The plan when I graduated college was to earn my PhD in biology, become a college professor, and do field research in animal behavior. I tried to follow that plan for about a year and a half before I finally admitted to myself that it wasn’t the right one.
In the meantime I adopted my first dog, a collie-malamute mix I named Wolf. Since the cliche ‘who’s walking whom’ applied perfectly, I found a training center where we could take classes and learn to be a team. He peed on my leg during the first class.
Turned out dog training was the right plan, or one of them. I was good at it, Wolf had fun, we worked well together. I got my second dog, a lab-whippet mix named Panda, nine months after I adopted Wolf (the closest I have ever been or will ever be to pregnancy), and off we went to puppy kindergarten. Panda went on to be my first competition dog, although at that time the options to compete in dog sports with a mixed breed were very limited.
Taking dog training classes and leaving graduate school shared the same time frame. My parents offered to have me move back home with them, but that wasn’t an option, because it meant losing the dogs. So I went to work as an office temp and tried to figure out what to do with my life. I still loved biology, but didn’t have the drive to do research.
Panda and I did so well in classes that the owner of the training center asked me to assist with classes and eventually I was teaching puppy kindergarten. Much cuteness ensued, and I enjoyed helping people learn to work with their dogs.
That led to an epiphany: I loved biology, I liked teaching, what about combining the two? The idea of teaching had never crossed my mind before; I was very introverted in high school. Getting up in front of a room full of people would have been a nightmare. But five years and a lot of growing later, it actually seemed like a good move.
Back to graduate school for a year and a half, take the tests, apply for jobs… almost 23 years later, it appears it was the right plan, even if there are times now that I want to try something else.
Dogs have always been a central focus of my life, even when I didn’t have any. They helped set me on the right career path, one where all these years later I still feel as though I’m doing something meaningful and important. They’ve taught me that life sometimes takes people in very unexpected directions, that sometimes what seemed impossible or crazy turns out to be tremendously valuable.