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Emma & Me (JB)

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julianabjornsdottir_dlOn August 10, my husband and I drove to Seltjarnarnes with my eleven-year-old niece Halldóra to pick up a young Golden Labrador Retriever. Less than a week earlier, on Sunday August 5, my husband came across an ad for puppies for sale.

We had planned to go through professional breeders. However, the ad gave us an impression of loving dog-keepers with years of experience, so we took the first step and contacted them.

Our impression was correct. The couple in Seltjarnarnes got their first dog some twenty years ago and knew just about everything there is to know about keeping a dog.

More importantly, they loved their dogs and considered them as much a part of their family as the children they have. The whole family came to meet us, just to make sure we were suitable candidates.

We wanted a female dog and we were introduced to two adorable young bitches, one more vivacious than the other. I have to admit, I wanted to take both but the immediate bond I felt with a vivacious puppy called Tara was just too strong to break.

She chose us and we chose her.

We immediately decided she was the one and began preparing for her arrival in just five days.

We gave her the name Emma.

We were filled with excitement in the late afternoon we came for her. It was a moment of great happiness but also one filled with heartbreak; to take Emma away from her mother felt like a crime against nature.

She called for her mother on the way home and my niece did a splendid job keeping her safe on the way back, even though she seemed to be crying her eyes out.

The first two or three nights were hard for her. She slept in her den, alone and afraid, without her mother. But then all of a sudden, after a few days of bonding with us, she went from an insecure little puppy that urinated on the floor to a vivacious puppy with more than enough energy to burn, and quickly learned to let us know every time she had to go.

She is our little girl and we love her to bits.

We don’t have children by choice, so to us she is our baby.

In the last month, we’ve discovered a whole community of dog keepers in our West Side, or Vesturbær, neighborhood. Across the street in a three-storey apartment building is a friendly laid-back fellow with two fluffy dogs on a leash.

I’ve also encountered a young woman with a four-month-old mixed Collier. His name is Fálki and on their first encounter the two puppies play fought the way Emma used to play with her six siblings.

She told me about a local dog park by theVesturbær swimming pool where local dog keepers meet and let their dogs run free and play with each other, as well as learning from one another.

She was the second person to tell me about the dog park. A man and his son we met outside our local grocer told us the same story. Their seven-month-old Labrador appeared to be an adult but was in fact just a puppy. My Emma was a little bit scared of his hovering presence but curious as well.

We continue to meet new dogs and by now, we are meeting the same people over and over.

Emma’s favorite encounter so far, was with two adult Labradors, who taught her to overcome her hesitation to run to the sea on our local Ægisíða coastline. Since then, she has run straight to the cold water with her tail wagging all the way!

The hardest part is the cage training. She is still not happy about spending two hours in the cage, twice each day. We know though, that as a city dog, she needs to get used to a different kind of lifestyle, where restrictions are an unfortunate consequence of keeping an animal.

I’ve never been certain how I feel about keeping a dog in a city that is becoming increasingly hostile to dogs. For a while, dogs were banned from the city center and still are during big events such as Culture Night (Menningarnótt) and our Independence day on June 17. Far too many people are afraid of dogs and freak out when they see a dog in the distance. I have seen people cross the street upon the mere sight of little Emma. Some won’t even visit friends with dogs.

In my opinion, it is unnatural to be afraid of man’s best friend.

As a new dog owner, I worry about Emma. I worry about Emma biting a complete stranger in an eager game of a play fight with one of her IKEA teddy bears. As her keepers and family, we are responsible for teaching her the life lessons she desperately needs to know before she grows any bigger than she already is.

In the last weeks, she has grown bigger than I had anticipated a three-month-old puppy could be. It is a relief to know that later this month she’ll start puppy training with a professional trainer and puppies like her.

We actually get 50 percent off the annual fees for attending the training, a discount that is meant to encourage dog owners to receive proper training.

As a complete novice, I need to know exactly what to do. I work from home and it hasn't been easy getting it done during the day with her energetic self. I’ve tried to spend as much time with her as I can, and my dad has been with me every single day to keep her occupied when I work.

If anything, I’ve realized it pays off to start a family later in life.

All in all, the first month has proven to be wonderful. We’ve enjoyed Emma’s company and she is truly embracing life with us. She’s not the menace Marley is in the film Marley and Me, and for that I give credit to my husband and his ability to discipline her while bathing her in affection.

To keep a dog in Reykjavík city is not as impossible I had always anticipated. The community of dog-keepers in Vesturbær is equally open to novices and experienced dog-keepers.

Keeping a dog in Reykjavík may be hostile in some ways, but where it counts, it has changed everything.

Nowadays, complete strangers come up to us – usually dog-keepers but not always – and compliment Emma for her sweet beauty. Emma truly has brought us closer to our little community on the west side!

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.