strings in a way that not much else can. Getting this puppy was no lark, no—it was a homecoming.

And home he came!  A boisterous boy for us, a precocious, plucky little puppy boy has taken up residence in our hearts and in our minds and in our paychecks! He of speckled body and racing stripe, of upside down heart mark and velvet ears, of too big paws and little fine motor coordination, is currently sleeping on his bed in the kitchen next to me. Actually he just woke up, he’s running for the door. Good puppy! Excuse me for a moment.

I’m back. It’s been a month since Cedar came, and everything else seems to fade in comparison. Christmas, New Year’s, the holiday season in general—I have eyes only for the little ball of energy that occupies most of my waking time (and my sleeping time too, let’s be honest). Oh it’s been challenging, I can’t lie—he’s hell on four legs every now and then, a real biting son of a bitch. Sometimes he rips around the living room like he’s got the devil on his back, looks you in the eye before he does something awful—it happens. But more often than not he’s the embodiment of pure love and devotion, a being devoted to play and birds and me. He’s got a velvet face and a warm tummy, and he chases his shadow. There have been a thousand moments that we’ve earned each other’s trust and love—the first time he crawled into my lap by choice and fell asleep, the first time he wagged his tail, the first time he walked down the stairs by himself and cried the whole way. He’s delighted and surprised me more than I thought possible—it is a joy to watch him get bigger and braver every day, a joy to see him play with Dex and learn new commands and go chasing after the chukar wing. Dogs, you know, are the unconditional.

When we first picked him up—remember, I was nervous—he was scared, and stressed, and he kept giving himself the hiccups. And I was scared, and stressed, and I didn’t give myself the hiccups, but I did wear out Darren’s ear as I listed all the ways this may not have been a good choice. What if he hates us? What if he doesn’t hunt? What if he’s unteachable and too dominant and we can’t handle him? What if, what if. Through it all, there was a still small voice in the back of my chest that believed we could do it, believed that this sweet face was meant for me and for us, and would be the best decision we’d ever made. But it took a while to listen and trust that everything was working out just as it should.

After the first couple of hours in the car, after he’d whined himself out (complete with an adorable, annoying baby dog howl) we pulled over in Baker for a potty break and leg stretch. You know the spot across the highway from the Best Western and the truck stop? It’s a gas station on the right and the random Chinese arch up the dirt road aways? That’s where we stopped, in a sparse little sage brush field. We took him out of the car and set him on the ground, and normally that’s where he’d stop, relieve himself, and then look up at us and whine until he exhausted himself enough to fall asleep. But here, with a weak ray of sunshine breaking up the clouds and the dull roar of the highway in the background, Cedar boy proved that he was going to do just fine. Cedar, we called to him, crouched in the sage. Come on buddy! Come here puppy! And he galloped in the funny way puppies do, all legs and motion, towards our voices, again and again, until we were jogging through the ankle deep growth with a puppy at our heels, happy for the first time all day. Good job, puppy! Good job buddy!

It’s been a month of discovery, a month of personal growth, a month of little daily miracles for this puppy and I. I would trade it for nothing, and I have nothing but hope and potential in my heart for this little being who now resides firmly in its grip. So there you are, world—meet my boy! A puppy of my own, a dog who looks to me. I am dazed and exhilarated and exhausted, but it is so worth it.

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