My stomach twisted into knots, and my insides were intertwined in a way that didn’t feel healthy. It resembled the feeling of nervousness, but I wasn’t nervous. It was a feeling similar to the rush of adrenaline right before a rollercoaster takes off or the feeling that accompanies the enthusiastic embrace of a long-lost friend. The bubbles of excitement were exploding deep within me, throwing a wave of nausea at my face. For some reason, I was cursed with hypersensitive nerves that made me feel jittery and sometimes sick if I got too excited. It was an unusual combination of feelings that usually had me quiet and focused on any distraction I could find.
“You excited?” my dad asked me.
“You could say that,” I said, meeting his eyes in the rearview mirror. He only chuckled and gave a sideways glance at my mom in the passenger’s seat. I had been waiting years for this day. It seemed so unreal. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t expect my whole family to tag along either. Even my little brother, Justin, decided to grace us with his company. Being the older sister, I wasn’t too thrilled about the possibility of my eleven-year-old brother ruining my mood by pulling some immature prank at the animal shelter.
As a relatively excitable sixteen-year-old girl, I was extra giddy that day and couldn’t stop moving. It was either a bouncing leg or the constant twisting together of my fingers. When I’m anxious, I bite my nails, so unsurprisingly, my nails were reduced to short pink stubs. I had been preparing myself for this day, but all my efforts had failed. My emotions were all over the place. I chided myself for not having a handle on them, but emotions are wild and difficult to tame. My attention shifted to the images outside my car window. I needed something to focus on and distract myself with. Counting sometimes worked, so I tried calming myself by adding up the total amount of trees we passed. The car was moving fast, so it strained my eyes.
Living in Virginia, there was a vast number of trees to count. Too many, in fact. Trees, bushes, stop lights, road signs, and buildings zoomed passed my car and melted together in a swirl of color. We were almost there, almost to the place I would find my best friend.
Ten minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot of the animal shelter. Once inside, we slowly ambled up and down the halls examining the kennels. We looked at several dogs, but none of them were a good fit for me or my family. They were all either too old, too small, too loud, or too aggressive. With my heart discouraged but still hopeful, I peered into each kennel one last time on our way out. At the last possible second, I saw a puppy I hadn’t noticed before. I knelt beside the kennel, and she shyly stuck her nose through the bars.
“Mom!” I called. “Dad! Let’s look at this one before we leave!” They turned around and examined the dog I was attempting to pet through the small opening in the gate.
“It looks like it’s going to be a big dog,” my mom said, wrinkling her nose. The deal had been to not get a dog bigger than midcalf. After some further prodding and begging, my parents reluctantly agreed to meet the puppy. A worker at the shelter brought us to a special room where we would meet her.
“I’m going to give you a big pile of puppy,” the worker said and placed the puppy in my arms. She sat perfectly still. She didn’t even struggle to get away. I stroked her light brown fur, and her big brown eyes looked up at me confused, almost sad. Her eyes were penetrating beams that pierced deep into my soul. This unnamed puppy was assessing me and my motives, my desires, my character, my heart. This pitiful little puppy, left without a home or a family, had just stolen the heart she was examining. I was instantly hooked and knew she was the one. The enormous smile on my face said it all. The worker informed us that she was an Australian shepherd lab mix, so we knew she would be a rather large dog. At only five months, she already reached my mom’s height limit. My eyes silently pleaded with my mother.
“As much as I hate to admit it,” she said. “I think this is the one.” I squealed in excitement. I had never been happier in my life. Unfortunately, that happiness was put on hold. We would not be able to take her home for a few days because she still needed a checkup at the vet. I just shrugged my shoulders, because even if I had to wait a few extra days, I was going to get this dog. I already waited sixteen years for a dog, so what’s a couple days more? We got everything set up with the vet, picked out her first toy, and left, leaving my future puppy waiting in her kennel.
For the next hour, my family and I tediously searched for a name that best suited the newest member of our family. We spat out one name after the other, but none of them stuck. We practically went through every name known to man, or dogs. Isabelle was too long, Brownie was too simple, Rogue was too fierce, and Sparkles was too girly. We were determined to find a name that we all agreed on; so, if only one person hated the name, it was thrown in the discard pile. Finally, after much debate, we found a name we all loved. My new puppy would be named Maddie. It was a unanimous decision. Somehow, the second that name was mentioned, we all knew it was the one.
After a couple days, my dad and I made our way to the vet to pick up Maddie from her appointment. My wait was over. I was finally going to be able to take her home, and I couldn’t wait to tell everybody and anybody that Maddie was finally mine. I strolled up to the veterinary office, leash and collar in hand, only to be brought disappointing news. Apparently, Maddie had contracted ringworm. It was treatable, but it would take about a month. I was faced with three options: move on and get another dog, keep her at the vet for treatment, or treat her at home.
“It’s up to you,” my dad said. He turned to look at me.
“I want this dog,” I told him without hesitating. “Let’s take her home.”
After many years of waiting, I finally had my best friend. Maddie was my playmate, my companion, my protector, my shoulder to cry on, and my stress relief all wrapped tightly in a little package with a wagging tail and a wet nose. If I never thought to double check the kennels that day years ago, I never would have found and fell in love with my furry friend.