Buying a home went hand in hand with adopting a dog. I wanted a house with a yard and fence so I could have a dog. I wanted a dog so I could have security for the house and yard. So as I searched on Zillow for the perfect home, I scoured listings with local animal shelters for the perfect dog.
I had a few prerequisites in mind for the perfect dog. First, I wanted a dog that was too big for an apartment. Since the DMV is a metropolitan area, all the small dogs get adopted quickly. Many apartments have weight and breed restrictions. Many renters don’t want to share a studio with a large dog, or submit a dog to being confined in a small apartment. Plus as a security measure, a chihuahua-puggle mix probably won’t deter anyone.
Second, I wanted a dog that was an almost a canine senior citizen, at least five years old. An older dog generally is mellow and calm. As cute as puppies are, it takes an enormous amount of concentrated effort to train a dog from infancy. As a new homeowner with several DIY projects to complete, I wouldn’t have the time for a puppy. I’m also pretty lazy and I like the quiet, and I felt that an older dog would match my level of energy and my usual activities.
Third, my new bestie needed to be all black. Black animals get adopted at significantly slower rates than other animals. This phenomenon is called Black Dog Syndrome (BDS). Black animals don’t photograph well, so they receive far less interest via the internet. There’s also many negative portrayals of dark animals throughout literature and culture, such as the cliché bad luck black cat. Animal shelters also report that the intake, amount of animals they receive, are also pretty high for black dogs.
The black dog has a deeper meaning for me beyond altruism. For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with Major Depression Disorder. Over the years I’ve looked to historical figures who also had this condition for inspiration and motivation to excel in spite of depression’s challenges- Abraham Lincoln, Robin Williams are two such individuals. Another is Winston Churchill who famously called his Manic Depression his “black dog.” Depression as a black dog is a ubiquitous metaphor. At first it might seem a negative association, for me the idea of this issue being a dog made it more manageable. A dog left to its own devices can cause issues, but a dog who is well cared for attentively adds value and joy to life. So for me, a black dog would be a reminder that I have this thing, but this thing can be managed and just one part of my life.
So my criteria for my new critter was well thought out: I wanted a big, senior, black dog. Basically, I was looking for a dog with the least chance of being adopted. In 2015 I was definitely feeling some disappointment in my personal and professional life. I had endured an abrupt end of my naval career, a savage breakup which both left me feeling emotionally raw and fragile. Adopting a dog that maybe no one else wanted was a way to channel those feelings into something positive, and insert the pure joy of a dog’s companionship into my life.
One day in October, I was searching my favorite dog rescue Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation for adoptable dogs. And there he was, my dog. Two blurry photos of a black, shaggy, 7-year-old aptly named Bear. The short blurb detailed a dog who had it rough, rescued from apparent abandonment, malnourished, mangy. The foster parent said: “Bear is the best dog, happiest on a soft bed with a toy.” It was love at first sight. I adopted him as soon as possible.
He doesn’t seem too phased that I changed his name from the slightly unoriginal Bear (he looks like a Bear) to Johnny Cash. During my difficult times, Johnny Cash’s sober dark voice uplifted me during dark times. His personal struggles and eventual success in life and love motivated me to push through my problems. And like the real Johnny Cash, Bear-now-Cash was a man in black. Cash has seen his share of issues, and escaped the joint (the rescue kennel).
Today, a wet nose always coaxes me out of bed when depression tells me to stay there. A wagging tail greeting is better than coming home to an empty house. Cash, now 8-years-old is happy to romp around a few times, then satisfied to watch Netflix for hours on end. I’m pretty sure my dog agrees with all of my political opinions, and is always willing to cleanup spills in the kitchen.
My life is richer for having adopted him. My dog needs me, and I need him. Cash is the reason my house has become a home.