I vaguely recall strolling down the aisles of dogs at the animal shelter with my parents almost two decades ago, trying to decide who we would welcome into our family. I immediately spotted a little white puppy with black ears and big brown eyes. My parents were skeptical of course, but I had my heart set. He had to be mine.
We took him home within the week. I named him Swimmer. I know what you're thinking: What kind of name is that for a puppy? The answer is a lot less sophisticated than you might think: I was four, and I really liked to swim. Hence, Swimmer.
Swimmer was a pain from the very beginning. As puppies do, he chewed shoes, my toys, his toys, furniture, wallpaper, you name it. He even chewed on the columns on our front porch. I distinctly remember my first Easter with him; I got an amazing Barbie veterinary clinic set, but didn't even have a chance to play with the brown bunny before he ate it. Obviously, five-year-old me cried.
As Swimmer grew up, he grew out of his puppy stage and into a whole new set of quirks. I still don't understand it to this day, but that dog loved toes. He would not stop licking my feet if they were in his line of sight. It got to the point where I'd wear socks constantly or have a blanket on me in the middle of summer so he wouldn't get to them. It was disgusting to say the least.
I didn't have any siblings growing up and only a few close friends, so Swimmer became my constant playmate. We'd play pretend sometimes, but mainly he'd just sit on top of all my toys so he could be the center of attention. My mom and I still laugh about how I'd yell "Mom! Swimmer's on my Legos!" down the stairs as he planted himself on top of what was supposed to be a spaceship.
He may have had his quirks, but he was 100% a part of our family. And with that, came the spoiling. We have a chair in our hearth room that he claimed every time we watched TV. Even now, we still refer to it as Swim-Swim's chair. When he wasn't lounging in his chair, he'd sprawl out over whatever blanket we'd lay on the floor, even if it wasn't meant for him. During our movie nights, we'd lay out a special blanket for him--a blue, Disney princess blanket--so he wouldn't get in the way. He always had to be in the middle.
Though we technically grew up together, I was his baby who needed protection. We used to play hide and seek in my parent's closet, and he'd sniff out my hiding spot every time. Whenever my dad would play wrestle with me he'd bound up the stairs to "save" me by barking relentlessly. Even when he got older and his stiff joints made it hard to get up the stairs, he'd still struggle up the stairs to come fight for me.
There are a million memories I could share with you, but there will never be any way to convey the full extent of how much that mutt meant to me. He had a ton of issues, both behavioral and health-related, but he was a huge part of my life and my earliest memories. He was a friend when I had no one, a protector when I didn't know I needed one, and a constant source of love throughout my childhood. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him, even six years after his passing.
It breaks my heart to think about all the animals who still need homes out there in the world. Every single one of my pets has come from a shelter, and I wouldn't trade any of them for anything in the world. My pets were and are so much more than just animals: they're my family. It takes strength to open your heart to a pet you know won't be with you forever, but the memories they'll give you will stay with you forever. And I guarantee, you won't regret them for a minute.