We're coming up on the year anniversary of The Worst Week Ever, when we lost both Ceiba and Max in hideous, rapid-fire succession. So it's been interesting that over the past couple weeks I've fielded an unusually high number of emails with questions about the new pets. Specifically, how/when/why-type questions about our decision(s) to adopt them, from readers who are either dealing with a recent loss (or double whammy like ours, I'm so sorry Jen, 21017 can suck it), or are considering adopting themselves and want some honest real-talk about the process.
And while answering these emails, I've probably written like, enough words to fill four blog posts about it. So...let's re-purpose some shit!
FAPQ #1: How did you know you were ready to adopt a new dog?
I dunno. I kind of didn't? The boys brought up the possibility of a new dog almost immediately after we broke the news about Ceiba's cancer to them. Jason was like, "That's a good idea." I was like, "Slow your damn rolls, you monsters, she's not even dead yet."
And then I spent the next few days mourning deeply for that dog, the one that wasn't even dead yet. The appointment to put her down had been made...so we were already on borrowed time. She was still here, but leaving soon. It was a sad, morbid place to be, emotionally. And so perhaps out of morbid curiosity, I looked up our local shelter's list of adoptable dogs. I didn't see any that were super-good candidates for us, and yet...
Huh. I felt a little better. So I kept looking. There were so many dogs that needed homes. There were so many great choices! One of them was going to be ours. It was a happy, optimistic possibility during a week full of suck. I was sad. The thought of a new dog made me happy. I guess that counts as "ready."
The other honest truth is that I didn't want to be sweeping the kitchen floors five times a day, and didn't want to spend $900 on a Roomba.
Beau was love at first sight. We just knew. We happened to be right.
FAPQ #2: Why did you decide to adopt an older rescue over a puppy, or a dog from a breeder? Any words of wisdom on that?
We actually did try to adopt a rescue dog before we got Ceiba, but were stymied by our own too-picky criteria (we wanted a small-breed puppy, and kinda already had our hearts set specifically on a MinPin or MinPin mix because our neighbors had one and we lovvvvvved her) and the adoption criteria of the rescue groups we contacted (no history of dog ownership, condo living, both work full-time, no fenced yard, etc.). Also, I was impatient as hell. So we got Ceiba from a woman who bred her own show dogs. Ceiba was shaping up to be too short to be show-worthy, and thus put up for sale. I obviously believe Ceiba and purebreds like her deserve loving homes as much as any dog in the world (although I do regret that we didn't get to her before the breeder docked her ears and tail), but it's just not something I'd personally do again.
ESPECIALLY because this time, we 100% did not want a puppy. I wanted a dog who was already house/crate trained, and that had been vetted behavior-wise to be good with kids and other animals. (Beau was just about three years old, though we'll never know for sure.) We also no longer had condo board/pet weight limits/downstairs neighbors to worry about, we had a nice big yard, I'm home all day, so I felt we were generally just better candidates for adopting this time around.
And finally, I really just wanted a cute little mutt, rather than any specific breed. A rescue seemed like a no-brainer, given all that.
As for advice, I'd say make sure you understand what your adoption fee covers (at the very least you should get shots, de-worming, microchip, spay/neuter) and the policies of the rescue group or shelter in case something goes wrong (either behavior or health wise). The rescue we got Beau from offered email consultations with a trainer/behavior expert. He was able to help us work through Beau's I SEE A DOOR GONNA RUN THROUGH IT AND NEVER STOP RUNNING issues that first month, which was GREAT.
They also gave us a lot of literature about the "two-week shutdown" post-adoption period, which was super helpful and I highly recommended reading it if you're considering a rescue or shelter dog. (Beau had been in foster care and very well socialized so some of it wasn't super necessary, but it helped him bond to us and avoid other behavior issues, like nipping or food aggression.) Give your new pup time to adjust and lots of downtime, and hold off on a lot of socialization with other dogs and people for a couple weeks, until you're able to predict his/her behavior.
FAPQ #3: Did you ever look at Beau and go like, YOU'RE NOT CEIBA I DON'T LIKE YOU?
Oh God, no. Although I was worried I might! I imagine that's a common fear, that you're trying to "replace" something that is fundamentally irreplaceable. There will never be another Ceiba. Not for me, not for anyone else in the world. I am happy that she spent her life with us, but I knew we were going to have a completely different dog experience with Beau. He's a young, scrappy, athletic dog vs. Ceiba's senior, fragile little self. He's a dog meant to be part of a family of young kids vs. Ceiba was the dog we picked out when we were childless city dwellers.
But just like Ceiba, he wants to be on our laps all the time, or at least as close as possible. He follows me around the house all day, every day, never letting me out of his sight (until bedtime in his crate). He greets the boys home from school like he hasn't seem them in days and barks at the mail truck. Just like Ceiba, he is the sweetest, loyalest little love bug I've ever known. The house would feel lonely and empty without him.
He prefers string cheese to waffles, though.
FAPQ #4: Okay then. Let's talk about the cats. Same questions as above, but about the cats. CATS!
