I always wanted a dog of my own. There is very little in life that makes me feel as good as a puppy snuggling into my shoulder, with its little paws around my neck. I was always that kid who befriended whatever canine came within drooling distance.
When I moved out on my own, dog ownership was always a goal of mine. My husband at the time did not share that goal. He was more interested in reptiles and rodents as pets. This propensity showed his clear lack of judgment, which he further demonstrated when he left me. After I got divorced, I was a pretty sad sack. My parents, desperate to suggest anything that might rouse me out of my funk, pressed me to get a dog. Even my father, who had always been firmly in the “Not To Dog” camp, extolled the virtues of doggy parenthood. It didn’t take much pushing to convince me to adopt my little mutant Welsh corgi, Luci.
Adopting Luci turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. In the beginning, however, the wisdom of the decision was debatable. For one thing, the shelter told me she was over two years old. In actuality, she was about six months old. This meant she kept growing until she was approximately twice the size she was the day I brought her home. It also meant that she was still teething. She also suffered from severe separation anxiety. This neurosis manifested itself in her tendency, when left alone, to eat anything and everything …including things that were not technically edible. Like a couch.
Yes, between the teething and the anxiety, the dog ate the entire arm off my couch while I was at work one day. I tried crate-training her, but, contrary to every dog behavior book I read that told me dogs actually like the safety and security of a crate, Luci hated it. She would throw up if I put her in the crate and left the room. She cried and whimpered pitifully. I consulted with the vet, which is when I found out the full-grown adult dog I adopted was actually a poor, pathetic puppy who still missed her mommy.
Since I was now the mommy, it was my job to soothe and comfort. This entailed coming home at lunch and calling Luci several times a day while I was at work so she would hear my voice on the answering machine. It also involved heating a seasoned pig knuckle in the microwave to give her each morning when I left for work. The idea was that she would come to associate my leaving with something pleasant. She did indeed associate the smell of microwaving pork at six in the morning with something pleasant, but I can’t say I did. I, in fact, found it pretty revolting. My stomach came pretty close to revolting most mornings when presented with the smell of sizzling pig knuckle before any self-respecting pig would even be awake.
I can’t say I could ever completely rely on Luci to not eat anything within reach.
However, as Luci grew out of the puppy phase and became more secure in her home, she became much better about eating only things with actual calories. When I left for work, I Luci-proofed the house. I closed all the doors to bedrooms and bathrooms to minimize temptation. I set wastepaper bags on high kitchen counters. I was not foolish enough to leave shoes or socks laying around the Luci-occupied zone. It worked well enough. As time went on, I found that minimal effort kept my home canine catastrophe free.
Some people may have thought this was a crazy way to live. It probably was, but it was well worth it for me. In a time of my life when I was bruised and empty, Luci was my safe place to land. Luci always loved me. No matter what. She made me laugh. She gave me a reason to keep moving forward in life. She enabled me to focus my energy on something other than my internal misery and decimation. We were a team and faced the world together. In caring for Luci’s happiness and well-being, I found some of my own.
Luci made out pretty well in the deal, too. People who believe in reincarnation want to come back as my dog. Nothing was too good for my fur baby. She came home from the shelter with a doggy seat belt. Unfortunately, she ate it. I took her to obedience training. I learned to obey. I took her to the vet whenever something seemed even minimally amiss. When the vet moved from a small strip mall storefront to a large, modern, beautifully designed building, I used to call it “The House That Luci Built.” My mother corrected me, reminding me it was actually “The House That Luci’s Mommy Built.” As Luci aged, general practice vets were not sufficient for my baby’s growing pains. She had a root canal from a doggy oral surgeon. She had acupuncture from a specialist to manage her arthritis pain. I’ve never actually added up how much money I spent on vet bills in the last few years of Luci’s life and I don’t want to.
Luci lived with me for almost 16 years. She had a long, loving life. When I finally accepted that it was time to let her go, I called a specialist to come to the house so that her last hours would be with me in the home where she knew only love.
I knew I would not want another dog right away. About a year after we lost Luci, I was in a pet shop and saw a Welsh corgi puppy. The nice young man in the store took her out of the kennel for me and she snuggled sweetly into my shoulder. I started to cry. Actually, I started to sob uncontrollably and unrelentingly. I knew it wasn’t time yet.
A year or so later, I started thinking that I might be ready. I was doggy jonesing. However, at that time, I was also applying for a new position. The new position would involve a commute of three hours or more each day. It would involve longer hours and more travel. I didn’t think it was fair or even feasible to integrate doggy motherhood into my life at the same time if I got the job. I told myself that, if I didn’t get the job, I’d get the dog as my “consolation prize.” Damn it, I got the job.
The next plan was to wait until I retired and we moved. Once we were settled, I planned to get two Pembroke welsh corgi puppies. Any time Max sensed my impetus towards moving was waning while we were waiting for my retirement date, he invoked the name of puppies to keep me focused.
However, once we moved, things changed. First, “getting settled” seemed to be a much more fluid process and to take much longer than I initially expected. Second, I was finding that my mother needed much more assistance than I had realized. I was spending 15-20 hours a week with her. I wasn’t sure I had enough time left after my efforts to keep my mother safe, comfortable, and happy to take on a passel of pembies. Then, once my mom had the stroke, I clearly knew I did not have the time and energy to raise furbabies. When the day comes I no longer need to care for my mother, I think Max and I are going to need some time to breathe. I think we’ll want a season to be free of responsibility to do the things for ourselves that we have been postponing during this difficult time.
So, in the question of “to dog or to dog?” I think the answer, for me, is “not now.” While a puppy would provide comfort and healing, it would also provide responsibility and entanglement. Still, when I recently held my friend’s tiny new pooch the other day, it was hard not to feel the surge of puppy love flood my heart. While my head is still saying that this is not the right time for a dog, the needle on my doggydesire-ometer certainly started to twang from “not now” to “later.” A subtle change in emphasis, perhaps, but movement nonetheless!
What do you think? Should I dog or not dog? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day!