Introducing my new puppy: Tali

I decided that as a responsible parent I should wait to get a new dog until my oldest son leaves for college. It’s his last summer at home. We don’t need more tumult.

I waited until after college applications were done on January 15 and then I answered an ad on Craigslist for a puppy they had to give up because they were allergic. They wanted $400 ahead of time then they’d bring me the puppy.

Okay. Fine. So Craigslist wasn’t a good idea. Then I found a site that matches dogs with new owners and I got matched with a dog that was coming from Russia but would be in Maine, and I wondered, what did I say in my profile that made people think I’m an idiot?

A worker in a rescue center in Vermont yelled at me to stop calling about dogs online. They were only pictures!!! There was a dog shortage in New England and if I wanted a rescue dog I’d have to ship a dog from the south.

The American Kennel Club has recommended breeders. I called a breeder. She said, “A good breeder is not like an online shopping site where you put a puppy in a cart and go to checkout.” I replayed that conversation in my head a few times to see if I revealed to her that I was looking for a breeder that would let me do just that.

Good breeders have waitlists. So obviously I did not want to deal with good breeders. I had to deal with moderately good breeders. Like, people who live on a beautiful farm but keep the puppies in a yucky barn. Or people who say they treat their puppies like they are family but the family lives in squalor with the puppies.

Also, good breeders don’t have puppies in January. Pretty much no breeders have puppies in January. But that didn’t stop me.

I found two breeders that seemed not terrible and had eight-week-old dogs available. The choice was a Golden Retriever or a miniature Australian Shepherd.

I worried that the Australian Shepherd would be too much work, and I worried the Golden Retriever would be too friendly.  I decided that we are probably sloths next to an Australian Shepherd but it would be good for us to keep up with her. And there would be no way for us to try to keep up with the social skills of a Golden Retriever.

One of the great things about being a woman with Autism is that I replay every conversation in my head to figure out what went wrong. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, to try to decode the social rules. So I’ve been practicing being a writer forever. Women with Autism are great writers because we write and rewrite scenes every day of our lives as a way to survive. Most great writers who are women have Autism. Makes me proud, really.

This is also why I did not ask anyone if it was a good idea for us to get a puppy. I could already play that conversation in my head.

Everyone: A puppy is a lot of work! You’ll have to crate train! You need a schedule! You can’t just sit around taking cute pictures for your blog.


My kids don’t want to take care of a dog, but they want to take care of me, so they agreed to help with the dog.  Nino said he would not help with the dog at all. He said he hates dogs and we should get a cat.

We call our mini Aussie Tali Dolly. It is not a term of endearment so much as a linguistics experiment. I read that if you have a series of words that have vowel changes you need to change in this order i, a, o. We know this by instinct, which is why hop hip sounds wrong. I tried Tali Wally first, and it didn’t stick. The boys picked up Tali Dolly right away.

If you love language it’s probably because you have been decoding language your whole life as a way to figure out conversations. Really. It’s the backwards way to figure out social skills. Autism researchers call this masking and it’s why women with Autism don’t look Autistic but we are always exhausted — we are studying how to do language all the time. This is a test to see if you do that.  I hope you love replaying conversations in your head, because if you do, you should take my year-long writing course.

I hope I love playing with puppies as much as I love playing with language. But if I don’t there’s someone else in the household who’s obsessed with the dog:



26 replies
  1. David
    David says:

    Hey Penelope,

    Congratulations on the newest addition to the family . . .Tali looks like she’s settling in to her new surroundings already. Very cute :).

    I’ve been reading your blog a lot lately, and I’ve found it really helpful while managing my own on-the-spectrum traits (I don’t score highly enough for a diagnosis, but I can relate to a lot of what you write here). Just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for providing a useful, free, well-written resource for this subject that’s often difficult to discuss with others in one’s life. Wish you all the best.

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    You’ve made such a fabulous choice. I’ve just moved to the country Noosa Hinterland in Australia and a local farmer breeds Aussie Shepherds. She tells me they are relaxed and lazy lumps, plus she just sold her last litter as therapy dogs, perfect for Autism. All the best with Tali xx

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Penelope, I’m glad to see you and your family have a new puppy. The puppy and your family look to be a good fit based on the photos. When I read – “I worried that the Australian Shepherd would be too much work, and I worried the Golden Retriever would be too friendly.” and “My kids don’t want to take care of a dog, but they want to take care of me, so they agreed to help with the dog. Nino said he would not help with the dog at all. He said he hates dogs and we should get a cat.”, it reminded me of one of your previous posts. A post dated 3/26/15 titled ‘How to tell if it’s a good job or bad job’ about not being able to predict – “We are absolutely terrible at predicting what we will like to do in our careers, and we overestimate how much we’ll like a new career.” and “Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert coined the term affective forecasting to encompass the research that shows people are surprisingly poor judges of their future emotional states.” Affective forecasting. I forgot the terminology so I had to search but remembered the concept.

