Dogs, Revisited

I originally wrote this some two years ago. Its on this blog somewhere. I rewrote it recently for a class.
April 2013

I don’t like dogs very much. I was raised by a fantastic cat (and rabbits and parrots and fish and quail and hamsters and frogs and geckos and a houseful of spiders and crabs plus some imaginary friends and so forth) but I never quite figured out the dog thing. Now I’ve baby sat dogs and cleaned up after dogs and all that and have made some very good friends with dogs. But I still don’t think I’m a dog person.

Dogs are smellier and messier than any other pet I’ve dealt with. I will be disagreed with on that. My mother always said the birds I kept in my room were insanely messy and caused a great deal of asthmatic damage but let’s be honest, I was messy and they were a good cover. Dogs shed hair everywhere requiring constant vacuuming. You can’t just dump out their bedding every now and then and replace it with the Sunday comics. They require a yard, even in the midst of winter you have to stand shivering in the cold while they decide which clump of snow deserves their attention. And then the snow melts and a winter’s worth of attention is left piled by your back door.

Dogs eat a lot more than all those other pets. They beg. Now, I do think it’s humorous to see a dog huddled up against a fence every time they see someone eating anything. But I’ve also sat at tables where the dog was constantly roving from one end of the table to the other hoping that someone would forget to use a napkin before placing a slightly greasy hand within tongue range. I’ve carved up turkeys while a dog sat alert by my side hoping beyond hope that I would miss something. I’m just not sure I could withstand the puppy dog eyes every time I ate. Perhaps that’s why so
many dogs get fed from the table.

Patches, family cat

Dogs always have energy. When my cat would decide to play with us it was a privilege and she made sure we knew it. We felt justifiably honored and play would commence for the appropriate length of time leaving everyone feeling satisfied. Even if we ended up with some minor scratches we wore them as badges of honor, evidence that the cat had deemed us worthy. But dogs don’t care who you are. They will play with anyone and anything at any time. It’s exhausting. I am a quiet person with quiet moods. Sometimes I want to play with a bit of string up other times I want to just sit by a fire and read a quiet book, or take a nap, or simply stare out the window at the warming spring. A good cat will sense your mood and curl up with you by the fire, take a nap, or leave you alone when the situation calls for it. The dog comes by with a chew toy and large brown eyes that beg for only one thing: endless play at high energy.

Dogs get into messy situations. If they get off the leash the trouble can be unending. You may find yourself screaming through the neighborhood after your supposed best friend as they trump through everyone’s flowerbed looking for a nonexistent squirrel. I once chased a runaway dog into the thicket around the canal and only caught up when it returned covered with a skunky aroma. Their hair gets full of burs which they are helpless to remove. They get covered in mud and grime (which smells terrible on a dog) and do they wash themselves? This necessitates groomers or messy B-A-T-H situations. Not like a nice clean cat who washes themself and avoids mud like a burglar and broken glass.

Puppy breath. I’m told some people like it. No. Go for the kitten every time.

So no, I’m not much of a dog person. And that’s okay. I’m fine with going to someone else’s home each time I wish to participate in a dog activity. Like nieces, nephews, and grandchildren I will come for a visit and a spot of fun and leave mom and dad to take care of the lesser pleasantries.

Egypt Temple of Karnak (9)

I was walking home one day when I saw two girls walking with a dog, a small Chihuahua type, and it spun a thought in my head. It occurred to me that lots of girls go running with dogs as company. Usually a larger dog; a Chihuahua is useless. I hadn’t thought of it much before but I realized that the dogs loved running and the girls love running. I know some girls feel unsure about running by themselves so having a dog gives them a sense of security. The dog loves the exercise and the girl gets to do her running.

I had always thought that the only way I would get a dog would be if I had enough land so the dog could run about wherever it wanted and I wouldn’t have to clean up after it. Then I wouldn’t have to take it on walks. But maybe man and beast could exercise together. Upon seeing those girls I saw my own teenage daughter. I wondered if some day she would take up running; as exercise or maybe as a way to cope with a confusing world. I’m told that not every teenage girl doubts herself through those years, but she might. Would she run alone or would she find a friend to jog with as they mulled over whatever plagues the mind of a teenager? Who might that friend be? Would she have a best friend or would she get some boy to jog with her. Hmm, hopefully not a boy. I don’t expect the middle aged version of me will be that friend, although I would wish it. Who will protect her? What can I do, as a father, to protect my most valuable stewardship?

