Bijou is surprised by an impromptu photo while he's relaxing in bed.

How did you find your dog? And what advice would you give others about choosing and finding their own? This post kicks off a three part series on that very topic - how I found or rather met my dog. And it shares lessons that I learned along the way as part of that wonderful experience.

Please be generous and share your comments and advice here too about your stories. These posts are designed to help humans and their canine friends make good matches.

My Story and Early Lessons:

I never thought I would get a dog. I was a happy die-hard cat person. My silver striped cat Nairobi fit my personality and vice-versa: both of us are independent, laid back and aloof. Best of all she uses a litterbox!

Dogs I reasoned were too needy; they always want attention. They bark. And when would I have time to fit walking one into my hectic schedule?

But five years ago, a life change broke down my reservations.

A year after my father died, my eldest brother suggested that I get a dog for my mother who lives with me. He was concerned about her being lonely while I was at work. I rejected the idea at first, but then because he was persistent, I became concerned about her myself.

She did need companionship during the day. Perhaps a dog would make good company. I immediately gained four lessons from my decision to get a dog.

Lesson #1: Commit to adopting a dog:
While dogs aren’t humans, they are creatures who need to be taken care of - almost like a child. If you decide to adopt one, you will need to invest money in food, healthcare and your overall time. Be prepared to take on this responsibility not just for a few years but for their lifetime. Many dogs live to up to 20 years.

Adopting a dog is a commitment so be prepared to make one. I did! I was ready to learn the difference between taking care of a dog and a cat.

While the prospective dog was meant for my mom, I knew that I would be responsible for it as she is elderly. Which brings me to the next lesson:

Lesson #2 Know who will be the dog’s caretaker:
I recognized that I would be the dog’s primary caretaker long-term. Many times people get pets for their children, other family members or friends as gifts. It’s a nice gesture, but again pets are living creatures, not toys. Make sure you know for certain whether the person you are getting a dog for can indeed take care of it. If you do not, I recommend that you get the person a plant instead.

Neither I nor my mother are very physically active people. Plus I had a cat. So I had to find a small dog that fit our lifestyle and got along with cats.

Lesson #3: Research and find a breed that fits into your lifestyle:
Research what breeds are manageable for you. If you are not an active person, then dogs that need a lot of exercise like collies or huskies are not good matches. Likewise if you do not have time to train a puppy, then a puppy will leave you frustrated instead of elated.

How Bijou Met Rosemary

Our dog Bijou fit into our family perfectly and he seemed to know he would! On a whim one weekend, I checked out the rescue dogs on display during a Petsmart adoption day presented by the organization K-9 Rescue League.

I spotted a chihuahua slightly bigger than a cat lying next to a small brown dog in a cage. The sign said his name was “Anthony.”

“I’ll take that one,” I’ told the volunteer.

“Don’t you want to hold him first?” she asked concerned.

“Uh I guess so.” I responded.

I sat on a nearby rocking chair and she placed him in my lap. He lay there and slid his head onto the crook of my elbow as though saying "I'll take this one!". We rocked for five minutes peacefully. He won me over!

I confirmed that I would take him and began filling out the necessary paperwork. When the volunteer, learned that my only experience with animals was with a cat and that the dog would be for my mom, she seemed alarmed.

“Are you sure you can handle this?” she questioned.

“Piece of cake.” I shrugged, with my typical cat person nonchalance.

We loaded up on dog stuff and headed home.

Lesson #4: Try Before You “Buy”:
The K-9 Rescue volunteer was right in insisting that I hold Bijou uh "Anthony" before I took him home. It’s important to handle the dog first to see whether you like it and it likes you! Plus if it’s your first time getting a dog, you should test out whether that particular breed and dog suits you. And you typically can do that on the spot during an adoption event. Another option is to foster a dog for a period of time before committing to adoption.

How did Bijou and I adjust to each other? Come back next Thursday where I’ll talk about how we both made the transition and what we learned!