I started begging my mom for a puppy when I was 8 years old. I took a Tweety Bird keepsake box I had, and I taped a piece of paper to the top that read, "To Prove To Mom I'm Responsible Enough For A Puppy." For about a year, I filled that box with sacred allowance money and my earnings from the tooth fairy.
As my makeshift piggy bank grew, so did I, and my interests did along with it. I turned my attention from puppies to all things sports, and the Tweety Bird box filled with the hope of buying a puppy became a distant memory.
It wasn't until 10 years later that my former desire for a family pet was rekindled. When my mom's then-boyfriend found out I had never had a pet, he insisted we get a dog. And so, for my 19th birthday, we drove an hour away to pick out the new addition to the family.
When I saw an 8-week-old pug with her little alien eyes and a body that could fit in my hands, I fell in love. As I held her in my lap, I felt like 8-year-old Casey with the Tweety Bird box full of cash all over again.
The day I brought Coco home was the beginning of my transformation from 19-year-old college sophomore to 19-year-old single parent to a brand new dog. Despite my mom's warnings about the responsibility having a dog entails, I was so focused on the "cute factor" that I looked past the not-so-cute duty of raising a newborn.
As Coco now nears her fourth birthday, I feel nostalgic thinking back on the times we've shared together. From 8 weeks old, Coco and I have experienced our fair share of ups and downs. Even though I raised her from puppyhood to adulthood, I often feel like Coco was the one raising me.
1. Raising a puppy taught me having kids can wait.
Up until Coco, I always pictured myself getting married by 25, settling down and starting a family by 28 and starting my happy little family. All it takes is a day of cleaning up three separate "accidents" in the house, and dealing with this little thing following you around everywhere you go and begging to be played with to realize that true motherhood can wait. Parents, I'm telling you, give a teenager a puppy, and they'll never want to have unprotected sex ever again.
2. Raising a puppy taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.
Of course, I'm extremely close to my family and love them no matter what they do. However, even their worst moments don't normally include pooping all over the house or throwing up in their own bed. (If they did, I would still totally love them.)
Having to potty train Coco and deal with her worst moments (which often included the aforementioned incidents) taught me about the purest form of love. Despite my strong gag reflex, I'll clean up her messes any day because I love her, and that's what you do for the people — or dogs — you love.
3. Raising a puppy showed me it's OK to make mistakes.
While I didn't personally bring this little ball of fur into the world, I was gifted the opportunity to show her what this big, beautiful and sometimes scary place has to offer her. Not only was this my first dog, but it was my first pet, period. So, I didn't really know what I was doing most of the time with Coco.
But you know what the wonderful thing about that is? She didn't know any different. Whether I chose to walk her in the morning or at night, we were on this journey together, mistakes and all.
4. Raising a puppy taught me it's OK to be vulnerable.
I got Coco when I was home from college for the summer, shortly after breaking up with my high school sweetheart. With my mom and her boyfriend out of the house at work all day, it was just me and my new pal holding down the fort.
As I didn't have any distractions like a summer job (let alone a car to go meet up with friends), I was left with nothing but time every day, most of which was spent reminiscing on my failed relationship. One afternoon , I was folding laundry at the dining room table and burst into tears. Even the simplest act somehow reminded me of my former love and the memories we shared.
In that moment, as I sobbed all over my freshly washed whites, I looked down at my dog lying at my feet and realized it was going to be alright. That moment of vulnerability in my world of loneliness and stifled sadness allowed me to see the importance of the healing process.
5. Raising a puppy taught me what it means to truly be selfless, and sometimes selfish.
Similar to the moment in which you have a child, the moment you get a puppy, your entire life changes. Your everyday is no longer dictated by what you feel like doing, but rather what you can accomplish while still taking into consideration the dog you have waiting at home for you.
Dinner with friends is no longer a spontaneous opportunity, but rather an in-depth, pre-planned event as Coco needs to be walked after work and has to go to the bathroom at a certain time. The flip side of this, however, is that a dog is meant to be enjoyed and bring happiness to your life.
Dogs should never be a reason for missing out on happy hour with the cute boy who asked you out last week or attending a concert you bought front row seats to last year. Make the necessary arrangements with your roommate or favorite dog sitter, and live your life.
But don't forget it's all about compromise with a dog, and make sure you include plenty of treats and playtime into the time you do spend together.
6. Raising a puppy made me both a teacher and a student.
Raising Chloe gave me the incomparable experience of being the teacher, while also reaping the benefits of being the student. While a lot of the things I had to teach Coco were things I've personally known for years, there were plenty of moments along the way in which she helped me learn. Traits like patience and compassion were ones I've always prided myself on having, but it wasn't until Coco came along that I feel I really grasped the depth of these qualities.
In the moments we've shared and the memories we've created, Coco has always been by my side (for better or worse). And with each passing day, she helps me continue to better myself both as her mom and as a person.
Raising a puppy is exactly as hard as everyone makes it out to be. Dogs can take your amazing day and turn it upside down with one outburst or accident.
They will bark at every neighbor who walks by and keep you from enjoying a peaceful evening at home. They will keep you from hitting up the club every night of the week with your girls and from sleeping in on the weekends.
At the end of the day, it can be a love-hate relationship with your puppy. But despite all the awful things it may do as you raise your puppy into adulthood, you still love it unconditionally. Because as you raise it, your puppy raises you. And for that, we are eternally grateful to the little balls of fur.