The summer between high school graduation and starting college, my step-grandfather Papa John passed away from lung cancer. He and my grandma lived in a house just up the hill from the house I grew up in, so while he hadn't been my blood relative, we had spent many days a week with them, and he had treated me as his own. Being my first experience losing someone I was close to, I took it hard, and took up his love for penguins as comfort.
My Papa John loved penguins. His collection was vast and each year he and my grandmother had a Christmas tree filled with penguin ornaments. After he passed, all of his penguins became mine, and even before I had room for a Christmas tree in my dorm room, or the apartments after that, I had his ornaments. My penguin obsession became known to my friends, and most holidays if someone wasn't quite sure what to buy me for a gift, something penguin-themed usually was included.
I spent much of my junior year of college in the middle of a flair of my chronic illness, and wasn't able to return to school after the winter holiday. I was depressed and lonely when school started back that January, and I was left behind. I spent many of my days watching movies or reading alone.
My 21st birthday came that March, and I knew I was still going to be stuck at home without my friends for several month until that fall, so I started looking for something to fill my time. I started searching for dogs on Petfinder more as something to do, than to actually get a dog. I started looking for Pomeranians that looked like Boo the Pomeranian and didn't find much. Then I expanded my search to hours outside of my hometown and hit the jackpot. A Pomeranian just two hours away named...wait for it...Penguin. I knew that he was my dog.
My college roommate came to visit and we drove two hours to go get Penguin. Even though I was a fairly new driver and had never driven that far. Both of my parents had told me I wasn't allowed to have a dog, but his name was a sign. I immediately handed over the $100 I'd gotten as a birthday gift from my grandmother (another sign I believe) to purchase Penguin from a shelter where he had been for months, site unseen. When the man working the counter finally brought my new best friend out to me, I remember saying, "that's the ugliest Pomeranian I've ever seen." He was huge by Pomeranian standards and looked like he'd never had a haircut in his life.
Despite the matted fur and oversized appearance, when the man said, "do you still want him?" there was no hesitation. He was my dog. And as he blew snot bubbles on my roommate the entire ride home (he had some sort of kennel cough for weeks) I knew my Papa John would have been proud.