How I Met My Dog – Rio
“His mom was a Lab, and his dad was a traveling salesman,” said the guy at the animal shelter, gesturing to the 12-week-old puppy he was washing to get ready to meet us. The filthy little pooch had been living in a small cage with four littermates and had a bite on his cheek. It was heartbreaking.
“Can he get some food?” I asked. “You can see his ribs.” After the puppy wolfed down a scoop of kibble, my husband Bryan and I went into a room where we could “get to know” the dog we might adopt. He was a little blond scamp with a Harry Potter lightning bolt on his forehead and a white pom-pom on the tip of his curly tail, which never stopped wagging. We sat on the floor and he jumped on us and ran around excitedly. His enthusiasm was infectious. Then he fell asleep on Bryan’s lap. I had that moment of clarity that anyone who has fallen head-over-heels in love has felt: I knew. I stood up.
“I’m going to go sign the adoption papers,” I said. Bryan just grinned.
When I came back, the puppy was still dozing as Bryan caressed his velvety ears. We tossed around names and landed on “Rio.” This was a crazy moment for us. For 18 years, it had just been the two of us. We never wanted to be “tied down;” we wanted to be able to travel. Plus, most of our apartments didn’t allow pets. Rio was our first dog.
People say having a baby turns your life upside down. Apparently, the same is true for dogs. Suddenly we were setting the alarm for 3 a.m. to take Rio out to pee, buying chew toys, and reading “Puppies for Dummies” anytime he napped. We both work from home, but it was a challenge to get any actual work done— there was a puppy who wanted to chase my skirts, or roll onto his back to eat raspberries in the backyard, or go to puppy socialization parties at the local rec center.
We took lots of training classes, and Rio learned quickly. “This is a dog that wants to please you,” his trainer told us. “He’s probably your once-in-a-lifetime dog.”
As Rio’s grown, he’s become even more loyal and affectionate; when Bryan and I hug and kiss, Rio tunnels between our legs to share the love. He makes us laugh every day with his silly antics. Like his first winter when it snowed, and he tried to eat the falling flakes, then ran happy circles around us for this new delight. “His motto should be ‘Born Ready,’” Bryan laughed.
Now Rio is two and a half, and he’s already seen us through tough times. A few months before we adopted him, I had a traumatic miscarriage (is there any other kind?). He would join us at the fertility clinic to calm our nerves. But one month when a pregnancy test once again came up negative, the pain threatened to break me. We brought a picnic to a mountain lake, where we played the game, “What would our lives be like without children?” Rio was thrilled to be included, splashing in the water and chasing birds. As he ecstatically bounded back to us, ears flapping in the breeze, love and contentment washed over me and I realized, “This is more than enough.”
The three of us were all the family we needed. But this year, we faced another challenge: Bryan’s autoimmune disease came out of remission, and he needed a kidney transplant. I wanted to be strong for my husband, so I’d wait until Rio and I were alone on a hiking trail to drop to the ground and weep. That sweet boy would circle back and nuzzle me until I stroked his head, got up, and kept moving. Sometimes he’d chase a squirrel or bark at a cow to reassure me that we were safe.
I was approved as Bryan’s kidney donor. We popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate, and Rio pounced on the cork and chomped on it. When we went to the big city for the surgeries and weeks of recovery, Rio came with us. People without dogs protested: “You’ll need your rest! It will be too much for you!” Dog lovers agreed with us: “Of course he’s coming—dogs are healing angels!” The surgeries went great, and we’re all back home enjoying time outside as much as possible. The other day while hiking, I looked at our happy boy chasing a particularly pesky leaf and realized in just two and a half years, Rio has taught me the meaning of life: to bring as much happiness as possible to others and to yourself. Without intending to, he reminds me of it every single day.