I’ve been wanting a dog back in my life on a full-time basis for well over a decade.
After grad school and before N, I worked a more than full-time job, a part-time job, and freelanced in the evenings. Only an aloof cat would have been marginally appropriate in my life, and though I like some cats (usually not the aloof ones) I’m fairly allergic to them and I have an issue with litter box feet on my eating surfaces. Once I shacked up with N, we occasionally spoke of dogs, but we both worked long and often irregular hours, were in the middle of a fairly intense home renovation, and didn’t really have a yard. Then we did the long-distance relationship thing for a few years and I was back to long hours at work, then we were in an apartment, then once again in a home reno. Finally this house done enough to have a furry (not a furry) resident, and for the last several months my telecommuting status was perfect for potty breaks and midday walks… but then we thought that that might end and another move might commence, so it still wasn’t a good time. Then it all ended, just ended, and though it is/was a terrible time for me mentally, I have all the time in the world (or at least more than I’ve had in a long time).
Was it the perfect time to get a dog? No.
Is it ever? Probably not.
I once had a perfect dog. We all knew at the time that she was rare – very smart, entirely obedient, and always eager to please (though not without some goofiness). She came from a shelter having originally been a “stray” then returned because of a new owner’s “allergies.” Within her first month or two with us, she had a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy – likely the reason that she was abandoned at least one or more times. She responded very well to medication, though it needed to be increased over time, and quickly reached a healthy weight. Her shelter name was “Foxie” and in my teen angst mind, I though “Toxic” was more punk rock and ironic and tried to change it, but she bore a close resemblance in size and shape of a fox – especially an Arctic one since her coat lightened and darkened with the seasons – so she remained Foxie. She lived a long, loving, good life – just how long we don’t quite know as she was at least a few years old when she came home with us – but I still miss her and I know not to expect another dog quite like her again.
I’ve been certain for most of my life that I did not want children. When I was young, I had vague thoughts of …oh, maybe my kids would want this one day… or …I certainly wouldn’t do that to my kids… But later in my teens I realized I was only thinking of kids as a concept, and never as a direct desire.
(There was a brief moment during my study abroad time in Italy that I thought, holy shit, maybe I would consider children when I saw how they were better integrated into people’s lives and society there, but that thought was exceedingly short, and I chalk it up to the general euphoria of being 19 and free and open to every goddamn possibility that this glorious life has to offer.)
And as the years passed, I braced myself for the “wait ’till your biological clock goes off and you’ll sing a different tune.” Then my hormones peaked, and my tune remained one I happily whistled solo without the need for accompaniment. (This tale could veer into an angry rant about my experience being denied sterilization in my 20s, trouble with insurance covering birth control, and a plethora of body-controlling bullshit, but I’ll refrain.) The only thing that has changed with my stance on children is that it has softened slightly over the years in regards to some of them – I’ll admit now that there are a few that I actually do like, for short periods of time, and I’m really happy that they’re not mine. (And most kids are still germ-infested menaces to public safety and health.)
But a big reason for not having them regularly in my life (apart from my lack of “maternal instinct”) is that I don’t want to give something so much of my time – I even chafe a bit in adult relationships. Well, scratch that sentence to a degree, it sounds entirely selfish, and selfish isn’t entirely my stance… It’s more that I can’t function when I have to give something or someone all of my time and attention. If I were born a decade or so later, I’m sure I would have had an early diagnosis of ADD or ADHD or rather ADD with fatigue? I’m happiest and healthiest when I can do things the way my brain dictates to some degree. I’ve functioned in the workplace well because my field involves some research, problem solving, visual interest, and periods of mind-numbing boring tasks that I can comfortably zone out to. But a child doesn’t allow for erratic, intense, and whimsical working patterns and periods of mindless repetitive brainless tasks – at any given moment you need to make sure it’s breathing and fed and changed and burped and solve why it is sad; then ensure it’s not playing in the oven or climbing the floor lamp or eating out of the litter box; (then it dents your car and drains your savings and lives in your house way longer than it should).
But with a dog, though many of these essentials and repetitions are the same, you can put him in a crate and leave the house for an hour or two, he can learn things more rapidly, and he doesn’t really have thumbs or long enough fingers to climb up and fall out of trees, so hopefully in a few months you can settle into a comfortable routine of eating, walking, shitting, naps, play, walking, naps, play, eating, shitting, naps, play, walking, sleep- or some variation thereof and eventually have freedom of movement again in your own house along with companionship. But those first few days/weeks are too much like the needs of all of the stages of human childhood for me – constant supervision, marking piss clean-up, figuring out wants and needs of a being that doesn’t speak yet can expresses in various ways, praise instead of discipline, calmly confronting defiance, and the warm fuzzies of someone who’s awesome and happy and goofy one minute, suddenly pricked the next when he’s standing on the kitchen counter with his face in your freshly toasted crostini, or slamming into the door to eat or greet the mailman…
(Perhaps the worst part is the neighbors referring to you as “mommy” or “momma” to this creature that has no business being associated with human loins.)
