(A book excerpt from Is That The Shirt You’re Wearing?)
There are were few things more annoying than crazy dog people. They are often worse than new parents in their belief that their dog is more unique or intelligent than other dogs, or people for that matter.
I want to scream whenever I hear a crazy dog person talk about how they have to cook special doggie dinners, or how they had to hire a doggie acupuncturist or aromatherapist, or, most galling of all, that having a dog is as difficult as having children. Sure it is, crazy dog person. Why just this morning I left my children tied to their leashes outside with a bowl of water and a squeak toy while I went off to work to earn money for their college tuition.
However, Samantha’s first word was “dog,” an utterance that began her 10-year mission to get a furry beast into our home. After years of her relentless begging, we finally gave in. But being a sensible, levelheaded person, I announced that we would treat our new dog like a dog. I vowed I would never become a crazy dog person.
Then, like most people who make a vow, I quickly broke it.
Because dogs are so darn cute and lovable and how could I have ever lived without one?
In my defense, my transformation into crazy dog person wasn’t entirely my fault. It used to be, that when you wanted a dog, you went down to the pet store and you bought a dog. No questions asked. You potty trained the dog with newspaper swats to the behind, you left the dog outside howling when you had to, and you fed the dog good old-fashioned dog food from a can. The dog was loved and cared for . . . like a dog.
That all changed when pet stores were shunned for adding to the dog overpopulation problem and for being generally sort of awful. Now, we politically correct people are supposed to adopt or rescue a pooch from the pound.
So we did that. But the adorable yellow lab we brought home for a trial visit wanted to do nothing else but eat our cat, so we realized that not any dog from the pound would do. We needed a mild-mannered and meek dog, one that wouldn’t object to being bullied by our surly cat. So we turned to dog rescue organizations where they presumably knew their dogs’ temperaments better.
After dealing with these rescue organizations, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that these groups are probably more rigorous in their screening than are human adoption agencies. They clearly know and love their dogs, but sometimes it seemed they loved them so much that they didn’t want anyone else to have them. Undeterred, we dove in and submitted to their lengthy screening process.
“Check why you want a dog: Is it for yourself? For your child? For home security?” Oh, this was a tricky one, but I would not be fooled. I knew that if I checked watchdog I would instantly be shown the door. The truth, that it was for my child, was probably also wrong in their eyes. “For self” I wisely checked.
“Are you willing to live with hair on your furniture, stains on your rugs, a warm body in your bed, and an animal that might be destructive at times?”
No. I am not willing to have any of these things. What were they suggesting? Are we not to discipline dogs anymore? I thought the new thing was being the Alpha dog of your house and making sure your hound knew you were in charge.
“Excluding death, what conditions might lead you to give up your animal? Please explain in detail. What arrangements will you make for your dog for after your own passing? What type of food will you serve your dog? Do you have a doggie door? If not, why? Do you have any personal references that can vouch for you as a capable dog owner?”
My head was spinning from trying to determine the “right” answers, but for weeks we played their game and completed an endless amount of questionnaires. Then, once through that hoop, we were allowed to meet the prospective dogs. We learned that each dog came with their own special set of instructions. Most dogs were not to be with children of any age – so much for getting a dog for your kid. Some dogs could never be left alone. The most unusual information card instructed, “Dog must have swimming pool.” Wow, and here I thought a dog would just be happy not to live in a rat-infested alley, digging for moldy food from a trash can. Boy, did he have a good agent.
Eventually our search brought us to Buddy. He apparently had spent the first two years of his life wandering the streets of downtown Los Angeles, eventually ending up in a county shelter. A kind rescue organization saved him from an unhappy fate. His information card said that he would be good with cats and kids. In his picture he looked scared of his own shadow; his fearful eyes betrayed his gruff shepherd and hound features. We were sold.
For a day or two, we called him “Diego” but it became quickly apparent that he wasn’t manly enough for that name. He peed if we looked at him the wrong way. He let the cat be boss and lapped up any attention from the kids. He didn’t beg for food or even bark. He simply wanted to be our Buddy.
I’ve noticed that friends who struggled for years with infertility are often the most permissive with their children, and really, who can blame them? Likewise, I think that it was the exhaustive and lengthy search for Buddy that caused my crazy dog person behavior to develop.
Within days of adopting him, I went doggie gaga. I filled our house with hundreds of dollars of doggie items including a blanket, a dog bed, a training crate, three kinds of squeaky toys, collars and leashes, a doggie toothbrush and grooming kit, and food-filling activity toys for the dreaded few times we had to leave poor Buddy alone.
I signed us up for dog training, took Buddy on twice-daily walks to prevent doggie anxiety and bought a host of dog handbooks and instruction manuals. In fact, I’m certain I spent more time reading these dog books than I ever did reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Dr. Brazelton’s Touchpoints when we started our human family.
When I had to go to work I arranged for doggie day care and when I was at work I showed off pictures of Buddy instead of my children. I discussed behavior concerns with co-workers. Why did he lose focus so easily when playing catch? Did he have DADD – Doggie Attention Deficit Disorder? Or perhaps it was like I read somewhere, that he didn’t get enough oxygen in the womb? I think maybe the latter.
It was only when a friend inquired if we could arrange a doggie play date that I suddenly snapped out of my dog-obsessed fog. A doggie play date? Well that sounded a bit too crazy. I had to back off and begin treating my dog, more like a dog.
Since then, I’ve made an effort to pull back from my doggie love affair. I’ve forced myself to feign interest in my human children instead – yeah those are nice straight A’s on your report card, but can you chase the deer away from my roses or lick your own butt? I don’t think so.
I still fight the urge to be a crazy dog person but I have to be honest; if I were to fill out that questionnaire today, the one that asked why I wanted a dog, I would look for this answer: “Do you want a dog who will follow you from room to room because he can’t spend a moment without you, who will look at you with big brown adoring eyes as if you are the most wonderful person that walked the earth, and who will listen to your every word as if it’s the most fascinating thing ever said?”
And that would be the box I would check.