Let’s be honest, now: this is completely unrelated to travel, being an expat or worldly things. But hey, this is my blog and I’ll do what I want to. Today that happens to be posting a video I made that is 100% just my puppy, Mary. Maybe I’m just procrastinating important things, maybe I just had a lot of time on my hands, being under siege from all this unending snow in Pennsylvania. Perhaps a little of both.
There are a lot of videos on my phone and I decided the best thing to do would be to compile them, put in some background music and poof! A puppy video is born. In reality, it took well over an hour, was annoying and I realized that I’m pretty unskilled when it comes to making videos. Also I apologize for using one of the most overused video songs, ever, in the history of the world. But I gave it my best shot, got some video-making practice and can now save lots of memory on my phone by finally deleting my million videos of Mary! Success.
I hope you like it! Although it is a puppy video, so I’m not sure what kind of soulless human being couldn’t… awkward pause…
I’m all about going with the flow, saying yes to opportunities that present themselves and diving in when I have no idea what I’m doing. This has brought me nothing but interesting opportunities, if not sometimes mildly uncomfortable, but always something manageable and usually a good life experience, to boot. But this morning, that tendency lead me to end up in the most absurd situation imaginable. I still don’t believe that just happened. It’s not even 9am, but I need a beer.
It all started last week, Friday, at 6:15am, as I made my way to the exercise track near my school with Mary in tow. As is usual, some Korean ladies on their way to… somewhere… stopped me and asked about me and my dog, commenting on how cute she is. One mentioned that she had dogs at home, but one died. We spoke in Korean, which means that I was understanding the gist of everything, but would occasionally miss a sentence but could struggle through. For some reason, which I couldn’t correctly comprehend, they (or she?) wanted to meet me. I reluctantly agreed to meet the following week, at 6am, in front of the school. Maybe they or she wanted to meet to exercise with me? One lady or two? To show me her dog? To feed me kimchi? Who knows. I said yes and figured that I’d find out Monday morning what exactly we were meeting for.
Oh boy, was I in for a surprise.
Monday morning, I groggily dragged myself out of bed at 5:45am, knowing that I was supposed to meet this lady whom I knew nothing about for unknown reasons in 15 minutes. I threw on an exercise outfit, put Mary on a leash and we headed out into the freezing cold. She was nowhere to be seen, so I headed to the track to begin running. About 6:30am, one question of mine was answered as I saw one figure walking towards me with something in her arms. The sun was still hiding and a full moon was shrouded in dark, ominous rain clouds, but as I got closer I was able to see that she was holding a dog. A cute, white, shaking, adorable little dog wrapped in a blanket like a baby.
We conversed in Korean, in which I understood really just one thing. This was her dog, and she had kept her promise to meet me. (Indeed!) She asked me a question in Korean, which I guessed to mean “do you want to hold her?” I motioned “holding” and we were both a little confused, and I said yes. She repeated this question, I said yes again. That verb I don’t know, it must mean “to hold”, right?
Damn me and my “yes.” I didn’t know it yet, but I had just agreed to keep her dog and raise it with Mary.
She motioned for me to walk with her, which I did, wondering when I was going to hold her dog like I’d just agreed to do. A question I am well accustomed to and understand clearly, always, she asked me where my house was, and we started walking towards it. I understood at this point that my run was over. Answering, I told her where I lived, at which point I gathered that perhaps she was going to leave the dog with me for a time. To play with me at my house? This was turning out to be more than I’d hoped to agree to.
Mary doesn’t even like other dogs, how are we going to play together at my place?
She told me about how she loved the dog and her younger sibling also loved the dog, but no one else in her house liked her. It was a sad tale, and I felt her pain. I answered a weird question about where my dog sleeps, which now in retrospect, was a question about where poor little Parry would sleep. “Oh, you really speak Korean very well, Sally!” she said. She asked when she should visit, which I assumed meant pick up the dog and take her back.