But I am exhausted.
For the first time, a living being has entered into a true love/hate relationship with me.
Rocco was surrendered to a South Carolina shelter because his “family didn’t have time for him,” was an “easy peasy” foster for a few weeks while he finally got fixed, was loaded onto a deluxe pet transit van and driven north, and then came home with us nearly two weeks ago.
He has in fact been “easy peasy” in regards to being already house trained, crate trained, a non-picky eater, and knowledgeable of a few basic commands – especially if followed by belly rubs or treats – but he is also at times defiant and inspired by invisible mists of insanity and hyper-focus. We don’t yet know if we’ll be a good fit for him, or he for us – just when my heart swells in puppy love, he does some act of confounding canine assholery.
I know not to expect another Foxie – I know any new dog in the house will have a period of settling in, of making mistakes and messes, getting up to antics, and being a bit fearful or overly reactive to new sites and sounds. I was expecting to clean up wormy excrement, my dinner being open for grabs, zoomies in too small spaces, and occasional wtf moments, but this guy is a bit more of a challenge for me/us and will meet with a trainer/behaviorist soon. I have hope that he, and we, will succeed, but I also believe that we’re not doing him any favors if we can’t incorporate him into our lives as we’d/he’d like.
I don’t know what’s been happening over the last decade and more – dogs of yesteryear led happy lives with us people without kongs and nylabones and expensive “meat” treats and fancy spas and day cares – and trainers were just for service animals and show dogs. I didn’t know any dogs with separation anxiety growing up, and overly aggressive ones were put down. There weren’t any television shows or online videos or celebrity trainers rehabilitating dogs the average person has no business keeping. Sure, some had issues and behaviors that we didn’t like, but eventually it all worked out well enough for the two and four footed alike – and certainly some folks treated dogs in ways we no longer find acceptable or with downright cruelty, so the past was not better in that regard.
Acquiring a dog now is also very different than before. The dogs in the shelters closest to us are most often fighting breeds – we met a very lovely pit bull mix at one of them, but in our state, breed discrimination is allowed so we wouldn’t be able to get homeowner’s insurance, or rent an apartment, or use some kennels and day cares if need be. (There’s no reason for us to buy a dog from a breeder, so that option was not on the table.) And since people have finally accepted getting dogs fixed, not many friends and neighbors have puppies to unload anymore. So our best avenue was to go with one of the local rescue groups who put their charges up on sites like Petfinder.
I’ve never participated in online dating, and this seemed close – we’d fall for a picture, then read a description, and either move on if something shouted crazy, or contact the group to set up a “meet and greet.” We first fell particularly hard in online love for a little husky mix with a busted knee – it was meant to be – she needed time for her knee to heal in a quiet house and I’m still nursing my own busted knee. After filling out a 8-page application and several phone interviews, we were approved over 9 other applicants for her adoption – before we even met her – then the day before our first meeting, the rescue called to say her foster wanted to keep her instead, so we were crushed… Our next doggy date was a spirited little mountain cur that showed up at a shelter 45 minutes away. He was batshit crazy and I loved him, but N wasn’t ready for a 20 pound dervish that needed to be trained in every which way – which is when the nice shelter folks brought out the gentlewoman pit bull mix who had been bumped around to this higher adoption rate shelter in order to find a home that she very much deserved – we felt so much guilt leaving her behind… But the next day the original rescue contacted us to see if we’d like to foster Rocco. We agreed immediately, but then had to nearly immediately agree to adopt him instead because he’d had several applications. In hindsight, we should have said no, and waited for another dog who had been fostered locally to come available – that was bad on our part, but the rescue seemed so earnest that he was the right fit for us – better than the little husky mix, so we agreed to the arranged marriage.
Like some parents (I’d imagine) I feel a little guilty that some of my favorite times with Rocco are when he’s sleeping. His legs and head are strong and he likes to gracelessly lunge and flop, but his resting body is long, lean, and fluid – frequently becoming a napping violin f hole or a river otter paused underwater…
His breed isn’t just one or two, but likely three, or four, or more, but his size and silky coat likely come from a spaniel of sorts, or the vet suggested border collie… And yes, we had him at the vet early – he’s been sneezing so hard that he wipes himself out if it happens on the hardwood floors. Thankfully, he’s fine, just battling our local pollen and I’ll try him on the same stuff I take if he’s still especially bothered in another day or two.
His jaunty two-tone tail with surprise sparkles does remind me of Foxie a bit – she too had a jolly flippy rear.
So now we’ll continue with patience and professional training – he’s made remarkable progress in these last few days – looking at us more and succeeding most of the time at new commands followed by disgusting bits of ragged boiled chicken. My fingers smell of meat and “meat” even after a few washings and my clothes are taking on some soft dark removable shadows, but I’m optimistic.
(But I don’t want to jinx it.)