I have wanted a dog a really, really long time.

I have wanted animals my entire life. I would check out piles of books from the library so I could learn every possible fact about kittens and cats. I had no interest in television shows or movies unless there was a prevalent animal character. Every Easter morning, I woke up so sure that this year, my parents had finally decided to give me a pet lamb. I collected stuffed animals like crazy. I seriously must have a thousand dollars in stuffed animal stock at my parents’ house.

The summer before fifth grade, my mom and dad took me to PetSmart and let me adopt a kitten. I brought home Candy. She’ll be 14 soon and she lives with my mom and dad (she’s quite overweight, hates car rides and all other cats (and dogs), and has dander that seriously upsets Nathaniel and all the other allergic people in my life) and she’s probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I adored her and spoiled her through middle school and high school and when I came home from college for breaks, but I still always wanted a dog.

My friends and I took a lot of walks all around our neighborhood before we could drive, and I was constantly searching for dogs and cats outside (Strays? Outdoor pets? Didn’t care). There was a dog that lived behind my parents’ house, outside, in a pen attached to their house that was about four feet square and had a tall fence, and honestly, she wasn’t very well taken care of. So I used to let her out and play with her, take her for walks and on adventures. Eventually, her owners changed the latch on the gate. So I started taking a screwdriver to the fence and letting her squeeze out through the slats. All in broad daylight! In a very open neighborhood! I wanted a dog so badly that I was pretty much crazy.

I had a kind of traumatic event in sixth grade, and maybe to take my mind off of it, my dad started seriously looking into breeders of golden retrievers. I remember one day going to the breeder’s house and looking at the puppies. We picked one out, Madison. She was purebred and smart and beautiful. I remember taking her to obedience classes, and when she “graduated,” I made her a little cap. But I don’t remember much more about her, and we didn’t have her for very long. She wasn’t allowed inside, so she spent all of her time in a “dog run” in the backyard. It sucked. It made me really unhappy. And one day, my family decided she wasn’t living the best kind of life with us, so she went to live with another family near the American Furniture Warehouse. And that was that.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my best friend and I left campus at lunch. Not far from school, I saw a little dog running along the road. I pulled into the neighborhood he was running by and got out of my car. He wouldn’t come to me, just barked a lot, but when I got back in my car, he jumped in after me. We never found his owner; I’m pretty sure he was dumped. My best friend’s mother is a saint, and since dogs inside my parents’ house were obviously an issue, the dog lived with my best friend and his mom at their house. He was a rat terrier and we named him Mack (or “Buddy”), and he had a super happy life with us. We were all heartbroken when we had to put him down last summer because he had cancer. He was a great dog.

Still, I felt like I had never really had a dog of my own. It was always part of my plan to eventually get a dog, but it was so important to me that I be responsible. After N moved in with me, we talked about finding a house in our neighborhood that we loved, where we could have a dog, but then we decided to move to Kansas. While searching in Kansas, I checked every posting and asked every landlord we talked to what the pet policy was. The landlord of the place we took told me apologetically, “No dogs. Dogs need a yard.” So five months after we moved in, we broke our lease and got a house with a yard. The same day we moved into the house, I got my dog. His name is Cody and he’s a Blue Heeler mix, pretty small, a year and a half old. He’s crate trained and house trained and so smart and sweet. He gets along with the cats and only barks at raccoons and foxes and Nat loves him so much, too. I visited Cody at the shelter once every few days after I found out about him online, and the shelter was an hour away. I remember the second time I visited him, this time without Nat, he ran and jumped into my lap and I said, “You’re my dog!” It’ll totally go down as one of the best moments of my life.

And he actually hates the yard, but we’re working on it.