what getting a dog taught me about adoption

I am not a dog person. I am a “I like my dog” and a “I like about two other well-trained, non-odorous dogs” kind of person and I’m comfortable with my assessment. I’ve had 33 years to work out my preferences and I accept it.


But in the throes of one of my worst depressions (a topic I rarely speak about online), I was faced with a choice: Continue down the dangerous path I was going and find myself somewhere terrible (again), or find a way to work through the detachment I felt to everyone around me.

As an adoptee-turned-mother, momming is a harrowing experience. I’m expected to return to my son a love I never knew, accepting his vulnerability and allowing him space to express it. But when an infant is abandoned, vulnerability becomes a death sentence–if you let your guard down, someone might never come back.

So in a fit of cautious desperation, I proclaimed that we should Get A Dog. And not just any dog: We’d get a Labrador Retriever, the kind famous for being service animals and police dogs and–most importantly–highly trainable.

The expectation was this: Mindy (the Dog) would be a safe place for me to explore my adoption-related attachment issues, rather than allowing them to impact the relationship between me and my family.  Less than a month later, we had Mindy.

circa February-March 2017

Dog ownership continues to have unexpected consequences, some good and some slightly confusing. However, the best part is Mindy gives me a chance to explore my attachment issues without judgment or deadlines.

Here’s what we discovered after Mindy arrived.

  1. The cats weren’t happy – I can’t make this list without mentioning them and I’m pretty sure they can read and exact timed vomitus maximus revenge all over my floor. So there.
  2. I’m a great dog trainer – I’m cheating a bit–Labs are eager students. But training her has given me a level of control (and a willing party) over my life, something I’ve always strived for and now find deeply satisfying. As an adoptee, our lives were determined by strangers. Now, I get to impact someone else’s life positively and see almost instant results, depending on the treat I’m holding.
  3. Vulnerability terrifies me – This is a side effect of my home life and adoption, one that many of you may experience. In weak moments, I see her eyes looking right through me, with a trust so blind and willingly offered it sparks a visceral reaction. It helped me uncover my own issues with adoption: If you were weak, you might be abandoned.  This placed me one step closer to understanding why I feel distant from my son.
  4. Neediness = Rejection – Along with #3, she needs me. L (my son) needs me. I never felt needed in any of my personal relationships, preferring instead to consider myself disposable. But to these beings, I’m someone. I’m important. And that’s horrifying. It’s easier to reject those seeking my love because adoption left voids where self-worth should have developed.
  5. I’m still not a social person – What is it about dogs that make people think you want to  chat?

Obviously I love Mindy but what I’ve uncovered are the walls I’ve built to keep myself safe. The beauty of her company is not just her role as a playmate to my son, but exposing where I’m holding back.  Until I’m able to address these issues–and I will–I’m unable to fully love those I care about the most.

Adoption, then, has taken something from me that requires extensive work to re-obtain. For many of us, adoption has taken our ability to form bonds and find safety even the homes we build after we’ve left our adoptive families.

But later, I found a poetic kind of parellel between us. She was readily left her mother and was taken from her 11 siblings without a whimper or a whine, entering my car and unquestioningly started a new life. I thought about her situation and realized how similar we were, with both of us brought into new homes and expected to just go with it.

Somehow, she fared better. She left her mother and siblings and will likely never see them again, yet accepted her situation and was already leading me home after our walks only a few days after her arrival. I, however, am left puzzled by her willingness to concede to her separation, choosing me as her Person and wanting nothing more than my company. Where I fight every attempt at inclusion, she willingly embraces it despite her losses.

I don’t understand her love and maybe I never will. But sometimes I wonder: Is it necessary?

It’s been an enlightening experience and seeing our future together and her impact on my life as I work through adoption issues is exciting. Thanks for letting me share this with you. I would love to know how pets are helping you through your adoption healing. Please share below :).

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3 thoughts on “what getting a dog taught me about adoption

  1. I have the same thing with one of our cats. He’s completely bonded to me and his need angers me. It’s interesting to observe how I react to his need and vulnerability. My wife calls it “love” but I still cringe a little at that way of phrasing it. I somehow feel better with the word “imprinting.” In short, he pushes my adoptee buttons!


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