How A Rescue Puppy Helped Me Finally Feel At Home As A U.S. Immigrant

Anyone who’s ever adopted a puppy knows: Nothing in the house is safe.

Whatever can fit (and even if it can’t) into a puppy’s mouth is at the mercy of a ravenously teething Tasmanian devil baby.

Beware of Bruce.

After 16 years of living in the United States, I’ve finally adopted a five-month-old, 25-pound puppy named Bruce, and in our first week together, I’ve lost shoes, books, a bra he particularly loved to bite, and a cherished artifact from my family back in Guatemala. But I’m totally OK with it, because it’s through Bruce that I’ve realized so much about myself.

Not to put too much pressure on the little guy, but Bruce represents an end, of sorts, in my journey as an immigrant to the U.S.

I’ve wanted to adopt a dog for as long as I’ve lived in this country. I moved to New Jersey when I was 14 and I’m 30 now, so this year I have officially been in the U.S. longer than I lived in my home country. That was a monumental realization, because even after living more than half my life here, the U.S. is still a place that feels somewhat foreign to me.

It was my mother’s decision to move my sister and me out of Guatemala — she wanted to give us a better life, and saw the possibility of living here. I was a teenager, dealing with all the weirdness of teen life, rebelling against her decision, and on top of that I had to leave behind everyone and everything I loved, including my beloved dog Pancho.

Pancho was my full heart and I loved him more than anything in the world. A golden-haired cockapoodle, Pancho had a big heart and an even bigger fear of small insects and cats. He came into my home when he was a few weeks old and instantly became the baby of the family.

Pancho wasn’t our first family pet, but he was certainly my favorite. When we moved to the U.S., my dad back in Guatemala could no longer care for Pancho on his own, so he gave him to one of my uncles thinking he’d have a much happier life out on Tio Chito’s farm. Unfortunately, Pancho passed away not too long after I moved to the U.S. I never learned the reason. It was just, one day he was there, and the next day he wasn’t.

A photo of Pancho that I keep on my fridge to remind me of my first love.
A photo of Pancho that I keep on my fridge to remind me of my first love.

It felt like Pancho’s absence left a physical hole in my heart, and I mourned the fact that I could no longer imagine him romping through some yard somewhere. I already felt isolated in New Jersey, learning English and trying to understand crazy U.S. high school traditions, but Pancho’s death somehow left me feeling even lonelier. Looking back, I can see how this loss might also represent the death of the part of my life that was my Guatemalan childhood.

I’d considered getting another puppy right away, but our first apartment in the states was barely big enough to fit my family as it was. My mother, sister, aunt and myself, we were all basically living on top of each other already; we didn’t have the space for a new dog, but it also didn’t feel right to replace Pancho with someone new.

Ultimately, my heart wasn’t ready, so I kept putting it off until I felt the moment was right. Turning 30, I realized I’m not getting any younger, and that — because I live with my boyfriend and have the resources to be the best dog mom I can be — I decided it was finally time to adopt.

At the shelter, I fell in love with Bruce right away. As soon as a volunteer brought him into the room, he ran directly at me and jumped on my lap to give me a big hug. It was the perfect movie moment I had envisioned since my Pancho passed! I like to think that fate brought us together.  

I was bursting with joy and was so high on the feeling of happiness — the whole process happened a lot faster than I had expected — that it barely hit me that we were on our way home, where we didn’t have much more than a leash, dog bed, a few basics the shelter had given us, and a few toys ready for Bruce’s arrival. So, while in an Uber with our new (carsick) pup, I scoured Amazon to find all the other supplies we needed.

In the time it took us to drive home, I found more than enough to get us started. Harnesses, crates, food, toys, cleaning supplies - it was a lot. I started with the New Dog Essentials checklist, so I knew that I had the basics covered. Amazon’s community of reviewers helped me prioritize what I needed to purchase first and customer recommendations helped me sift through the nearly overwhelming selection.

I bought so many things right away that I didn’t even realize I had ordered a crate that was way too small for Bruce, a dog we suspect of being a mixture of labrador and doberman.

I needed the correct crate ASAP, so I contacted Amazon’s customer service via chat. The rep took care of me, canceling my previous order and placing a new one immediately. (As for Bruce actually enjoying his crate, well... we’re still working on that with him. But he doesn’t hate it!)

We’re learning — raising a puppy who feels like he gets smarter (and tries to outsmart you) every second is definitely not without its challenges. But being Bruce’s dog mom has been such an incredible experience already. And perhaps most importantly, Bruce helped me see that the U.S. — after so many years — could finally feel like home.

And every time I see him run around my apartment I look at my fridge to my only remaining photo of Pancho and I feel comforted by the fact that I know he would want me to feel this happy again.

This article was paid for by Amazon and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.