1. “My first dog (and best friend) was Barkley, a sweet, playful cairn terrier that was already a few years old by the time I was born. I’m assuming one of my brothers is at fault for this weird logic, but I grew up viewing Barkley as my equal in the family. I would never pick him up, because I would think to myself, I can’t. Barkley is older than I am. We went on like that for 13 years.” —Jen Lewis
2. “When I was 5 we brought my first dog, a gorgeous, burnt sienna golden retriever, back from the Humane Society. She was sweet and gregarious, but we were worried that she was deaf or kind of stupid because she wouldn’t respond to the name they gave us at her shelter, Misty. ‘Misty!’ we kept yelling. ‘Misty!’ Later that night, my mother looked in the paperwork they had given us. ‘It says her name is Tawny?’ The dog came running, smiling ear to ear, and we never mentioned ‘Misty’ again.” —Joe Bernstein
3. “My family had a dog and two cats when I was born (winners, all!) but the first authentically NEW pet in my life was an Airedale terrier puppy named Punto. On the day we went to pick him up, we knew which one he was because this ribbon around his neck was purple, a noble color. He was very small and curly, and peed on my mom’s lap on the way home, which we all optimistically interpreted as an expression of his deep sense of comfort and belonging. We named him in honor of a previous fox terrier my mom had as a kid (Punto is a Norwegian name, I think?). He grew up to be fairly large and unfailingly sweet. He was once tied by his leash to the leg a garden chair, at some point tried to get up and run after a tennis ball or something, and was TERRIFIED to find that the chair was CHASING HIM. From that point on, he was always nervous around furniture, thunderstorms, and arguments. I loved him with all my heart.” —Rachel Sanders
4. “My first pet, a golden retriever my parents named Yeti, met for the first time when I came home from the hospital at 3 days old. He was the best, most gentle and patient dog I’ve ever met. He put up with me and my brother in our toddler years, and perhaps because of that, he never really saw us as humans he had to listen to. I can’t remember anything about my early years that doesn’t include Yeti.” —Ellie Hall
5. “When I was a junior in college, I decided it was time for my very own pup. My friend Rachel and I had been on the lookout for what felt like months — we literally went through every local site and newspaper ad until I almost gave up hope. One day she came across a listing for puppies at a house 30 miles away. We called and the man said he had one dog left. When we got there, we followed him into his living room until we saw a camouflage baby pen. Sitting in the middle was the tiniest, most adorable dog I had ever seen. I picked him up, and that was that. We drove him home and named him Jean-Pierre.” —Emily Hennen
6. “My first real pet (sorry to the cat I had until I was 6) was a dog, Kelsey, who we got when I was in third grade. She was the runt of the litter and has a slightly crooked tail because, we think, she was squished around inside her mama’s belly. Anyway, we got her the day of the Oscars, or some award show, and I remember bringing her into the family room to watch. At some point, she accidentally peed on my brother. That is when I knew I would love her forever.” —Adam Davis
7. “My family had two dogs, two bunnies, two birds, and probably some hamsters when I was born, but the first pet whom I felt was mine was Cosmo. I met him after soccer practice when I was 4. Someone had a litter of puppies in the back of their car and I sat amongst them and picked the one who fell asleep in my lap (I use this same technique for picking dogs now). I wanted to name him Rachael, after my best friend, but my mom said I had to give him a boy’s name, so I named him after my rat-tailed wielding pre-school crush, Cosmo. He was the absolute best: He would play hide-and-seek with me (to this day, I have no idea how it workedm but I know we played it) and lived a great life running throughout the canyon we lived in. We called him the bionic dog because he survived getting hit by a car, shot with a BB gun (awful neighborhood kid), and bitten by a rattlesnake with barely a scratch remaining. This is a picture of me dressed as Annie Oakley, and Cosmo was cool enough to pose with me. That’s just what best friends do.” —Chelsea Marshall
8. “Bo wasn’t my family’s first pet, but he was my first pet. I was 19 and my mother and I had gone to the local animal shelter to donate some food and cleaning supplies. I went to go look at dogs ‘just to see them,’ and each dog I walked past ran to the front of their cages to say hello. At the very end of the row I didn’t see any dog, so I assumed it was empty. When I got there, however, a rather large and fluffy dog was lying in the back of the cage. He didn’t get up — just looked up at me and thumped his tail a few times. I look at the information on his cage door, and there was a sign on it that said, ‘I’ve been here a long time and my time is almost up.’ It had the next day’s date on it. This dog was on borrowed time. I knelt down, and he stood up, tail held low but wagging, and approached me and licked my fingers through the chain link. When I asked the shelter attendant if I could walk him, her eyes lit up. As we were walking to the ‘visiting’ area, a kid (maybe 6 years old or so) ran up out of nowhere and hugged Bo. I was terrified — I had no idea if this dog was good with kids or not. Bo, however, this 75-pound bear of a dog just sat down and looked me in the eyes while the kid hugged him. He was a total gentle giant. I wouldn’t let my mom leave the shelter that day without him. I was privileged to share 10 years of his life with him.” —Cates Holderness
9. “My parents and I had just moved out of my grandma’s apartment building, and we were visiting her when we heard tiny kitten screams from the backyard one night. Lo and behold, this friendly little tabby was sitting in the middle of a concrete square, all by herself, staring up at the window and meowing. Obviously we took her in and she became our cat because OMG stray kitten! We had also just found another cat, who became her boyfriend, Nicky (named after Knickerbocker, the street where we found HIM). They had a litter of kittens together and she became a surprise ‘teen mom’ before we were able to spay her. Nicky got really sick and didn’t last too long, sadly.
