I found him on Instagram. After seeing his scrunchy face and those of his littermates, I hit that follow button quicker than a dog chases a squirrel, ready to fill my feed with furry faces.
Three weeks later, he was the last puppy, swimming in a pool, still in need of a family. We took one look, and each of our once strong willpower dissolved. The moment we settled on a name, we were goners. Five minutes later, we sent a deposit with the description, “for our pup Chief!”
In our excitement that resembled Clare Crawley falling in love with Dale Moss, we forgot to do one thing.
Consider the cat.
Lost in the woods.
When we picked Chief up, he was only twenty pounds. The plan had been that he would be able to win her over before he grew to be ten times her size. But, as life tends to go, things did not go as planned.
Her animal senses must have tingled, warning her that something was about to flip her world upside down. While visiting my in-laws the week before we had planned to pick up Chief, the little feline maneuvered her way onto the porch. She wiggled her way through the posts and disappeared into the woods. After days of searching to no avail, we thought she was lost forever.
Nearly seven weeks later, six weeks of living with this puppy-turned-dog who was by then fifty pounds, I received an email. To this day, I remember the first sentence word-for-word, primarily due to how strange it was:
“Most people don’t even realize their pets have been missing, but luckily yours was found!”
Love or hate at first sight.
Though much bigger than the day we adopted him, Chief was just four months old. He still had the boisterous personality of a small puppy and was elated to have a new friend. The hopeless romantic fell in love instantly.
Romana’s reaction, on the other hand, more closely resembled disgust. In recovering from an over-extended adventure in the wild, Romana had a lot to process, without the added surprise of a big dog in her home.
She spent much of the weekend hiding under the bed. He would often go check on her. Laying right next to the bed, peering underneath at her, he would whine and bark for her to come out to play. The frequent hisses did little — if anything — to detract him.
Let love grow.
More than two years have passed since they spent that first weekend utterly surprised by each other’s existence. Now, they pass quarantined days napping, side by side, on the couch. She rolls on her back, meows, and then pats the nose beside her with a paw that is half its size.
Over these two years, they have developed the sweetest relationship. It is so genuine that I believe it can give us some insight on how to determine if we have found true love.
It’s Ok to take things slow. The right one will wait.
Over the first few months, the relationship stayed on her terms. When she ventured out of the bedroom to be near us, Chief was not allowed to approach. We let him know to stay away, and she certainly did as well.
Except, one thing all of us came to learn was that it was ok for him to be close to her if he shrunk himself and laid down. So, that is what he did (and then started to do with every small dog he encountered, as well). He would lay down to let her get used to him being close.
Slowly but surely, she started spending more time with us, perching in the window of the living room. Chief was allowed to stand when she was there. Often, he’d poke his nose at her while she laid in the sill, and she’d flirt back. It was in moments like those when he started to earn her trust. He showed her that he wanted to be her friend, and he never intended to hurt her.
It’s ok to want me-time. The right one will respect your boundaries.
Their relationship has grown to be a tight bond. We often joke that Romana’s favorite of the household is now Chief. Not much of a cuddler or even one to ask for pets, she frequently rubs up against Chief, swerving in-and-out of his legs.
And still, some days she sleeps the day away underneath the bed or closed off in the guest room on top of all the folded laundry. Unless he hears her playing, Chief rarely goes looking for her. Instead, he gives her space and naps away in the living room or runs around in the backyard until she’s ready to show him some affection.
Contrary to the early days, we know that her hiding now has nothing to do with fear or frustration. Some days she just needs to be her cat self and find the things that fill her up. When she is ready, she will come out and start talking to everyone, insisting that it is time to be fed.
It’s ok to be vulnerable. The right one will value your trust.
To be honest, while it turns me into a gushy mess, Romana still makes me nervous when she rubs in between Chief’s legs. He is nearly ten-times her weight and not the most graceful of animals. I fear the day that he accidentally steps on her and breaks a rib.
The funny thing is, I think Chief fears this too. Typically a jumpy, uncoordinated guy, he curls his tail, straightens his legs, and stands extra still as she completes her figure-eight underneath him. It’s as if he recognizes that it takes courage and vulnerability to put herself out there, so he’s determined not to ruin it.
It’s ok to eat their food. The right one won’t mind sharing.
Though a big fan of whatever humans eat in front of him, Chief feels little attachment to his food. He grazes throughout the day. Never one to get excited at the sound of kibbles hitting his metal bowl, he’ll leave food out for hours until he decides to eat.
Romana, however, who was once a stray, will gobble her food up quicker than a frog snags a fly. And the moment she has finished her meal, she is meowing for more. When she gets ignored, she will unashamedly help herself to Chief’s bowl.
Desperate to keep her from gaining excessive amounts of weight, we are consistently trying to stop her. Meanwhile, despite everything we know about animal instincts, Chief just stands there and watches her with his big goofy smile. Like a gentleman, he considerately waits for her to have her fill before he digs in.
Is this for real?
Ok, so I need to come clean. Chief and Romana do not have a perfect relationship. Chief, well, he is a dog. And sometimes he acts that way, annoying the shit out of Romana, our Queen B cat.
And yet, everything I said about them and their bond are true. Overall, they are adorably loving toward each other and don’t try to change each other.
They are animals. They can’t.
While I wrote this mostly in jest, it still sheds light on true love. The right person for you will respect and admire your wishes. They will take it slow if you need to. They will want you to keep your individual identity. They will honor the ways that you let them in. And when you realize they ordered the better meal, they will switch with you.
They will treat you this way because they love you for you, and they respect you. It will not be because, together, you two fit a specific relationship mold. Nor will it be because when you first met, sparks flew. They may not even be the one you expected to love at first.
Luckily, the real one, the one who will be there until the end — the keeper — is tested over time. That one will give you space when you need it, and they will bring you in close when you need it. They will be the one who maybe even annoys the shit out of you sometimes. But at the end of the day, when you’re napping on the couch after 999 days in quarantine, you know there is only love.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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