It took me longer to get to "yes, let's get another cat." (SINGULAR, HO HO HO HA.) Max was...Max was a level of special I can't quite put into words. I don't mean that in a "I loved him more or better than Ceiba," way but he was just so...perfect. He was our first pet together, our first baby. He was perfect when it was just Jason and I. He was perfect when we were a family of three then four then five. He was patient and gentle, affectionate and friendly, beautiful and thoroughly weird as only a cat can be. Jason, in particular, mourned his loss HARD.
It was clear from the start that Beau was very different than Ceiba, but they were good, appropriate differences for our family. Max was like, all-star best cat of all time and I just didn't see how any cat could come here and not be constantly compared and found wanting. So like, FAPQ #3 times ELEVENTY.
I looked at hundreds of cat listings. There was no rush (hell, I was still on the damn fence about even getting another cat, I just promised the kids that I'd at least consider it) so I was super mega-picky and judge-y. Again, we didn't want a kitten -- I love love love kittens but was too concerned about the welfare/safety of a super tiny cat in a big house full of super-excited children and a high-energy dog. I wanted a cat who could hold his/her own a little bit, and who was also old enough to have an established personality/temperament that could be accurately conveyed in an adoption listing. But not too old, because oh God, I'm not going through all of this again anytime soon please. Also, probably not another Siamese, just because looking at Siamese cats makes me burst into tears. So let's...maybe go with a tabby or something.
Finn and Rey were the only cats I found that ticked off each and every single one of our requirements. Except there were two of them. That was an unexpected plot twist. Huh. But by this point I'd learned to just kinda roll with things. When it's a match, it's a match.
Did we end up with two little Max clones? Of course we didn't. Did we get the two best cats for our family? Oh fuck yeah. The kids love them beyond all reason, and it's fun to have young, playful cats in the house again. Finn's chosen the spot behind my knees for sleeping; Rey prefers to sleep either under the covers by my stomach or occasionally just lounges across my neck and shoulders. And while Rey has a bitchy streak and will generally let you know when she's had enough of your love (she has windows to fall out of, after all), Finn just goes completely docile and limp while the boys carry him around the house like a flour-sack baby. "THIS IZ FINE," I say on his behalf about a dozen times a day.
If you are thinking about one cat vs. two, I am firmly pro-TWO CATS! Especially if you find a bonded sibling pair. It's a wonderful, hilarious dynamic, and really no more work than one cat. (They do everything together and at the same time. They eat out of one bowl, and even poop one right after the other, so it's still just one scooping job.)
FAPQ #5: Any pet products or pet-related accessories you recommend for someone just getting started with this nonsense?
Sure, why not.
These are Beau's favorite treats and are excellent for training. If you've got behavior quirks to work on, pair them with a clicker. We also go through Greenies and cow ears at a decent clip. A good daily chew session calms him down and keeps him from destroying shit like the kids' crayons or markers, or all my decorative pillows (true story). He's a serial toy de-squeaker/de-stuffer, but his favorite (durable) toys in the world are his Kong Frisbee, Kong Wubba, and anything by Tuffy. Sometimes I just pick up cheap toys at Target though, knowing he'll destroy them but hey, he's having so much fun!
We've been unable to fully curb his leash-pulling tendencies, so we're going with an Easy Walk harness. Any standard crate will do, and Beau inherited Ceiba's orthopedic memory foam pad, which is awesome if your pup has arthritis or other hip issues. (Get extra covers, though! It gets barfed on a lot.)
For the cats we use the Breeze litter system and have two of them. V. v. v. excellent at odor prevention. They are simple idiots who love string and tiny mice and balls and catnip and sky raisins (aka house flies). Rey loses her mind over bendy straws. They very much love my one big splurge, this cat condo/scratching post, although in most rooms we go with basic, replaceable cardboard options. I kinda hate them because they create a ton of crap to be vacuumed up, but the kids keep breaking the more expensive vertical posts we buy. (I think they try to sit on them, or maybe use them as dueling weapons.) Whatever, according to my husband's Pinterest boards, he's got a TON of great ideas on homemade scratching posts that he'll get around to making in 3...2...never.
Oh! Finn has IBS. Yeah. We initially thought it was a parasite or something because it was REALLY bad, but after going through every treatment in the book, he remained a super gassy, farty, loose-shit having cat. IBS can be a bitch to manage, but we were INCREDIBLY fortunate to get the perfect diet switch advice from one of ours friends (who is a vet) (also the owner of Suzy) as soon as we realized what we were dealing with, and it's not even anything fancy, hard to find or expensive: Purina Pro Plan True Nature, both dry and canned.
I was skeptical (Purina? Really?) but made the switch and it was damn near miraculous. He no longer wrecks the room with his hideous farts and his stools have been more or less perfect ever since. (It flares up whenever we go away because the poor thing gets stressed, so I give petsitters the heads' up that yeaaaaaah, you might see something green and gross in the litter box. Don't panic.) If your cat has digestive struggles, maybe give that food a try. We've switched all three pets to it now and they love it. Finn's tummy is happy and so are we.
FAPQ #6: Have you been reading these as F, A, P, Q or "FAP-Q" like a 13-year-old boy?
Please. This was a very serious post about very serious things.
(Hahaha totally FAP-Q.)