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Puppy Love: A Hero Came Along

By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder


Like many women in midlife, I’ve met numerous challenges: menopause, the deaths of both parents and being downsized from a good job. One challenge I really hadn’t thought about was that of losing a pet, although I had a sense that the sad situation was rapidly approaching this summer. It turns out that I was right: I had to put down my 16-year-old dog and constant companion, Noel, in early October.

The months since then gave me the opportunity to experience the “emptiness” of not being with a pet and to really consider what I wanted moving forward—and I decided that involved adopting another dog. 

That runs counter for some older women I talk to who have pets currently but may not adopt again once they have an “empty nest.” For some women, it’s the lure of the travel bug without the issues of leaving a pet who is at home—while for others, it’s not worrying about a pet outliving you.

Bringing in a New Family Member

I’ve had at least one pet for most of my adult life and a large part of my childhood, so having the pitter-patter of little feet or the soothing sound of breathing had become a constant—until it wasn’t. During the winter months after Noel’s passing, I realized that I really do want a pet—but I also wanted to make sure that I made a good decision since there are some major considerations related to getting a pet—whether that’s a dog, a cat or another animal—at midlife.

I’ve had one cat in my life—we actually looked alike since we both had white hair and dark eyebrows—but I realize in my heart of hearts that I’m more of a dog person.

That helped narrow down my decision a bit—and over those months, I realized that I wanted a dog that would be a good companion and who would be open to adventure, whether that’s going to a restaurant, on a hike at a new park, or on a trip to see a friend. And I wanted one with a good temperament who would interact with anyone— the kids next door, older adults, or friends who have disabilities. 

Are you on the fence about getting another pet? I want to share with you the components that I considered in my decision to get a new canine companion.

Factor 1: Age

I’ve had pets at all ends of the age spectrum, and each comes with its own challenges. With a young dog, you have to go through the training and the teething, setting boundaries, and dealing with sometimes boundless energy.  It can be like raising a child—but both parties don’t speak the same language so communication can be difficult.

An older dog may seem like an easier selection because we think it’s more settled, but these pets also can come with potential trauma. Noel, who was from a rescue organization, didn’t initially like men—she would lunge and try to bite them. My sense is that she was abused at some point and was trying to protect herself (and me). Fortunately, she had the opportunity to interact with numerous men who loved her, and that phobia wore off. Still, it took time and patience to get her to that point.

Factor 2: Size and Activity Level

Our family has owned a variety of dog breeds—miniature schnauzers, a miniature poodle, a German shepherd, a basset hound, and a Brittany spaniel--over the years. They’ve all had their unique quirks, personalities, and characteristics. 

In selecting a dog for this stage of life, I knew that I didn’t want a large dog. Frankly, I was worried that a large dog could suddenly pull me while walking, causing an injury or even a tumble. I also realized that as I get older, I may not be able to lift a large dog into the car if we need to go to the veterinarian.

A really small dog seems easier, but this type of pet can so easily get underfoot, creating a potential hazard that can lead to a fall or other mishap.

I also was interested in a potential dog’s energy level. I’ve never been a marathon or 10K runner, so I wasn’t looking for a dog that needed that level of activity.  But I also wanted a dog who would be willing to go on walks, giving me a ready-made exercise partner who thinks that any terrain is the equivalent of a good gym.

Factor 3: Temperament

While some people look for a guard dog, I wanted one for companionship as much as having another set of eyes and ears alert for anomalies. I purposefully asked questions of the foster, trying to ensure that I selected a dog that would fit my lifestyle of being around a variety of people.

Factor 4: Heat Tolerance

For the past two years, we’ve had summers that were broiling with heat-index temperatures that reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit. That type of heat is uncomfortable for humans, and I can’t imagine the difficulty that a dog with long fur or a heavy-set body would face. Based on my experience with Noel, this type of heat is exceptionally hard on an older dog’s body, which has trouble regulating its systems anyway.

Making a Canine Connection

Those factors helped me decide to adopt a medium-sized dog. I was willing to consider a puppy so we could build an early partnership based on training and setting appropriate boundaries (like getting used to periodically being in a crate). I also decided to go with a mixed breed instead of a purebred dog to avoid breed-specific health issues.

Finding a Dog 

I also decided to go with a rescue organization instead of a breeder. Thanks to an Instagram post by The Dogist, I learned about the issue of stray dogs in Aruba. I figured the island’s location, which is 863 miles north of the equator (as compared to where I live, which is more than 2,100 miles from the equator), would make the dogs a hardy group who could deal with hot temperatures.

I ended up connecting with the Cunucu Dog Rescue group, which was featured by The Dogist. In January, we had a video conference and after my references checked out, I was put into contact with a foster in Aruba. That led me to video chat about two pups she had in her care—and I selected the one named Jolly.

On February 24, he traveled in the cabin of a plane with a volunteer transfer to Houston Intercontinental Airport. A friend went with me to get him. I was like an anxious parent waiting to meet my baby—but he quickly put me at ease by licking my nose when he first met me. 

A new name for a new life

While my new dog is quite a jolly fellow, he wasn’t responding to the name Jolly after having that name for two months so that wasn’t the right name for him. I began considering other options—and finally decided on Hero because he’s been on his own personal Odyssey of being found with his mother and brother in an abandoned gold mine and then traveling to Texas.

In the last few weeks, Hero has had numerous new experiences—and as I’ve gotten to know this new family member, I haven’t regretted the decision. Yes, there is puppy energy—but that’s also an incentive for me to get away from the computer and enjoy life. He’s already charmed many people and displayed adaptability by going to restaurants and coffee shops, where he continues to make new friends.

As women get older, we need to continue to find and embrace new adventures in life. For me, that first step was finding a great replacement for my previous dog. Fortunately, I found Hero, who is the starting point as I take the next steps on my own personal heroine’s journey. Who knows where we’ll go? All I know is that Hero’s energy, adaptability, and love of life are just what I needed at this stage in my life!

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Life is full of new adventures. I am so happy to hear about your latest one. It is quite the Hero story.

Replying to

Yes, we keep having adventures. He's helped me meet some neighbors and I've learned how to help him get over anxiety about riding in the car.

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