When it’s not love at first sight

February 14, 2008: It was my first Valentine’s Day working for DogTime, and I celebrated by writing an essay called Can You Love Your Dog Too Much? It was a tribute to our first rescue — a timid shelter dog my husband Mike and I named Uno.

Four years later, our family looks a bit different. We adopted Maybe (as in maybe my husband will be comfortable with a Pit Bull, maybe not) mostly because we wanted a companion for Uno. That, and we’d moved across the country to be able to afford a house with a real yard to accommodate more animals. Point is, we were ready.

I’d been lobbying for a Pit Bull, specifically, since before we moved, but Mike wasn’t sold. He was nervous our families, who hadn’t completely sorted out reputation from fact, might overrreact. I shouldn’t have worried. The minute he laid eyes on Maybe at that fateful adoption fair, he was smitten. And most crucially, Maybe took to Uno like the older brother she’d always wanted. We brought her home.

But to my surprise, and even embarrassment, my own bonding with Maybe wasn’t instantaneous. Nothing to do with her breed, I just didn’t immediately connect with this dog the way I had with Uno. For one thing, Maybe wasn’t as outwardly vulnerable as Uno. She didn’t need me the way I imagined he did. She was a rescue, yes, but where Uno is somber and soulful, Maybe is jolly and exuberant, her zest for life in no way compromised by her traumatic past. I realize that’s a good thing — a great thing — it’s just that this wasn’t the rescue I’d envisioned.

With Mike it was a different story. He and Maybe had a rapport from the beginning, hitting it off in a way that I do with some dogs (and even some people), but that I hadn’t quite with her. We were a little awkward around each other, a little unsure. There were no ill feelings whatsoever — she could happily curl up in my lap. But if Mike sat down, she’d promptly relocate. And that concerned me. Hadn’t I practically insisted we adopt a Pit Bull? Why wasn’t it love at first sight?

Meanwhile, Maybe was winning over everyone she met. I had honestly worried she’d be ignored the first time we brought her to the dog park. I was used to coos and comments about beautiful Uno; poor Maybe, I figured, will be overlooked. Instead, Maybe was wriggling up to — and enchanting — strangers, play-bowing the hell out of the other dogs, and racking up the compliments faster than you can say Xoloitzcuintli. I actually felt indignant that no one was remarking on my first born anymore.

Perhaps the biggest coup of all was how quickly Maybe had won over Uno, a dog slow to warm to both humans and canines. (The qualities I’d once chalked up to sensitivity and soulfulness may really have just been early manifestations of an inner curmudgeon. Uno — and Dog knows I love that animal — turns out is a bit of a grouch.) But Maybe could coerce him to play, nudging a rope toy into the side of his head until he’d finally start tugging. Or I’d walk in on them sharing a single dog bed, licking each others’ muzzles, like a couple of sweaty teenagers.

The whole world, it seemed, had fallen in love with Maybe. And while I had loved Maybe and felt protective of her from the beginning, I wasn’t in love with her. I’d expected my Pit Bull to be needy — or at least a little melancholy. Vibrant, mischievous Maybe was neither.

I can’t remember how or even when I let go of those expectations — I don’t think any of it was conscious. At some point I just stopped trying to write the story I thought I was supposed to be telling about her… and became charmed. The clucks and whinnies she makes in her sleep. The way she rests her head on your shoulder from the back seat as you drive. Even her prodigious flatulence. Actually, no. I could live without that last trait. But indisputably, I am in love with Maybe now. What started as a slow boil is now bubbling over.

Funny how long ago that first uncertain stretch seems — and how needlessly troubling. The Maximus siblings (Grumpus and Stinkus, as the dogs are known at our house) are crazy about each other, and Mike and I can’t seem to get enough of either of them. The family dynamics are as they should be, it just took a little time.

And now, there’s no doubt about it: I love you, Maybe.

My mischievous, life-loving Pit Bull, Maybe.