The OKCupid notification came through telling me I had an email from Sam* while I was out on a date with Josh. Frankly, Josh wasn’t anything to write home about, so Sam’s email, telling me he lived just one neighborhood over from me and was available the very next night, seemed perfect. We met that Sunday, on what turned into an almost seven-hour date. Conversation flowed, flirting was mutual, and I could put a check mark next to nearly every box I have in my mind for what I want in a new partner. We talked about our professions – his as an acupuncturist, mine as the owner of a professional pet care company – and about travels, family, funny quirks – all of the makings of a great first date and a clear connection.

Date two came only two days later – brunch and window-shopping…Hello!?  Could this guy be perfect? Should I tell my mom about him? Date three, and he asked what I wanted to do. It was a crisp, fall day, so I suggested a hike in the Wissahickon. I told him I’d pick him up, as I work in the woods every day and know all of the best trail heads.  When I stopped in front of Sam’s apartment, Governor Monkey, my 5 ½ year old Border Collie mix, popped his smiling face between the front seats as Sam got in the car. Sam smiled politely and said, “Oh – you brought your dog…”

Red Flag.

Who goes hiking without a dog? It would never occur to me to do anything but. What is the point of a hike if you don’t have a dog? How boring to just put one foot in front of the other – no stick throwing? No watching your dog zoom up and down the embankments, chasing his Rottweiler-mutt brother? No one to whistle to to hurry up and stop rolling in the deer carcass?

The hike was lovely, but conversation wasn’t as flow-y as the previous two dates. The laughter was a little less frequent. When Sam asked whether I “wash my hands after each time [I] pet a dog,” I was worried. I excused it away in my mind as just a doctor having germ concerns – after all, he washes his hands between each client, so why wouldn’t he assume the same of me? I wanted it to be ok so that this dream guy could remain just that. I found myself conscious of not smooshing my face into Gov’s face as many million times as I normally would, fretting that Sam might not want to kiss me if I’d just kissed my dog. I could kiss Gov a few hundred fewer times a day to make this work, couldn’t I?

As the date continued, I was still feeling connected to Sam, trying to pretend this red flag hadn’t been thrown.  I was still sure I was going to have to tell my former partner about the new potential step-dad for our furry son. Sam and I headed back to my house. Gov sat quietly on the floor next to us, sleepy from our hike. Sam and I hung out for a while longer, chatting as he awkwardly had one hand on Gov’s head and one hand on my knee. When it was time for him to go, we set up plans for our next date.

But the next day, no call…no text. Another day more and still no word. Though I’d avoided admitting it to myself until then, I knew: he doesn’t like dogs. By Sunday, I figured my dream fella was no longer that, but my heart had already known. I emailed him to confirm my suspicion and he responded saying, “I realized I like animals – but I don’t like pets.”

At first, I was sad. He fit almost the whole checklist. Heck, he was even Jewish – that never happens. Then I started to think, ‘why did this guy ever even write to me?’ My profile mentions dogs no less than five times. It states that I am a pet professional. In my “six things I could never live without,” I name Governor Monkey specifically, at the top of my list. For all of the check boxes Sam filled, the one left blank was the most important one after the Big Three of kind, caring and open-minded. I could never be with someone who doesn’t love dogs.  Truthfully, I could never be with someone who doesn’t want dogs as an absolute constant in his life.

And suddenly I realized – that one red flag was the Red Flag: the flag that cannot be forgiven, excused or ignored. It’s the pet flag. And that is the biggest, most beautiful flag I fly in my life. It blankets everything else I do and weaves into the fabric of all of who I am personally, professionally and spiritually.

Side note: Mr. Dog-Loving Perfect, if you’re reading this, you have to love cats, too.  I’ve got two of those as well.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the non-dog lovers.