  4. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    What a great post! Good choice. I have a Standard Schnauzer (purebred/rescue found in Golden Gate Park). My husband wanted a dog for years and when he finally got his way, I was the Alpha. I didn’t realize I needed a dog. Much like having kids, there was a blind spot that desperately wanted filling. Every day around 4:30 pm we go to our local athletic field with a sign saying ‘NO DOGS” a.k.a “the dog park” where you’ll see all kinds of breeds playing (perk of SF?). Over the years, I’ve done a lot of dog watching and in my opinion, Australian Shepards are always the life of the party.

    • Not that Melissa
      Not that Melissa says:

      Love this insight into the minds of dog owners in San Francisco, where almost any patch of grass is transformed into a dog toilet. It’s disgusting but all the other dog people are doing it so it’s fine?

  5. Minami
    Minami says:

    Your dog is so cute. And I love that Nino fell in love with her.

    I also love that you put the link to the masking questionnaire on this post! I hope it helps someone.

  6. Tali
    Tali says:

    This is great. My name IRL is Tali, and this is the same month I have found your blog and found out I am on the spectrum. What a adorable puppy. My dad always claimed he never wanted a dog, yet he ended up loving my sisters dog more than life itself, funny how animals can change people sometimes :)

  7. Lara
    Lara says:

    Pilots n Paws (dot org) is a great way to transfer dogs in need of a home to Boston in the future. It’s 100% free for the family adopting the pet, the volunteer pilots can not take payment for their gas or time. We got the best beagle mutt from Bedford County Animal Shelter, VA, and my understanding is there’s no such thing as a dog shortage in the U.S.

  8. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Getting a puppy is an emotional decision. I can’t imagine how it’s ever a rational one. The rational decision is to not have to deal with training the dog, or taking it outside five times a day!

    It looks like the whole family is enjoying Tali — now that’s what it’s all about.

  9. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I haven’t commented in a long while, but I had a red merle miniature Australian shepherd and I left her in the States when I moved to London, which I needed to do for myself, but leaving her was the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone. She was one of the puppies I tried to sell when I worked in a pet store to pay my bills while I wrote my MA dissertation, but after she bit every person who was interested I knew she had to be mine. We ran together and her longest run with me was 27 miles, although even then she wasn’t tired. I left her with my ex and I still get updates– she’s 11 now and doing great, but I still dream about her all the time.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I told my kids about your Aussie not being tired after running a marathon and they screamed at me for thinking I could tire out this breed of dog by running a few miles with her each day. My son read that training tires Aussies out much faster than exercise so the kids train her constantly to tire her out.


      • Shelly Baker
        Shelly Baker says:

        Beautiful pup! They are great dogs, but definitely need to be trained to do something. We’ve had 7 Aussies over the years and have 2 now. One is a Red Merkle. Playing Frisbee is a great way to exercise them. You will never be able to outrun them.

  10. harris497
    harris497 says:

    In my experience, we as individuals search for two things, a sense of purpose, and the unconditional approval of others. We get both from a pet.
    I hope Tali brings your family joy.


  11. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    I love the pics!

    I’ve never wanted a dog because I am so lazy. They require more attention than cats. Cats are so independent and entertaining.

    I’ve thought a lot about what you said when I hired you to write my resume. You said I had Asperger’s. At first, I thought, no. But the more I thought about it, I figured you were right. I took the CAT-Q test from the link above, and scored 117. 55 for Assimilation!

  12. Maria
    Maria says:

    What an adorable puppy.
    Penelope, I’ve been reading your blog for well over a decade, and a couple of months ago I finally realized/accepted that I am autistic. And that writing was the way I made sense of the world. And that most of my favorite writers were also autistic. Now I find it funny to think back on my literature classes and all the complicated arguments scholars make to explain why this or that autistic writer withdrew from the world or described it as absurd.

  13. H
    H says:

    So cute. And small so it’ll be easy to handle and keep you company as your kids become adults.
    There are ways more dogs Down south because they don’t neuter as much as in northeast. No I don’t think that’s irresponsible so long as you’re a responsible owner. People do many things to dogs surgically and not sure how I feel about it. Also dog ownership is higher in south. Good luck with her!

  14. Mirjam
    Mirjam says:

    “Tali” means “winter” in Estonian (pronunciation: ta.lee).Tali tuli – the winter came (ta.lee tu.lee).

  15. samantha
    samantha says:

    i love your baby aussie. what a beauty. thought of you out of the blue tonight. the social worker food worried me a little. i have a little extra money if you get really stuck.

    did you know i have an aussie? they are great dogs. he just turned 10. if you ever want to talk aussie stuff get in touch.

    much love. you your beautiful sons. tali dolly…😘🙏💚

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