Hey friends! If you know me and Boots, you probably know chunks of this story. If you don’t know us personally, welcome to our world! If you clicked the link that brought you here, you know that 8 years ago today, Boots came into my life. I’m going to take it all the way back to the beginning and tell our story today!
For you to understand this story, I need to set the stage. Two things happened in the spring of 2011 that opened my heart, and both of those things truly sucked, but thank god for them. I was lucky enough to go to an agricultural college to get my Animal Science degree and I loved it! I was afforded so many opportunities there to grow and learn, and one of those was to get a yearling fit for a sale at the end of the spring semester. I didn’t grow up knowing horses, so the whole experience was hard for me. Like most things that are hard, however, it was incredibly rewarding and my horse, who I gave the barn name Wildfire, became a huge part of my life. I didn’t have to be at the barn every day, but I was. I was lonely and lost in many ways during the time and though I was having a great time overall in college, I really needed the love and affection and structure that caring for another being every day provided for me. I’m sure y’all see where this is going now. My whole family came down to watch the sale, to watch this beautiful horse that I’d worked so hard with and poured my heart and soul out to. I guess I thought it would be like a Disney movie and my parents would see how much she meant to me, and how good she was for me, and surprise me by buying her for me– spoiler alert, that did not happen. Cut to me, alone in her stall, trying not to cry in front of the tough rude guys at the barn. I loaded her for her buyer and cried all the way home, and then I cried some more. I cried for days and weeks over Wildfire- she came to me just when I needed her and changed me for good.
The next terrible thing that happened was a bit more predictable and looking back, not as devastating as watching my horse ride away with someone else. There was a boy. He was older than me but for the purposes of this story, definitely a boy. I really liked this boy and in my naive, 19 year old heart, thought he felt the same way too- I wish I could go back and protect poor baby Jessica. While I can’t say he cheated on me, exactly (If only one person thinks the relationship is exclusive, it’s not cheating I guess?) I felt cheated on. Publicly, with the Facebook pictures to prove it! At the time I was heartbroken and humiliated and weirdly willing to “give things a try at the end of the summer” when the boy in question got back from a prior commitment. (Sidebar- come on little Jess, you deserved better!) Anyway, on July 8th of 2011 this person and I had our last bit of contact for the summer and I was confused and hurt and insecure and sad. I didn’t know how I was supposed to be feeling.
That was where my heart was at the day that I met Boots. It was July 9th, 2011- 9 days before my 20th birthday. I was grouchy and annoyed in general, and was not in a pleasant frame of mind when I received a text from someone who remains a good friend to this day (Love you KT!) She had left a pair of earrings at my house and needed them, ASAP, for a performance she was doing at our local farmer’s market. I remember both my sister and I being super irritable about this- you have to understand, our college town stayed 100+ degrees in the summer and our 20 year old car had leather seats and barely any A/C. But off we went, with the earrings in hand, and safely delivered them to our lovely friend.
This next part of the story I truly can only chalk up to fate. The local shelter always had a booth at the Farmer’s Market, but it was usually at the very far North end, opposite from where we’d come. Our friend’s gig was at the center stage. We weren’t walking the whole market, it was too hot- there’s no way we should have run into the animal shelter booth. By some mystery of the universe, however, they were set up on the South end of the market, just about the last booth we had to walk by before returning to our car.
I saw Boots immediately. He had no name, only an ID number. His kennel card said he was a 3 year old girl. He was curled in a tiny ball- all I could see were his big brown eyes looking at me. He was quiet. I don’t remember him choosing to approach me- I probably reached through the kennel to pet him- and I proclaimed to my triplet sister that we needed to adopt this dog.
It didn’t go any further at this point, but I must have grabbed a piece of paper with the shelter’s info or something. Embarrassingly enough, it devolved quickly into an argument, then a screaming match between my sister and I. The two of us and my triplet brother shared a duplex and they absolutely didn’t want me to adopt a dog. I was working that summer, so my sister would be the one who needed to take him out during the day. I definitely remember hearing the argument that I was not responsible enough to have a dog, and it’s true, I wasn’t. I liked to party and stay out until the sun came up. I was deeply insecure and got my validation from shallow and fleeting BS. So no, I was not responsible enough for a dog. But like hell was anyone going to stop me!
