I Found Love in a Hopeless Place: The Animal Shelter

"I Found Love in a Hopeless Place" is a celebration of love in all its forms, with one new essay appearing each day until Valentine's Day.

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Photo: By Sage

When things got stressful in college, everyone had their vice. Some people turned to alcohol, others put all their time and energy into work. My vice was something different: When times were tough, I turned to dogs.

I started volunteering at the local animal shelter near my university at the beginning of my junior year of school. I was trained in handling dogs double my size and became addicted to visiting my favorites every day after class. One dog in particular was a seemingly hopeless case, he suffered from major anxiety due to a life of abuse and spending his entire puppyhood behind bars. We built up a trusting relationship and Tony (named after The Sopranos–his sister was Carmela) the 100-pound pit bull became more reliable than any college boyfriend I'd had.

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I trained Tony to give me hugs on demand and in return he received treats, hot dogs, and kisses. When I graduated, I had to say goodbye to my newfound friend, and I was more emotional than I ever thought I'd be over a dog. While I was moving out of my dorm straight into a Queens apartment with my best friends, Tony found a home and a new pal to spend his days with.

After college came the rude awakening of adulthood. My school stress was replaced with paying bills and dealing with the perils of a New York City landlord. But the hardest adjustment was getting over my time at the animal shelter.

Inevitably, I found myself searching the web daily for NYC rescues and spent hours staring at the canine faces through the computer screen. This was no surprise to anyone in my life. While most 6-year-old girls wished for new dolls or ponies with each birthday candle, I wished for a dog. Every single birthday for 23 years.

My parents advised me to wait a full year after moving into the city to start thinking about getting a dog, but I failed after six months. I found myself searching page after page on Petfinder.com until I came across this beautiful blonde Pomeranian looking for a home. Enter Sammy.

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And so it began. Lucky for me, Sammy's family was moving across the country and couldn't take her with them. She was passed over a few times because she had a hereditary disease called Addison's that would require monthly injections and daily medication. I didn't even think twice; to me, she was perfect.

In late December, I found myself crying hysterically on a Manhattan street corner with a dog crate at my feet. I'd left the InStyle office halfway through the day to meet Sammy's foster mom for the official hand-off. I was weeping so much that passersby stopped and asked me if I was OK. All I could muster between tears was: "This is my dog." They must have thought I was insane.

The rest is pretty much history. Sammy does everything with me. When I travel, she travels. When I go out to run errands, she's right there beside me. The whole neighborhood seems to know her by name to the point where it's safe to say my dog is more popular than I am. She goes shopping with me, goes to happy hours with my roommates and me in the summertime. Her blowouts cost triple my haircuts and she plays hard-to-get with every other mutt in the neighborhood. She's a real pistol.

Sammy lays right by my feet on planes and trains, and she has become a kind of security blanket for me, too. Growing up with anxiety, traveling was always stressful, but she's made it much easier. She makes me laugh every single day and I genuinely don't know if I could make it in this cold, hard, fabulous city without her.

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How I went from a 100-lb pit bull to a 12-lb blonde Pomeranian, I have no idea. All I know is I found love in that loud, smelly animal shelter, and I found love again when my Sammy popped her head out of her crate in our first ride home and crawled directly into my lap. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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