Himrod lived with my parents and me until 2005, and then I took her into my first apartment and she lived with me in my adult years for a bit. When I moved to London, she went back with my parents. It’s weird to see pictures of her sitting in my lap as a 12-year-old and then also realize she saw me through my first move into a place of my own, and was also a source of comfort after a major breakup when I was 26. She hated other cats with a passion but loved humans so much. And laps.” —Emmy Favilla
10. “I suppose the first time I really met [Ursula, named after the sci-fi writer, not the witch from The Little Mermaid] was when she took to sleeping at the foot of my crib when I was a baby. It terrified my grandmother because she thought the cat would suffocate me, but my mom always says she thought it was Ursula’s way of protecting me. Guess it could have been both.” —Molly Hensley-Clancy
11. “I had been asking for a dog since as long as I knew what one was, probably since the age of 4. My mother always said no because she knew she’d be the one who ended up with most of the responsibility and had a bad experience with one when she was young. Still, I never stopped asking.
Then, the year I went away to college, my mom, dad, and younger sister came to visit for my birthday and they had a strange bag with them that had ribbon on it. I saw it move and excitedly unzipped it to see a teeny brown, white, and black puppy. I couldn’t have been happier. We snuck Riley (a name my sister and I had decided upon when a dog was still wishful thinking) into my dorm and he didn’t make a peep. It was a moment I’ll always remember. Even though they called him a ‘birthday present’ for me, I sadly got to spend the least amount of time with him, but he still is thrilled to see me whenever I go home. And yes, my mother was saddled with most of the responsibility. But the two of them couldn’t be more in love. Plus, my dad finally had another guy in the house and my sister got the younger sibling she’s never had. He’s gotten us through losses of family members and been there to see our family grow as well. We all feel so lucky to have him.” —Jaimie Etkin
12. “I was in the second grade when my dad’s garage was robbed. My dad loves fine woodworking but also began to fear for his family. The garage door was in bad shape and I didn’t know what was going on. One day after school, I came home to a giant carrier. My grandfather shouted, ‘We got a puppy!’ The puppy was a half German shepherd and half Siberian husky mix. My sister and I named him Two Tone because he had two different colored eyes (blue and brown).
He was a troublemaker, and it was hard to keep up with his energy. I tried to teach him to attack but ended up licking my face and tear my pants off — that’s something.” —Christina Lu
13. “My parents didn’t want to have a dog as long as we lived in an apartment. Much to their disappointment my first word was ‘dog.’ They tried to avoid getting one by getting me other pets. When I was about 4 I had a turtle named Manuelita that lived in a fish tank during the week and we would take with us on weekend road trips. Manuelita was really smart; she would tap her head against the fish tank when she wanted to be walked. I remember my mom tying a red balloon to the turtle and letting her explore the ‘wild.’” —Conz Preti
14. “When I was a kid, I was terrified of dogs. When I was 5, my older brother asked Santa for a dog for Christmas. It was all he wanted and didn’t ask for anything else, even though all I wanted that year was for us to NOT get a dog, since I was deathly afraid. I’m sure I threw a ton of tantrums.
On Christmas Day, there was a note on fancy stationery “from Santa” on the Christmas tree, that was addressed to only me. The note said that Santa loves me and that even though I was good that year, he had found a dog for the family, and that I should consider trying to learn to give up my fears, as a kind gesture to my brother. He said that I had nothing to be afraid of and eventually I’d love the dog. Basically, Santa was like, ‘You’re getting a dog. Deal with it. Love, Santa.’ Honestly, I think it was a pretty genius way of my parents to get the message across that we were getting a dog whether I liked it or not.
