I was raised as a cat person.

If one declared a major for this type of lifestyle, mine would have been Siamese cats.  These are the only breed of cat my family ever owned, and though I couldn’t tell you exactly why that was I do have to say that they are particularly cool cats.  Their markings, their remarkably loud meows that sounded like babies’ cries over the phone, their almost regal attitude…Siamese cats rock.

This was why I was particularly crushed on a visit home from college to find that I’d developed a cat allergy.  My body had betrayed me.  The itchy eyes and sneezing were unbearable, though, so cats became a long distance friend to me.  This meant when BrightSide and I decided to get a pet there really wasn’t a debate to be had.  We’d be a dog family.

This was BrightSide’s dream all along.  Frankly, he has some kind of cat loathing attitude that I don’t fully understand.  (This makes my visits with the kids to PetSmart particularly delightful, since ALL they want to do is adopt one of the cats that the animal shelter keeps there.)  BrightSide’s family had always owned small poodles so not only did he want a dog but he longed for a big dog, one he could wrestle and play with.  This was what eventually led us to our first pet, Heidi.

Before I go any further, I’ll reiterate: I’d been raised to love on cats.  Pets were pocketbook-sized and could sit on your lap.  THIS was what I was accustomed to:

our sleepy cat
our sleepy cat – Check out that sofa pattern, circa 1979.

It wasn’t that I disliked dogs, but thinking back now I realize how little exposure I’d had to them. I don’t remember even having any childhood friends with dogs, so when we brought Heidi home from the animal shelter I can honestly say I was about as unprepared for a large dog as a person could be.

BrightSide and I had been married less than six months when we visited the shelter in search of our first furry friend.  That was a tough trip – I wanted to bring them all home – but one particular dog won BrightSide’s heart.  She perked right up when we looked in her kennel, and when BrightSide wiggled his fingers near the opening she poked her snout through and nibbled on them.  And that was that…our furry friend had picked us.

BrightSide with Heidi (the big one) and Ginny

Heidi was an amazing dog.  She was a Labrador Retriever/German Shepherd mix – sweet, loyal, smart as a whip – and at nine months old she was the perfect match for our family.  Heidi was big enough to be rough-and-tumble, but she was also young enough to have plenty of puppy energy. Watching BrightSide play with her was like seeing a boy with his first dog.  He adored Heidi, and clearly the feeling was mutual.

So with all this sweetness and joy wrapped up in one furry energetic body, what could possibly have been my problem?  Well, it’s all about perception.

I was well-versed in cats – lap-sized, little paws, rough tongues, small whiskery face with a mouthful of teeny teeth. Even if I was sitting on the floor when the cat approached he would be looking up at me for attention.  This was the pet perspective I was accustomed to.

But that point of view was turned inside out during Heidi’s first evening at home.  I was sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch while talking to BrightSide, when Heidi came rushing at me from the other side of the room.  (In reality she probably just walked over to get some love, but again…cat person perspective.)  THIS is what I remember seeing:

Yeah.  It looked just like that.
Yeah. It looked just like that.

Anyone who knew Heidi is now laughing hysterically because that gentle soul wouldn’t hurt a fly, but she scared the crap out of me that night.  For real.  Because I wasn’t looking down at a furry feline tiptoeing toward me.  There was a very big dog coming straight at me.  It was all the more startling because I was on the floor, so her enormous mouth filled with very sharp teeth was right at eye level. I remember snapping my head back and staring at her gigantic (to me) snout, thinking “yeah, she could probably bite my head off…”

I don’t remember how long it took me to adjust my perspective, though Heidi convinced me pretty quickly that I didn’t need to worry about my head remaining attached to my body.  She very patiently waited for me to become a dog person and loved me unconditionally during the process.

I look back now and can’t believe I ever had this kind of reaction.  I still love cats – there’s something about the way they move that I find fascinating, like you can see the tiger trapped inside their little bodies – but I’m wholeheartedly on board the dog train now.

I can’t imagine life without these two fur balls.