Tomorrow is Pali’s 10-year “Gotcha” Day anniversary. It’s hard for me to believe that it has been 10 years since I saw her sweet, big, brown puppy eyes looking out at me from behind a fence at the Kauai Humane Society. The story of how we came to adopt her is one we love to tell, and one with a lesson I continually need, especially now.
Stephen and I were newlyweds living on Kauai (how we got there is a whole other story). I was teaching high school English; he was producing commercials, editing travel videos, and helping me with the three extracurricular assignments I had besides eight preps. Our landlord’s wife was the director of the Kauai Humane Society, which explained the menagerie of dogs, cats, birds, pigs, and other lodgers at their house, and it also meant that we were more than welcome to adopt a dog, something we’d talked about doing from our early dating days.
We knew we wanted a black lab. I’m not sure exactly why we were so set on a lab, but we were. We made a Wal-Mart run for supplies (if you’ve every visited or lived on Kauai, you know that it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the entire island shops there—I had more informal parent-teacher conferences in the shampoo aisle at Wal-mart than I did in my classroom.) Then we went to the pound.
As luck would have it, they had a black lab puppy. He was about four months old, very friendly, and exceedingly energetic. We took him for a walk in their meet-n-greet area. Everything seems fine—he was a bit frenetic, but we figured he would calm down.
But a few pens down, there were two yellow and white, houndish-looking pups left from a litter than had been dropped off. The female came right up to the front of the cage and just looked at me. She looked like she might have some lab in her, maybe a few generations back, but it was clear that she was a mutt (a “poi dog” as they are called in Hawaii). Her ears had a perky cock, her puppy belly begged to be petted, and her eyes—oh her beautiful, deep brown eyes—just looked right into my soul.
I called Stephen over. “This one has a very sweet face,” I said.
He left the pen with the black lab and came over. I could see that he was also struck by her eyes and her willingness to make eye contact. He had learned in a puppy training class that you can learn a lot about a dog’s confidence and intelligence by its willingness to hold eye contact. I realized that the black lab hadn’t looked him in the eye. I sensed an opening.
“Maybe we should take her for a walk,” I suggested.
“Okay,” he agreed.
We took her for a walk. She was a curious puppy, eager to sniff, but also very interested in playing with us. She seemed like a great dog.
We were torn. We’d had a very clear vision of what we were looking for in a dog—a big, playful dog who would fetch and go on long walks. We’d even written a list of names that would work for a black dog (think: “ebony” and such). And they had a black lab puppy, exactly what we wanted.
But we hadn’t fallen in love with the black lab. We had fallen in love with Pali.
Luckily we were smart enough to listen to our guts, and we went home with Pali. Of course, anyone who knows us knows that she has absolutely completed us. She was our perfect match, and thankfully we were open to shifting our vision for the future when something better than we could imagine for ourselves came into our lives. She has been everything we’d ever hoped for in a dog and everything we didn’t even know to wish for—a big dog attitude in a smaller package.
Pali was very definitely our first-born who loved adventure and went everywhere with us (we took her as far as Paris and as close to our favorite restaurants in SF). After some training—more for us than her—she turned into a very well-mannered dog, even a certified therapy dog, and I frequently have people tell me she’s the best dog they’ve ever met. As one student said as she petted Pali in my office, “Pali, you make me think I could be a dog person.”
One of the best things about adopting Pali is that we started a habit of walking her every morning together. It’s still the most centering practice we’ve ever developed as a couple, and now we bring Lily along. I always feel like anything is possible when we are out for a long walk with the family. Stephen and I have often wondered what trajectory our lives might have taken had we not brought Pali home with us.
I love to bury my head in her soft coat and tell her, “It’s a good thing we chose you, Palikins.”
And it is a good thing.
We’re facing another new bend in our road right now. For a variety of reasons, after five years in San Francisco, we’ve decided to move back to San Diego with my parents for a while. It’s part finances in an expensive city catching up to us, part wanting to exhaust all avenues as we try to work together producing projects we believe it, part wanting to make sure Stephen can spend quality time with Lily (as opposed to rejoining corporate America), and part wanting to be closer to family as we raise Lily (actually, I’m really looking forward to “villa” life with three generations under one roof). We see this as temporary and plan to be back to the Bay Area soon, but it’s no doubt that a chapter has ended for us.
This wasn’t exactly what I envisioned, and I feel like I’m continually discovering how difficult change is for me. However, ten years ago when we listened to our hearts and brought Pali home with us, I learned that the unexpected bend in the road can be exactly the right path.
And so I’m holding on to that lesson as I kiss my dog and my baby. And pack my suitcase.