Eventually we went to pick up the puppy as a family, and we named her Chica. She was a golden retriever puppy. I didn’t like her immediately (which is so insane because golden retriever puppies are the CUTEST — maybe I was just trying to prove a point to my family) … Eventually, once she was big enough to jump onto all of [the furniture] and there was nowhere for me to go, I had no choice but to finally pet her. She was the sweetest dog so bonding became pretty easily once I stopped being able to hide from her, and I realized there was nothing to be afraid of — obviously.” —Mariana Uribe
15. “From the time I was 6, I asked my parents at least once a week for a dog, but we couldn’t get one because we always lived in apartments. When I was 13, we moved and got a house, so all I wanted for my 14th birthday was a puppy — a black-and-tan miniature long-haired dachshund, to be exact. My mom happened to open the classifieds a few weeks before my birthday and saw that there were miniature long-haired dachshund puppies for sale one town over from us, so we drove out there ‘just to look.’ When we arrived, there were three pups left: a dapple boy and two black-and-tan girls. I was set on getting the runt of the litter, one of the girls, but she cried every time I tried to hold her. I’d never had a dog react to me that way before — I couldn’t even touch her without her yelping. However, while I was trying to coax her to like me, her sister crawled into my lap and immediately fell asleep. We bought her on the spot.” —Anita Badejo
16. “When I was in ninth grade and moved out of Manhattan to the ‘burbs, we were promised a dog to ease the transition and make living on Long Island bearable. We were looking to adopt but then we were passing this dog store and I wanted to go in and look. They showed us all the dogs on the floor and we were about to leave, having decided we were definitely GOING TO ADOPT, but then the store clerk man mentioned he had one more, a goldendoodle downstairs suffering from kennel cough. We decided we’d take a look — why the heck not? He was only about 4 months old, and he was brought into the little play area where we were waiting. It was love at first sight between the two of us; he jumped all over me as I sat on the floor, ripping out my ponytail and generally being incredibly wild and playful. I had literally never experienced love like this before and I knew we had to have him — I was very adamant about him being the dog for us. I was right (duh) and he’s been my best friend ever since. We named him on the way home, at my sister’s suggestion, Brodie, as in Adam Brody (the other love of my life/The O.C. was the hip show at the time) but we changed it to ‘ie’ instead of ‘y’ to give him more of a distinction.” —Lauren Yapalater
The Second Pet Charm
17. “My little brother had this horrible smelly pair of mice for, like, years too long, but our first REAL pet was a Maine coon that a friend of my dad’s was giving up because of divorce reasons (? IDK, I was, like, 12). He was gigantic, I think around 20 pounds at his peak, and liked to follow my mother around while she gardened and also liked to sit in the bird bath. I remember announcing to a friend in the hallway of my middle school that ‘His name is George and he’s going to sleep in my bed!’ and a group of pubescing boys who overheard made fun of me for weeks.” —Alanna Okun
18. “We got our first family dog when I was 6, a sheep dog named Patches. He was big and slobbery and a massive headache. He devoured my mother’s brand-new shoes. He would (accidentally) knock over my 3-year-old sister. He kept jumping our backyard fence, nearly giving our afternoon babysitter (who was in her late sixties) a heart attack every time she had to run after him. And then there was one day my father came home to see all of the neighborhood kids clumped together and screaming as Patches circled around us, corralling us like we were sheep. Finally, after just a couple months of this, my mom said to my dad, ‘It’s either me or the dog.’ We gave him to a farm. I was maybe upset about it for a day or two, but now I have to remind myself that Patches was our first family pet, and not Ralphie, a Kerry blue terrier we got when I was 10 and lived until I was 26 and who was loving and kind and adorable. I miss Ralphie.” —Adam B. Vary
19. “When I was little more than a toddler, my dad owned a bar called Norman’s in Plainfield, N.J. It was a total dive — I wasn’t ever allowed to enter the place — full of questionable characters.
The story goes, a customer came in with beagle puppies and my dad, never one to think too much about the consequences of actions, brought one home. I vaguely recall sitting on the kitchen floor of our house and the dog licking my face, but sadly few other memories of him being part of the family. The poor dog was never really trained and he had a penchant for running away. My mom was busy with me and later my sister. My dad worked constantly. It was when my mom was pregnant with twins and had to roam the icy streets looking once again for our runaway pooch, there was a breaking point. There was talk of a farm. I came home from school to an empty cage in the backyard. I don’t like to think too much about it. For the rest of my childhood I begged for another dog, promising I was now old enough to take control of the situation and train and walk a pup. The request for a puppy was on every letter to Santa. I stalked neighbor’s dogs. I somehow would convince my mom to take me into the mall pet store ‘just to look’ and then weep dramatically about the poor animals left behind when we departed empty-handed.
