Why I Chose My Dog (And Myself) Over My Fiancé

Peter Knocke
By Meredith Clark

In the spring of 2014, I thought all the pieces of a full adult life were falling into place. I loved my job as a political reporter, my boyfriend and I had just moved in together after two years of dating, and we were starting to talk about what our long-term future would look like. I believed I was happy. Naturally, I also thought this was the perfect time to get a dog.

We fell in love with Rosie — her full name is Rosa Luxembark, because I’m a sucker for puns and feminist history — the second we met her. How could we not? An orange and white Corgi puppy, she was five pounds of meme-ready perfection, all ears and fluff and joy. We filled out the contract, paid the adoption fee, and picked her up 24 hours after our initial meeting. Then, as the cliché goes, everything went to the dogs.

Rosie wasted no time in letting us know she had zero chill. Some examples of Rosie’s obstinance: She chews chunks out of the apartment’s molding. She hunts down any sock not locked away. Every day at 4 p.m., she starts to push her food bowl around the kitchen floor, even though she knows she doesn’t eat for another hour. She also only respects my authority. When we were still together, my ex worked from home, so he had to find ways to keep her from chewing up his decrepit desk chair, and quiet her barking when she interrupted important phone calls. But when I settled on the couch with my laptop to write, Rosie just curled up next to me and napped until I said the magic word: walk.

Meredith Clark

Plenty of couples have dogs that bond more closely with one partner than the other, but this rift was different, and painfully obvious to all three of us. My ex did most of the dog care, and yet she gravitated towards and really only listened to me. Much to my ex’s chagrin, I even started joking that Rosie had done us a favor by determining who was in charge in our house.

The thing is, it was mostly true. I thought I knew what I wanted for us, and what I wanted our life together to look like. I couldn’t understand why my ex didn’t share in these aspirations. This led to a lot of fighting. Some of the fights were about the appearance of happiness and adulthood: I wanted us to move to a more family-friendly neighborhood. Others were about our future: We were already raising Rosie, so why not set a timeline for kids? And some fights were just about him.

Of course, it didn’t help that my ex was opposed to having his routines and plans disrupted by anyone, including a very manipulative little dog. An aspiring journalist, he was determined to make no compromises as he pursued his career dreams, even if that meant a lifetime of instability for himself and anyone in his life. But in my mind, if he could just get over his own pride, he’d have no trouble finding a job that would make everything I wanted possible. He took this as evidence that I didn’t have faith in him. His ego was bruised, and my need for control left little room for negotiation.

My ex’s reaction, to me and to the dog, was the always the same: shut down, disconnect, and seethe.

After we got Rosie, all of these tensions became impossible to ignore. My ex got angry at me for not having time to walk her on some cold winter mornings when I had to get to the office. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t look for a more stable job after years of spotty freelancing without a breakthrough. I struggled with two bouts of serious depression that left me unable to work or help much around the house or with the dog, which was another source of resentment. He chafed at the notion that the dog might be a first step towards kids and bougie domesticity. I picked fights because I wasn’t getting the attention I needed, and in those moments I was as focused and determined as Rosie when she mindlessly destroyed a shoe. My ex’s reaction, to me and to the dog, was the always the same: shut down, disconnect, and seethe. Somehow, after countless painful conversations about commitment, he decided to propose in late 2015, rather than suggest we break up. And I, still concerned with outward appearances, said yes.

I pushed forward into planning a wedding — it’s what I thought I wanted, after all, but everything was imploding around me. Adopting Rosie shined a light on our central, unresolvable conflict: We were never headed in the same direction — not in our careers, not in what we wanted from friends, not in how we pictured the future. Rosie was both a catalyst and a witness to all of that.

Peter Knocke

When we finally ended things, six weeks before our wedding date, I was devastated. I cried for days. I called friends and asked them to come help me do the most basic things, like grocery shopping and taking out the trash. I told my parents I'd been dumped in a teary 6 a.m. phone call, while Rosie perched on one of my pillows. My mother flew out to stay with me and help clean up the mess of canceling contracts and haggling over non-refundable deposits. My ex told everyone the wedding was off in a six sentence email. He also made it clear that he had no interest in maintaining any sort of connection with the dog. Which was fine, it turns out, because Rosie didn’t seem to miss him at all.

It was her greatest act of loyalty towards me. While I could not fathom how my ex could walk away from our four years together, from the life we had built, and from the creature we’d committed to caring for together, this little Corgi was unfazed. Maybe we really were meant to be together.

The healing process was agonizing, but tending to Rosie’s needs kept me on a schedule and forced me into the world no matter how much I wanted to hide.

Every morning I walked and fed and played with Rosie, and every morning she tried to lick away my tears (I know she just wanted to taste the saltiness, but it helped). Every night I picked her up and put her on the bed, and she cuddled up next to me, stretching her comically long body to maximize physical contact. I took her with me to hang out with friends, I bought new toys for her to play with, and we started learning new tricks. The healing process was agonizing, but tending to Rosie’s needs kept me on a schedule and forced me into the world no matter how much I wanted to hide. If I have to get up to walk her and feed her in the morning, I’d tell myself, I may as well go to work. If I am sweeping up piles of her fur, I may as well clean the whole apartment. I learned to measure my feelings by how daunting dog-related tasks felt, and when they overwhelmed me, I called my therapist for extra support. I lost one relationship I thought was going to last a lifetime, but I still had another one that needed to be nurtured.

Peter Knocke

Simplifying my expectations for myself to “walk dog, try my best, walk dog, sleep, repeat” and slowly adding activities under the “try my best” umbrella also made me conscious of how much pressure I’d been putting on myself to be perfect, at least on a surface level. I reevaluated friendships that were damaged by the strain of the breakup, met new people, traveled by myself. I learned to love spending time alone, because most of that time, I wasn’t actually alone; I had Rosie, sleeping at my feet, or chewing on a toy, or nuzzling her head under my hand to force me to scratch her ears. It took a long time, but I stopped wanting everything to look like a perfectly curated Instagram account and started asking myself what made me happy. I already had an example in my canine companion: Rosie lives eternally in the moment, focused on a small list of things that keep her healthy and stimulated, and usually, one of those things is me. Wallowing in the past, asking what I had done wrong, rather than working on becoming a better, more confident person — even if only for Rosie — would be a waste of time. Some people learn to live in the moment thanks to meditation; I learned it from my dog.

Rosie and I have been a team of two for just over two years, and she’ll be four at the end of May. Corgis tend to live between 12 and 14 years, so I’m looking forward to another special decade with her. Unconditional love is exactly as powerful as poetry says it is, and every day I am working on fostering it on my own, for myself, and for Rosie. In many ways, falling in love with my stubborn princess of a dog has taught be so much about being my own kind of alpha bitch — someone who believes she is deserving of love, no matter how difficult she can be.