I always thought that I would have a big dog, my heart lurching when I spied greyhound and Great Dane rescue fairs. But what I have is a rat terrier, a tiny, spotty, oddy-body thing with petite feet, and question-mark tail. She has allergies, snores, and has terrible breath. But I needed this dog, I needed to be needed by her, and, quite obviously, she needed me, too.

I came across a list I made with my sophomore-year college roommate many moons ago, about the qualities I sought in a boyfriend. While a sense of humor and kind to his mother ranked high, one characteristic that came up time and again was fondness of dogs. So, of course, I’d marry the Man, who grew up on a farm and thinks animals have their place, either out in the barn or on your plate.

And that’s it.

But I still wanted a dog, knew I needed a dog. My hand felt incomplete without a leash attached. I wanted that dance of joy greeting when I got home from work every day.

Now, I didn’t just rush out and get any old dog, although I did try, much to the Man’s chagrin. First I brought home Andy, a cute beagle I fostered for a local animal rescue. He was a sweet dog, but had been abused. We were living in an apartment at the time and didn’t really have the time to spend with him to help him heal. So, when a beagle-loving family with kids called and asked about him, I knew it was the best for him to move on with his life.

Next was B, who I “borrowed” from my friend and co-worker T for a weekend. He is a big, sweet bear of a dog. Or since he’s gold and fuzzy, maybe a lion? He was a wonderful dog, but … at the end of the day, T wanted her dog back. So …

Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be?

Now, these events happened over the course of several years. About a year after the B debacle, I sauntered into a Pet Supplies Plus to get some aspen chips and timothy hay for the guinea pigs (a girl’s got to have pets, you know). And, the local shelter was having an adoption day, so I went to see. Just to look, of course. And I asked about one dog, a cute little shaggy brown faced, black backed puppy, but he had been featured on a local newscast the night before and summarily adopted. The man running the adoption event must have smelled desperation on me, and he placed a small, furry body in my arms. “She’s a sweetie,” he said. I remember he was missing his two front teeth and had an Australian accent. “I only brought her because today’s her last day.” The dog started to lick my arm. I got out my checkbook.

Man was less than impressed that I had adopted a dog without even asking. “But it was her last day,” I protested. “At the very least, we could find someone else for her to live with. Her last actions in this world can’t be licking my arm.”

The dog hadn’t been spayed yet, so the shelter wouldn’t let us take her until after the operation. It was a tense few days, as Man was in between business trips. I made him come with me to the shelter, where we had to go through an orientation session before they’d let us take our new pets home. He left to go outside about 2 minutes into the presentation, claiming that the dander was bothering his allergies. To this day he contends that it was only the dander that was bothering him, but I knew he was pissed. Marriage, if nothing, is about compromise. It was really important for me to do this, and I needed him to help me out with it.

I happily went through the seminar and then they led us into the adoption room. All of the dogs were in cages and we had to wait for them to be let out to us. The dog was still weak and groggy from her spay surgery, curled up in a ball in her cage. But as I knelt down to peep inside at her, she thumped her tail on the cage floor. This was one smart little dog.

The Man claims that he didn’t think she’d live very long, noting how small and pathetic she acted when we first brought her home. But she’s a survivor, and today she sleeps in the same bed as the Man who swore he doesn’t like dogs (and still says this, as he holds her in his lap and she licks his face).

We don’t know anything about the 4 or so years she had before us. She had some puppies, we can tell from her stretched out nipples. And she’s had some trauma, as noted by the scars on her front paws and a 2-inch pin the vet removed from her leg when we took her in to investigate a persistent limp.

She is utterly devoted to Mega, which is good. She wants to be where ever he is, despite certain danger. She isn’t the kind of dog to go off and do her own thing. She is a true pack animal, and we are her pack, for better or worse. She’ll stick with us.

Tonight we are having thunderstorms, of which Muttley is deathly afraid. She squeezed into the rocking chair with me and Mega while we read stories, and she is currently buried in a blanket on the couch next to the Man. She is our conscience, our soul. She reminds us what devotion and unconditional love truly are. When she needs us, she doesn’t think twice about asking. She loves us so much she has no idea we have warts. In so many ways, I wish I could be more like her. And I am so glad that she is part of my life.