The author, at right, with her boyfriend Carl and his dog, Lucy. (Nina Biagini)

Three months after we started dating, my boyfriend, Carl, was scheduled to close on his house. He was finally getting two things he always wanted: a home and a dog. 

I was thrilled he would no longer be living with his parents and was excited for the second part of that equation, too. I was not ready for a dog of my own, so this seemed like a great compromise. If my boyfriend got one, he’d do the hard work. I’d do the cuddles. 

We ended up at animal control, looking — just looking — at dogs for him to adopt with his closing date two weeks away. In the very last cage, we found our girl. Small and white, spots on her ears and snout, she looked up at us with big brown eyes. I bent down so she could smell me. She licked my fingers. We were told that if Carl wanted this dog, he would have to put a hold on her now and take her in three to four days.

Carl’s parents already had two dogs and didn’t want any more, even for a short period. I, on the other hand, had no other animals at home. I was in love with the dog, now named Lucy, and was in the middle of falling in love with Carl. I agreed to foster her for 10 days until he closed on his house. 

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I don’t want this to mess us up.” 

I was excited. What could possibly go wrong?

The first day with Lucy was full of cuddles and no accidents. But we soon realized she wasn’t housebroken; she just wanted complete privacy, something I didn’t give her that first day.

The second day, my roommate carried Lucy to her bed and Lucy peed all over my roommate’s duvet. I was now determined to potty-train this dog, never mind that it wasn’t my job.

Meanwhile, I had real work, too. Because I work from home, it was easy to prioritize the dog. But taking care of Lucy was so demanding that it was impossible to get any work done.

That night, she woke me with a fierce cough, and I noticed that her belly was swollen from being spayed. Carl and I rushed her to the vet, where we were told she had kennel cough and that she was probably allergic to the sutures from her spay. I’d have to give her an antibiotic and put compresses on her belly a few times a day. 

Less than 24 hours later, Carl back at his parents’, I noticed hives in Lucy’s armpits. I panicked. The vet told us the dog had food allergies to either beef or poultry. We — or rather I — would have to eliminate foods and then reintroduce them.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Carl and I were trying to get Lucy to eat and drink. As Carl got ready to leave for a family party, I broke into sobs.

It was the first time he’d seen me cry. I’d gotten exactly zero writing done the past week, exhausted by the work Lucy required and the stress of all her problems. Oh, and it had been a while since I’d seen my own family — but yeah, sure, I’d stay home with his dog. Carl is the most generous person I know, but even generous people can be selfish sometimes. Didn’t he understand that by taking on a puppy he couldn’t always do what he wanted? Where was my teammate?

He admitted that he had been thinking of himself — not Lucy, not me. He promised to work on it.

Then his closing was pushed back a week.

Meanwhile, I was growing more resentful. I wondered: Was Carl capable of putting someone else’s needs before his own, such as those of this needy dog he adopted or, you know, his girlfriend? Did he value what I did for a living? Could he take constructive criticism and change? In essence: Was he a grown-up, and could he have a grown-up relationship?

I kept my eye on the calendar, knowing Lucy would be gone before it burst. Then his closing was pushed back a second time. 

The vet dubbed Lucy a Velcro dog, and she was. Due to her past, Lucy has severe separation anxiety. In an entire month, I was only dog-free and boyfriend-free once. It was for a funeral. And yet, a part of me was high on the feeling of freedom, even as I felt the overwhelming sadness of the event. Talk about a wake-up call.

When I asked Carl to watch Lucy during the funeral, he agreed to “babysit” her. “You’re not babysitting her,” I shot back. “She’s your dog.”

He was given another closing date just as my credit card bill and rent were due. It was there in black and white what this dog had cost me in work. I freaked. The balloon of resentment popped the night he went to get drinks with a buddy. I unkindly told him to come get the dog. I’d used up all my patience. “I am done,” I told him.

But I realized I didn’t know what I wanted when it came to Carl. I was in an avalanche of stress, frustration and pressure. I didn’t know which way to dig: There was the dog. There was my money situation. There was the fact that I couldn’t leave the house. It was everything at once, and I didn’t know which feelings were real.

Carl was patient as I apologized, insisting I tell him all of my concerns regarding fostering Lucy — and our relationship. He promised to do whatever he could to alleviate my stress until he could take her off my hands. He didn’t defend himself. He listened. 

Eventually, he did close on his house. We dug our way out of the avalanche, Lucy in tow. Now we both try to communicate so that nothing festers, so that the only thing between us is a squirming puppy, eager for cuddles and kisses.


I love my boyfriend. But do I love his dog?

The space between like and love, as seen on Netflix’s ‘Love’

I dream of owning a dog the way some people yearn for a baby