Suddenly I wasn’t so sure at all what I had agreed to. The verb “방문” means, very clearly, a visit. Not a return. A visit.
Confused, I carried a swaddled dog in one arm and pulled Mary on her leash back to my home. Mary hadn’t yet noticed that I was, indeed, carrying a dog and hadn’t commenced her usual aggressive barking when another canine is near. She was oblivious. I was also oblivious. And really, really confused.
Parry wasn’t in my house more than ten minutes before she shit on the floor.
As sweet as little Parry is, there is no way I want to have an unhouse-trained dog in my house, even to play. Even if her little white tail is dyed orange. It wasn’t even 7am yet, but I figured I could use some help from a Korean speaker. I called my boyfriend, woke him up, and was yelled at for telling this stranger my house address. I don’t even know her! Now she knows where I live! It’s a weird situation, what if she’s trying to farm my organs or something! His grumpiness, unclear morning thoughts and paranoia about my safety combined into an unfortunate combination. I sent him a picture of Parry and the lady’s phone number, amid cleaning dog shit off my floor.
Mary finally noticed that there was another dog in the house, and barking hell broke loose. I shut her in the bedroom, separate, and mentally apologized to all my neighbors that weren’t up already for work. She was one unhappy puppy, clawing at the door and barking, even though little Parry didn’t respond one bit.
I poured myself a very much needed coffee.
After a few minutes, my boyfriend called me back and I was not prepared to hear what he had to say, as the official translator. I’d ignored my deepest suspicious, that I was supposed to keep this dog, because it seemed like way too strange a scenario to be real. My gut already knew, though. This lady that I had met twice, randomly, had given me her dog to keep. She couldn’t afford to raise it anymore, because extra family had moved in recently and they didn’t like poor little Parry. She thought I would be a good candidate, because I already had a dog and like dogs and I’m nice. Apparently I had gone along with it the whole time.
I had accidentally adopted a dog.
My official translator then communicated to her that it wasn’t possible for me to keep little Parry; I have dog allergies (true, Mary is hypoallergenic) and I’m leaving soon for the USA. I had misunderstood. I thought I was just supposed to play with her for a little bit and then give her back. I thought I was babysitting. I, sadly, can’t keep the dog and raise her. Mary doesn’t even like other dogs. I’d meet her at 7:50am and bring back Parry, and she’d have to find a different home if she couldn’t keep her.
I literally burst into a fit of laughter, because I didn’t know what else to do.
I also felt stupid, stupid and really stupid for somehow agreeing to keep her dog and simultaneously really guilty for letting her hopes down. In my guilt, I put together a little package of dog food and grape juice packets as an apology gift. An “I’m sorry I pretended to speak Korean, adopted your dog and then unadopted your dog immediately afterwards,” gift. I got a fair warning from my boyfriend to not say “yes” to questions that I don’t understand and a nice apology for yelling at me when he was tired.
I continued laughing.
As Mary barked repeatedly, still scratching at the door, as the little white dog pissed on her own blanket only twenty minutes after shitting on my floor and as I continued to try and choke down some caffeine so I could understand what was happening in my absurd life, I laughed out loud until it hurt. I bellowed.
7:50am, waiting outside my school, I held little Parry in my arms as she shivered in the cold. The same Korean lady walked up, a big smile on her face of amusement (and probably a little hidden disappointment) and took Parry back. I handed her the bag of goodies, my apology gift, which she graciously accepted as well as my apology, in Korean. She didn’t try to say anything else in Korean to me, probably out of fear that I wouldn’t understand. Her fears were grounded in a very recent reality of huge misunderstanding.
I walked into work, still in disbelief, recounted the story to my early morning class and took a moment to breath. By 8am, I had accidentally adopted a dog and then unadopted her. This story was one for the books.
Sometimes, I don’t believe my life.
I would ask whether you’d ever accidentally adopted a dog before, too, but I feel like I’m alone on this one.
