Dogs and Marriage, Part 2:

Could I Find True Love Online?

Bernie

“Female non-smoking student, 23, passionate writer, swimmer, nature lover seeks non-smoking, athletic male, 25–35, for long walks, deep talks and more.”

In 1981, I placed this ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. I was a UC Berkeley junior who yearned for love, didn’t like parties and hated the bar scene. I knew that the “Personals” could be sketchy, but the thought of receiving letters and photos from prospective suitors set my imagination afire with fantasies of finding Mr. Right. Would it be Lester, Louis or Larry? Michael, Marc or Mordechai? Every week, I rifled through responses to my ad, my heart pounding as I searched for The One. But, meeting after meeting with men who never appealed to me in person as they did on paper made my heart sink.

Yet, 40 years later, I’ve been at it again. Thanks to the Internet, I can swipe right or left for pictures and profiles of potential companions, custom tailor my search by age, zip code and favorite activities, and discover with one computer click if a guy likes long walks, snuggling and children. Looking for love has never been easier. But finding it has been brutal during a pandemic, since I’ve been competing with millions of other people who, like me, want to ease the loneliness of lockdown — with a dog.

Since COVID-19 struck, shelters have shut their doors to public visits and rarely answer their phones. They post pictures of pets that are adoptable by appointment only — if you’re among the blessed to have your application approved. These appointments are hard-won. Slots fill up fast. Every time I got one, the dog I’d wanted was gone.

That’s what happened with Cliff. The adorable four-month-old hound-mix stole my heart, and I raced to submit my appointment request. Days passed. I checked my email hourly. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. A week later, the shelter wrote to say that Cliff had found his forever home. Crestfallen but undaunted, I inquired about Norman, Ross, Beans and Scout. All gone. My heart rebounded when I saw Baron from Dubai, an adorable floppy-eared mutt from the United Arab Emirates, but it sagged when I learned that he required a doggie roommate. Charlie caught my eye, although he was pudgy. Could I love a plus-size guy? I decided to go for it. But by then, he was gone.

Perhaps I was being too choosy. After all, I’m no specimen of physical perfection. Still, I’ve lived and loved enough to know that there’s got to be a spark. Chemistry matters.

Obsession took over. Day and night, I scoured shelter sites to see which dogs had come and gone. Puppies always went first. But I didn’t want a puppy. I wanted a dog with a little maturity, some education and training. I broadened my search to include private rescue organizations, whose even-longer application process made securing a mortgage look easy.

Unlike most colleges and universities, dog rescue groups don’t share a common application. Each group has its own dissertation-length questionnaire with trick questions like, “How much money are you prepared to spend annually on your dog’s care?” (Hint: “Any amount” is the answer.) What’s more, most groups post their available dogs on Petfinder, which has its own application. So, for every dog I wanted to meet, I filled out two applications. Applying to graduate school had been much easier. Still, no amount of effort was too much for the right man. I completed application after application, laying awake nightly, second-guessing every answer.

More hurdles awaited. I had to interview with multiple organization volunteers, who grilled me about why I wanted to adopt a dog and how I would occupy said dog’s every waking hour. I had to provide multiple personal references, photos of the inside and outside of my home, and copies of my driver’s license. I even prepared for fingerprinting.

I did not prepare to reveal my age.

No one actually called me too old, at 62, to rescue a dog, although the success that so many other applicants were having made me wonder. So did this email: “Baron from Dubai needs a doggie roommate, but perhaps you’ll consider Gordon, a nice senior dog…” So many big, young, active dogs needed love. Wouldn’t one of them want to meet me? Frustrated and deflated, I nearly gave up. Then one night, the call came.

Bernie wasn’t my usual tall and dark type, but his photo showed him to be handsome in a short, blond sort of way. He was on the young side and needed work on his manners, but he was sweet, smart and loved kids. Meanwhile, I had lots of love to give — plus a fenced in yard. What if they just want me for my yard? I mused, feeling objectified. No matter. I was finally going to meet a dog.

The chemistry was instant. As soon as we met, Bernie dove in for a snuggle and licks. I loved him immediately. Then, he started barking at cars, pulling on the leash as if I were a sled (he’s a lab-husky, after all), nearly ripping out my arm to lunge at squirrels, destroying plants inside and out, and barking at shadows. I wondered if I’d made a colossal mistake.

“We all have issues,” said Erik, the love of my life and husband of 27 years. “I sometimes drive you crazy, but you haven’t sent me back.”

True love, as Erik teaches me every day, means accepting the bad (or less-than-perfect) along with the good. And now Bernie, who follows me from room to room so he can be wherever I am, is teaching me too.

Public health writer/editor and author of the memoir, “Salt on a Robin’s Tail: An Unlikely Jewish Journey Through Childhood, Forgiveness, and Hope.”

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