Stephanie Burgis
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Finding Day
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One year and two days ago, on a Friday night when I was browsing Border Collie Trust's list of dogs for re-homing, I came across their description of Maya. They don't show photos of their dogs online, because they don't want people making decisions based on appearance. Their description of her ("very affectionate, loves people, is in desperate need of love and human company") leapt out at me, and I called Patrick over to look at it. She was older than we'd decided was ideal (we'd hoped for a puppy, but figured we'd go as high as 2 years old - they guessed that she was about 3), but she was a mixed-breed, which was our preference, and that description...we just kept going back to it. Our house had felt so empty since Nika died, and we were desperately in need of puppy love and company, too.

A year ago from today, after two days of debating, we set off to drive down South to Birmingham through a wind-storm, absolutely terrified about whether we were making the right decision, whether we were even remotely ready to adopt another dog. When we arrived two hours later, having braved tiny, winding country roads without signs, we came in planning to look at Maya straight away. There was a long wait, because several families had come to look at dogs that day, and most of the volunteer staff was away at an event, so the two adoption counselors that were left were pretty swamped with work. While we waited, we were given the big Book of Dogs to flip through, which included pages about each one of their dogs, with more information about their personalities and histories, and photos, all sorted by what age children they could be homed with. We found Maya's page - and stopped. Uh-oh. We'd had an image in our mind of the dog we were going to adopt, and even though she wasn't going to look just like Nika - we didn't even want her to look too similar - she was going to be another wispy, long-haired border collie with fur like soft silk. That was one thing we'd agreed upon before leaving that morning: we didn't care about colors or size, but whatever dog we got was definitely going to be long-haired. Maya was not that dog. And the picture was a bad one. (Which astonishes me, looking back - she's so photogenic! But in this photo, she wasn't.)

"Personality is supposed to be the most important thing," I said doubtfully. "Yesss...." Patrick said doubtfully, back. We flipped through the book, looking at other dogs. All the long-haired, wispy border collies were either much older than we wanted to adopt that day or else couldn't be homed with children. (Not that we had/have children, but we thought it was an important point.) We narrowed down our search to Maya and one other dog, whose described personality wasn't quite as perfect for us, but who's embarrassing to remember this...cuter in the photo, more like our vision of a perfect border collie. When the adoption counselor asked us which one we wanted to meet first, we shrugged and let them choose.

They led Maya out of the kennel area, straining at her leash. She was cute - I was suprised by just how cute she was - but she didn't have that wispy beauty we'd come looking for. Then she saw us, and her eyes lit up. She leapt up on us with total joy. You're here! You came! Finally! Her tail was swishing madly. We couldn't stop petting her. She kept going from one of us to the other. It took us almost five minutes to get her outside to the grass for our get-to-know-each-other walk, because she kept flopping down onto her back for us to rub her tummy. As we reached the grass, Patrick said, "Are we really going to send her back and look at another one?" We looked at each other. We looked at Maya, grinning up at us with such delight. And I said, "Of course we can't."

We drove back to Leeds that night in the windy darkness. Patrick drove. I sat in the back seat, and Maya lay sprawled across my lap the whole way. We were in shock, torn between excitement and terror. Adopting a dog is such a big step, and it's irreversible. We were coming back with a dog who didn't match the image we'd had when we set out that morning.

And it was one of the the best decisions we ever made. From the first night she came home with us, Maya has filled out house with love and laughter. And even though I can still remember that I once thought she didn't look beautiful, it's hard to believe it anymore. Every day that we've had her, I've found her more and more gorgeous. And while Patrick and I still love those wispy long-haired border collies, the dogs that most often make us gasp with admiration nowadays are the short-haired collie mixes we spot, because they look like our Maya. And the fact is, even though I believe with all my heart that she is the most objectively beautiful dog alive in the world right now, and I was only blinded to that when I first saw her by my own preconceptions...well, even if she hadn't been, I know I would have found her stunningly beautiful anyway once I got to know her for her drop-dead gorgeous personality.

Maya relaxing

Happy Finding Day, Maya! And happy Finding Day to me and Patrick, for making one of the scariest and best decisions of our lives.

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