I have a full time job. I have an active circle of friends. I’m living in a foreign country and like to explore when I have the time. I have hobbies that I’m devoted to. How the hell do I manage a five-month-old puppy on top of all that?
It definitely gets tough for me, since I live alone and there’s no babysitter next door that I can call up. I don’t have parents or a sibling or anyone else that might be home when I’m not. It’s just me. I’m responsible for feeding, washing, grooming, disciplining, exercising and most importantly, loving my puppy.
Sure, when I need to go somewhere or I’m away for a weekend, I can usually convince one of my friends in town to keep her around for a short 24 hours or so. But that involves soliciting the opportunity and working out drop off and pick up times, and convincing someone who doesn’t regularly have a dog around to take on all of those typical responsibilities. And on weekends, plenty of people are out of town just like me. Sometimes it doesn’t really work out.
So how do I do it? How do I raise a baby dog while I work full time, for starters? To be honest, it’s rough business. Sometimes, it just sucks. Time is often short. I sometimes guilt trip myself to China and back about leaving her by herself or not spending enough time exercising with her or whatever reason I can come up with. But, at the end of the day, she’s taken care of enough and gives me lots of kisses when I come home, so I feel safe saying that I’m doing a decent job of a pretty demanding juggling act. For anyone else who’s found themselves in this same position, whether by choice or by chance, have no fear because it can be done. Here are the hints and tips that I’ve picked up along the way.
[Note: I have a million pictures of my puppy, Mary, so I will simply be littering this post with them. Enjoy.]
Evaluate Your Current Lifestyle
If you like to hit the clubs 3-4 days a week and you’re at work 5 days a week, maybe having a puppy isn’t going to be the best option for you, since you’re never home. If you haven’t been in town for the last 6 weekends, then perhaps it’s not the right timing for a baby animal. Step 1 is make sure you have the right lifestyle setup for a puppy. If you don’t, then don’t commit to raising one. If you are home a decent amount of the week after work and don’t spend a lot of nights out until 4am, then you are a perfectly suitable candidate for lots of puppy kisses and being a puppy mama or papa.
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
This is, regardless of your life situation, pretty much the golden key to keeping all puppies happy and keeping yourself sane. It doesn’t matter if you spend 24 hours a day with your puppy; if you don’t exercise the little beast, your life is gonna be a nice, long nightmare. Heck, even when you do exercise your puppy, he or she sometimes pops right back up with a hidden burst of energy to try and make you go insane. When you work full time and sometimes meet friends for dinner, or are about to drop your puppy off for a bit of alone time with a friend, the key is definitely exercise. Tire your ball of fur out until he or she literally could care less about your presence in the room. Before you leave for work for 8 hours, or 5 hours or whatever, exercise with your puppy and make sure he or she is tuckered out. When you have work to do at home and need some peace and quite, take your puppy for a run or walk to keep him or her sleeping for a bit, so you can have some time to really concentrate. The golden key: a tired puppy.
Treats & Toys are Your Best Friend
There is no possible way that you’ll be able to make your puppy sleep for 8 hours straight, while you go to work. But if you can get your fluff ball sleepy for three of them, then you can just leave a little something to fill up the next 5. This is where treats and toys are your best friend. Bones to chew on keep puppies occupied for hours. Hiding treats inside towels squished between the wall and your furniture? Your puppy now has treasure hunt to keep him or her occupied. The people-with-dogs internet is obsessed with something called “Kong toys” where you put peanut butter in the middle, so if you can get your hands on one of those, then your life is made. No more bored puppy!
Pester Your Friends
When you’re alone, you don’t have much of a choice: you’re going to need to find a puppy sitter sometimes. Your friends are your big group of babysitters. You’ll need to get pretty marketable with the situation and do your best to never complain about your puppy around them. Show them adorable pictures. Ask people individually before you ask the group. If you can get 1 or 2 people to constantly say yes, then you’ve just lifted a nice load of stress off your shoulders and won’t have to worry about managing an occasional overnight in Seoul. And then thank them: bring them presents from 711 or wherever it is that you’ve been recently. Pester your friends and then make sure they know that you’re grateful.