The key is to find a way to protect her that she doesn’t hate. GPS trackers or cell phones only work if she wants to be followed or calls for help. What do you do when she is angry and upset about something and doesn’t want anything to do with her parental watchdogs? How do you protect that which does not seek your protection? What if she had a dog, a best friend, someone she could talk to and hang out with especially when she is upset? Someone I could trust to not bring in any contaminating influences, someone who would never do additional harm. Someone dependable, that would always be ready and willing to go when she wanted to run and let off steam. Someone who could intimidate anyone they might run into on a dark rainy sidewalk. The two of them can take off on dark nights or late weekends when the world is particularly discouraging. Then while I wait by the window for her to come back I’ll know she is not alone.

Can I create that relationship? Well, what say you give her a puppy when she is…say 12. Early so she still thinks it’s cute and will want to bond with it. Hopefully before she starts to shift her focus from life at home to life in the world, that way she will stay focused long enough to learn to take care of the dog. After all, a dog requires some attention. If she takes care of it then she will love it that much more. A golden retriever or a nice big German shepherd would work well. Everything is adorable as a puppy; I just need something beautiful when young that will grow to be intimidating as an adult.

Big Dogs (1)

As she raises the puppy she will grow ever more attached to it. She will treat it as her own child and thus learn to love it. The dog will also build unbreakable bonds with its owner. My daughter will learn valuable skills about dealing with animals, cleaning up messes, and being responsible. As she interacts with real living things she will gain better perspective on the fragility of life and appreciate her own more. Win Win. Plus I get something warm to sit on my cold toes at night, unless it sleeps in her bed—no, it will sleep in mine. Yes it costs money in food and vets and baths and it may take a while to pass all caretaking responsibility over to the girl but sacrifice brings all significant blessings.

As the dog grows my daughter and the dog will learn to jog together. She will take it for walks and runs. By the time she is 16 the dog will be in peak condition; large, fiercely loyal, athletic and well fed. It will be a protection through her teenage years, growing old and feebler about the time she leaves for college and can no longer care for it anyway. Then the old, beloved dog will rest with me and serve as an anchor to the roving girl, binding her to her home and family. I can check potential boyfriends by getting the dog to check them out (a smart animal can be a wonderful judge of character). A large dog and sharp look can go a long way in that game.

The dog will die eventually. The same way all my birds, cat, rabbits, frog, etc. did. A lucky dog lives maybe 12 years. The funeral will be very sad. We will bury it in the backyard and leave an appropriate marker. Something my daughter will come back to visit and leave a few dandelions. It will teach her about death and how to separate from loved ones without falling apart. It will make her more resilient when harder, more desperate separations enter her life. Maybe she will someday bring my granddaughters with her to show them where her trusted companion entered an endless rest.

My other daughters might require their own dogs. Multiple dogs could potentially reduce the relationship of a dog and master as the dogs establish their own hierarchy. Although multiple dogs would develop a pack mentality that would make them more independent and thus less irritating. Maybe I should breed the first dog to increase her motherly instincts. They say the female is more protective, particularly if she has been a mother. The pups, (if I keep any, remember… puppy breath) can grow with the younger children offering a whole new suite of learning opportunities. Then each cherished child can grow with its own protector. That is a lot of kibble though. And my backyard may never recover from a pack of dogs. I might as well give up on my gardening pursuits now. Maybe one dog can learn to jog with all of them.

I’m not a dog person. They are smelly and messy and overly energetic. But they are unflinchingly loyal, loving, protective, and can fit into holes that I cannot. I can overlook my prejudices if the cause is great enough. You are great enough. Perhaps you think it odd that I planned all of this so long ago. I hope you recognize that my desire was not to spy on you but only to keep you safe, always; especially when the world is dark and uncertain and I might be the last person you want to see. But regardless of what I’ve done or what you’ve done I still want to protect you. Please don’t stop jogging with the dog.

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