I never imagined that pets could be in the cards for me. I have always loved animals; my career goals started out with a desire to be a zookeeper, lasting through elementary school and four years of high school as a Zoo Teen. This ended promptly when I learned that a B.A. in Zoology required serious math. My love of animals started in a slightly irrational place, reading books about talking ones. Despite this I had my fair share of meeting animals in real life. At one time my childhood home included a cat, a dog, a guinea pig, a parakeet, and two rabbits. I think I was allergic to every single one.
Despite clear evidence of wheezing, congestion and a leaking nose, I refused to believe I could be allergic to animals. Allergies always seemed to be something villains in Disney movies had to keep that-darn-cat out of the house. Sure, I couldn’t sleep through the night at my friends houses who had dogs (I would wake up gasping for air*) but I refused to give up the dream of working with animals all day.
Then one year, I returned from college to find Wilson. A beautiful Collie–German Sheppard mix that my Mom had adopted. I fell in love the moment I saw him. My lungs shut down shortly after. It was when I realized that I couldn’t walk up a single flight of stairs without sounding like that one accordion-only song Weird Al puts on every album that I finally went to the doctor. It turned out that Wilson confirmed what the professional allergist had told me a decade earlier: I was allergic to dogs. I tested positive to 199/200 of the allergens, which included all pets, most plants and anything on this earth that can be classified as “alive”.** I went around for the next decade with a rescue inhaler in my purse and the resigned understanding that pets where not for me.
After college I moved home, then to Korea, to Canada, to Switzerland, to Canada again, and then to Atlanta. Not once did I have a dog-friendly apartment and, to be honest, I never considered looking for one. Then came Austin. Eric and I found ourselves in a new city and I found myself deeply lonely. I wanted a companion. Austin is a dog-obsessed town and it seemed like every 23 year old UT grad had a new puppy. So why had I been waiting so long?
I wanted every dog I ran by but I was afraid of committing to an animal which would take away my respiratory freedoms. After spending more time in an average day on PetFinder than working, I decided to become a short term foster. Pet fostering is when an animal is hosted in someone’s home for a short while before being adopted. The foster is expected to take the pet to meet potential adopters while staying in close contact with the shelter regarding vaccinations and general health concerns. Most shelters require training and an interview before you can start fostering. During my interview, I said that I was looking to help but could only take hypoallergenic breeds under 25 pounds. Thanks apartment size restriction rules! The lady laughed and said dogs like that rarely came into the shelter but she would let me know.
The next day she called me to say that a Maltese had been picked up on the side of the road and needed a temporary home. Eric seemed less than enthused about the idea but was okay with swinging by after work to meet him. We arrived at Austin Pets Alive and a volunteer took us to a back room where they house puppies and kittens in aquariums. The woman put a smelly, 6 pound, bald Maltese with pustuled skin into my arms. He licked my face and I said yes instantly.
Astro was found on the street. His intake file reads “geriatric neutered male, very poor condition, alopecia and thin skin, matted hair, long nails preventing normal standing and pustules on back and abdomen”. Not quite the running partner of my dreams. At a plucky 12 years of age, Astro had a lot of medical problems which had to be diagnosed be for he could be adopted out to his
forever family. This meant that Eric and I had weeks getting to know the old guy. I tried not to get too attached to the bloated bald dog in our apartment but there was something about the way he snorted around the house which was impossible not to fall in love with. Eventually Austin Pets Alive had a diagnosis—Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. Neither of which would kill him, but both needed constant and expensive medical surveillance for the rest of his life.
Funny enough no potential adopters wanted to keep him. I received multiple emails a day from women who wanted an apartment-friendly dog or already had a few elderly dogs and wanted to expand their collection.*** Once I explained that, “No Astro wasn’t a puppy just every small” and, “No, Cushing’s wouldn’t ‘go away on it’s own'” most people didn’t follow through with a meet-and-greet. One of the few ladies who did was a trophy wife who wanted to “fospice” (foster–hospice) Astro for a few luxurious weeks and then get her family vet to put him down. I was stunned into silence by her suggestion and was saved by her husband offering that he thought that I was looking for more of a long-term situation. This woman thought that she should be the one to take in Astro as she was “the first to email the shelter after his photo was sent out”. Luckily she changed her mind after meeting the bald fella.
I am not sure of exactly when we knew we were going to foster fail Astro. It just dawned on us one day that this ugly dog was the prefect fit. Hairless and hypoallergenic, I hadn’t had to turn to the inhaler yet. Not only that but we enjoyed having him in our lives; Astro makes working from home less lonely and he is someone who is always up to sniffing around a new brewery.
Astro isn’t the best dog. We have to beg him to eat his kibble, he believes that our bedroom is his indoor toilet, he is scared of cars/any noise above a whisper, his vet bills are astronomical as he takes three pills a day, and he doesn’t quite like to be pet. Despite this, he is my very own dog. The only animal I’ve every been able to breathe with and he makes our lives better. One weird grunt at a time.
*It couldn’t be asthma either because according to my books, Asthma was for chubby, non-athletic kids in glasses. A description I most certainly fit but would have never admitted.
**The only allergen that didn’t result in a positive reaction was cockroaches. A fact that I find comically apropos, considering the last two states I have lived in.
***Any more than two pets of any species is a problem. SEEK HELP JUDITH!