Just Bring Him or Her
Want to get dinner with friends, but you don’t want to leave your little dog alone again tonight? Is the weather alright? You can plan an outdoor picnic and bring your puppy along for the fun. If you want to plan an activity, see if you can just incorporate your puppy into it. Sometimes it’s not possible, but oftentimes a little adjustment can make room for your hairy ball of energy to come along too. Coffee dates inside can before coffee dates outside or simply on the shop’s patio. An outing in another city could be spent partially in the dog park and partially at an outdoor restaurant. Grab a beer from the grocery store, not the bar. Quick errands can be done puppy in hand, no one is going to stop you from walking inside with the cutest animal known to man for 10 minutes. See if there’s a way to work your puppy into your plans, instead of feeling guilty leaving her alone.
Stop Feeling Guilty
That face little girls make when you didn’t give them enough ice cream is called a “puppy face” for a reason. Don’t fall for the sad face your puppy makes when you leave, he or she will be just fine. It’s just what puppy faces look like! They look sad. They induce guilty feelings with one glance. Take a deep breath and let it go: sometimes your puppy has to be alone. Sometimes he or she has to be alone for an entire day. Sometimes he or she will need to endure a solitary overnight . As long as you’re doing your best, sleeping at home most of the time and keeping those meals regular, you’re doing a good enough job. I struggled with this myself for a long time. I didn’t want to “ruin” her by not being home every day after work all evening and at least one full day during the weekend. But sometimes that’s just not possible and that’s okay. Breathe. Your puppy will be fine. Treats, exercise, hidden treats and some trust and things will turn out alright.
Plan Your Getaway
Just like with kids, having a dog child can get overwhelming and stressful and annoying, no matter how much you love the little bugger. Give yourself a weekend here and there to get out of town and have a friend take care of your puppy. Plan ahead of time so you’re not springing a long puppysitting job on anyone, and then take your butt to a new place and relax. Meet a friend down South, go camping, visit the waterfall you’ve had on your list or just sit in your own home and enjoy the little time you’ve carved out for yourself. You’re raising a toddler/animal combination, you deserve it.
Puppies are fun, energetic, adorable and definitely ridiculous. Really ridiculous. But with a bit of patience and some smarts about how to handle the situation, it’s not impossible by any means. You can raise a puppy alone, with a full time job, keep your friends and even see some new things in your area, if you’d like. I never expected to have a puppy when I got to Korea and I don’t have that ideal, stay-at-home-mom lifestyle that a lot of families wait for before getting one. But I’ve found a way to make it work and I know that even if I’m not home all of the time, when I am home, I make it count.
And hey, if you’re in South Korea, just think of all the family “pets” that stay tied up outside and in a cage all day, under exercised. I’m pretty sure you can do better than that. So don’t worry, you can raise the cutest ball of fluff up to be a kind, loving dog even on a tighter schedule than you’d like. Good luck and have fun, because puppy cuddles really are the best!
Last month, when I thought about my life in Korea, or the immediate future, having a pet was not one of my thoughts or aspirations. I love to travel and am always hesitant about acquiring what I like to think of as “permanent possessions”, or something that can’t be left behind or replaced. I don’t have an eReader or a large camera and I resist buying clothing that I’ll ultimately get rid of before my next big move. There are multiple international flights in my foreseeable future. For someone who travels, owning a dog is pretty much last on the list of things that will make life easier. But sometimes… life doesn’t really care about any of that.
As many of you know, I live in a pretty rural area of South Korea. When I first started delving into DSLR photography, my backyard seemed like the perfect place to practice. Looking back, practicing around the neighborhood has also yielded some of my favorite shots.
Take a little walk in my shoes through these photographs. South Korea isn’t just Seoul, and if you get the chance to venture out and see this authentic and rough side of the hermit kingdom, then take it.
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