I was a BRAT about the whole situation- a big part of my argument was that my name was the one on our duplex’s lease (I mean to be fair, it was- I’d done all of the legwork to get us into the pet friendly Campus Family Housing section!) I basically said that I was adopting the dog whether she agreed or not. Our parents, as the people who were actually paying said lease, were called. Our triplet brother, who was spending the summer interning, was called. Many arguments were heard. Finally everyone decided they would deign to allow me to go adopt this dog (look at that 19 year old attitude slipping back in there! 😂)
Nicole and I raced across town to go adopt- naturally, the shelter was as far as it could physically be from our campus housing. When we arrived, I breathlessly asked for “the 3 year old female black and white terrier from the farmer’s market” and was met with blank stares. There was no 3 year old female black and white terrier but there was a male- would I like to see him? For whatever reason, I was stuck on the idea of a female. So I saw him- they took us to a little bonding pen outside. He didn’t engage with us, and if I remember right, he went and lifted his leg on something. I was not terribly impressed. Next I looked at a 3 month old female heeler pup and thank GOD I immediately realized that she was more than I could handle at that time. Then I looked at a 6 year old female long haired chihuahua- she did not look well, and I was smart enough to realize that at 19, working at a vet clinic part time for minimum wage, I was not prepared to handle what already appeared to be special medical needs. So it was back to Boots. I don’t know what ultimately made me do it- as Caroline Knapp says, fate has an uncanny way of bringing us what we need if we’re open to it. Something inside of me knew. Something in our souls recognized each other in that first moment I saw him. (Don’t worry y’all, my husband is well aware of how poetically I wax about my baby and I speak the same way about him frequently!)
We had to run back across town and get permission from Campus Family Housing to have a dog in our duplex, then go all the way back again to the shelter for paperwork. Keep in mind we were still in our old, air conditionerless Volvo! Once they had the housing paperwork, there was surprisingly little else that they needed from me. I had to sign that I’d bring him back for his neuter and that was pretty much it. I was terrified for a brief second when I realized the seriousness of the commitment and was told there was no going back. They chipped him, wrapped him in a towel, and handed him to me, and out of the shelter we went.
I only had female names picked out and thank god Boots is a boy because the girl names I’d picked were horrendous (Dixie Rose was one of them, God help me. I was 19, okay!!) I’d insisted my sister drive because I didn’t want my dog to sit in her lap and bond with her at all, a deep insecurity from our family dog, Cali, only having eyes for her and our dad. Of course, Boots loves to sit on whoever is driving so that was a moot point. We called our mom to update her on the proceedings, and it was her who named Boots for one reason, without seeing him- back then, I only wore cowboy boots! So Boots he was.
PetSmart was raided- a bag of food and a little red collar was purchased. Boots hated going through the automatic doors. And then we were home, and I really didn’t know what to do! I didn’t have supplies for him but we also didn’t want to leave him alone to go get supplies. We ended up taking him to a restaurant our performer friend was working at- she was flabbergasted by us bringing him inside of a restaurant. That was his first evening with me!
The first night he was home will forever hold a special place in my heart. I made a bed for him in a cardboard box- I hadn’t been able to go buy a crate- and bedded it down for him. I placed him in and walked out for just a second, only to return to him with his paws on the side of the box and his eyes big and worried. I comforted him and he settled, then I laid down to bed. I talked to him that night- I promised I would always be there for him, that I’d never let anything happen to him. I promised I’d never leave him. I told him I loved him and that I’d make sure to tell him so every night. And that was it- I was sunk.
From that night on we were about as inseparable as could be. He had worms, so we treated them. He had to get neutered of course, and leaving him overnight after having him for a month was the longest night of my life at that time! He began to show us his vocal abilities- screaming when I’d go into the bathroom or take a shower or leave the apartment without him. Thankfully that’s eased quite a bit.
Boots has changed my life. He’s been with me through moments of joy and triumph, and been the only one who stayed with me no matter what in moments of darkness and depression. As I’ve said before, he helped me start to feel inherently valuable because of who I was, instead of how others viewed me. He showed me loyalty I’d never known to that point in my life, and that as long as I had him, I’d be okay.
Happy 8th Gotcha Day, baby boy. Thank you for being my best friend, my dæmon, a piece of my soul outside of my body. You’ve taught me so much and I will forever continue to be grateful. Here’s to many more years of adventures together!