I met my first real pet many, many years later. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were living in Austin, Texas, and decided to go to the local ASPCA and check out the dogs. After a couple disappointments, a 1-year-old Australian cattle dog mix came bounding up to us and leaped into Craig’s lap. We never looked back. Here is Ivie.” —Lisa Tozzi
20. “The bundle of golden retriever puppies was a wriggly mess. Two were asleep, but the third, the smallest, was tearing the newspaper to bits. To my parents’ dismay, he was the chosen one. The lady put a little red bow on his ear, which I thought was silly and took off in the car. He was a shaky little ball of fur in my lap, and as we were deciding on a name, my mother turned around and said, ‘How about Prince?’ It stuck, though he ended up being called a variety of nonsense Polish syllables for the rest of his time.
He was always a conniving, mischievous smartypants, just like when we first bought him. Once when my grandma was making pierogi, she went to wash her hands and came back to find all 80 gone from the table. He’d often sneak out of our yard and run like a rabid bunny, foaming at the mouth and scaring neighbors for miles. He’d sigh and reluctantly lift his leg when you washed his muddy paws, but just like that first day, he would never fail to snuggle into your lap with his tiny soul. I still have the bow tucked away in a little case. I miss him to bits.” —Kasia Galazka
21. “Our first dog was a black lab named Lady. She was exactly like every other dog in some ways, but not like any other dog in very specific ways. For example, we lived across the street from a family who owned a pizza place, and who would often bring home some of their pizza restaurant garbage (because they didn’t want to pay for city trash removal). Occasionally the dog would get out and run loose in the neighborhood, and get into the neighbor’s garbage. There, she’d find a half of an old pizza and carry it around the neighborhood, trotting around like it was a prize bone. And just as if it were a prize bone, she’d find a spot in the backyard, dig a hole, and bury her pizza treasures. There are probably a good dozen or so rotted pizzas in my parent’s backyard right now. PIZZA DOG FOREVER.” —Julie Gerstein
22. “My parents told me and my brother we were getting a surprise Christmas present, and hinted strongly that it was going to be going to see a play. My brother and I both dressed up in our little suits for the theater, and we drove to the ‘play.’ My parents had us put on blindfolds ostensibly so we wouldn’t know what play we were seeing until the last minute. Why I believed all this, I have no idea, but I did and was thus very surprised when I took off my blindfold to discover that we had in fact arrived at an animal shelter, where we met two brother cats subsequently named Hodge and Alan, who would become my pride and joy and the lights of my life for the next 18 years. That one belongs right up there with the happiest days of my life.” —Jack Shepherd
23. “Like so many other kids I begged for a dog incessantly my entire childhood. In fact, I’m pretty sure I put more effort and research into convincing my family to get a dog than I ever did in college. In fifth grade, my dad, my brother, and I were picking up my mom from the airport the day of my school’s Christmas concert and after my mom got her bags from baggage claim she told us she had one more thing to pick up. Two minutes later, I see her walking over with this huge crate and I BUGGED THE FUCK OUT. Inside was a 4-month-old black lab whom I named Thurman — after Thurman Thomas, my favorite player on the Buffalo Bills. I have a pretty terrible memory because I’ve hit my head far too many times, but I’ll never forget walking Thurman to the car from the exit of the arrivals area and him going up to every single person. It would have taken two hours to get back to the car. My dad told me to pick him up and I carried him to the car very awkwardly. He sat in between me and brother in the back of our old Honda Accord. It’s easily one of my favorite memories.” —Matt Kiebus
24. “When I was 4 years old I got it in my head that what I really needed was a pet bunny. I drafted Christmas lists (with my mom’s help, obviously) that were just drawings of bunnies, and I talked about bunnies constantly. So for my fifth birthday, my parents sat me down in our oversize living room chair and told me to close my eyes and then put something tiny and soft with huge ears into my lap. My eyes flew open and there it was: A KITTEN?!?!?!?! I went through approximately 1,000 tiny kid emotions in about a minute flat: confusion, horror, anger, and then, as this tiny huge-eared kitten stepped his pointy little paws around my lap, LOVE (and guilt for ever having wanted anyone else). I named him Tigger and we belonged to each other for the next 19 years, through countless best friends, my first boyfriend and my first breakup, apartments, crying, and the best nights ever.” —Summer Anne Burton