I Want a Dog

I have not had a pet since I was a high school kid. The last dog I had wasn’t really my dog. It was my brother’s dog, I guess. Or maybe it belonged to my parents. The last dog I considered mine was Buck, a fawn-colored pit bull that was about as friendly a dog as I’ve known. Unlike the breed’s reputation would suggest, Buck was about as aggressive as a pillow. He was friendly with people and with other dogs and even cats, as I recall. He got excited around other dogs, but it wasn’t aggression. It was just excitement. Buck was big, but not huge. If memory serves me, he was about seventy or eighty pounds. Maybe less. Maybe more. Buck died after being struck by a car in front of our house. Somehow, he got out of the house or out of the back yard and wandered across the street just as a car, driven by a high school cheerleader a year or two older than me, zoomed by. I was out in front of the house, calling Buck back home, when I saw him get hit. The car slammed into him as he was crossing the street and propelled him in front of the car, his two front legs pushed back under the rest of his body and his chest and neck sliding along the pavement. He got up and seemed okay. The girl stopped and apologized profusely. Because Buck seemed okay, we sent her on her way and led Buck inside the house. He was fine for a while, but it wasn’t long before he seemed to just collapse. My brother or my mother called the veterinarian, who told us to bring him in. My brother drove and I went along. I don’t remember much about the events leading up to our return home, but I know Buck wasn’t with us. The veterinarian said Buck was in shock and wouldn’t make it. I think he put Buck to sleep, or maybe he died before the vet could do anything. We left Buck’s body there and went home. I was crushed. When I saw the cheerleader at school a few days later, she asked how my dog was. I think I was a sophomore in high school at the time. When she asked, I couldn’t hold it together. I dissolved into sobs. She was embarrassed. She seemed not to know what to do or say. I felt like a fool, sobbing and telling her it wasn’t her fault. I think that was the only time I spoke to her about Buck. Or anything, for that matter. I avoided her. I knew what would happen if I spoke to her again—I would dissolve and embarrass myself with my tears and my uncontrollable sobs.

So, with that as a backdrop, how is it that—almost fifty years later—I really, really want a dog? When we moved from Dallas in 2014, my wife relented when I said I wanted a dog. I’d been saying that for years, but she argued against it because she would have been the one looking out after it much of the time, thanks to my travel schedule. And she wasn’t crazy about dog hair around the house. And the unmistakable smell of a dog, even a clean dog. She is not a dog person.  Anyway, she relented with the caveat that I and I alone would be responsible for the dog’s upkeep. And I agreed. But then we bought a house with shiny wood floors, wood floors that would be subject to being scratched by a dog’s nails (do you call them toe nails on a dog?). She didn’t renege on her agreement to allow a dog in the house, but she suggested I might want to rethink the idea. And, by the way, we had talked about spending quite a bit of time “on the road.” Would I be comfortable boarding a dog for weeks at a time? She was right. Maybe. But now, I don’t really care whether the floor has a few scratches. It has more than a few, anyway. And I know how to find pet-friendly motels. But, still, there are plenty of reasons having a dog would not be a good idea. But, I’m coming around to the conclusion that the benefits of having a companion dog might outweigh the “costs.”

When I was younger, I envisioned having a big dog, a dog that would take up the entire passenger seat in my car when we’d go for a drive—dog right-sized for its companion-master. Somewhere in my assessment of “right-sizing” a dog during those younger years, vanity played a significant role. I don’t know just how, but I recognize that I envisioned a medium-to-large dog as a complement to my appearance. I know, it’s vain and more than a little creepy. But there it was.  But now that I’m older and I can freely acknowledge that I’m too far gone for a dog to make me look attractive, I’m rethinking what “right-sized” means. And I’m thinking a lap dog is right-sized for me. A fairly small dog that I can easily cradle in the crook of my elbow. Size, of course, is only one of many considerations. Demeanor is another. And energy level. And the dog’s level of “attachment” to its master(s). Yes, it has to be attached both to me and to my wife. More on her dog attachment in a minute. I want a dog that’s not going to bark incessantly and that won’t insist on running around the house like it’s chasing a murderous rat. I’m not looking for a watch dog, nor a protector. I want a friend. That’s it. A friend who will always be there for me. A friend who will recognize when I’m down and will try to comfort me. And who will sense when I’m happy and will help me celebrate. And I want to reciprocate. We’ll be an inseparable pair. Well, not really. I don’t want to become the sort of person who throws a tantrum because I can’t take my dog with me when I go to see the doctor or when I’m buying meat at the butcher shop.

All of this talk of getting a dog is, I’m afraid, pure fantasy. Our planned 18-day trip later this year argues against it. And at the moment, my daily visits to the radiologist argue against it. And the thousands of other little pieces of my life that were built around a dogless existence argue against it But, damn, I sense an almost palpable “need” to have a furry little companion. Not a cat. A dog. A dog that will lick my face and that will demonstrate how incredibly excited he or she is when I come home from being away. It’s all a fantasy, though. I can’t even allow myself to consider that I could really get a dog. My wife would not be thrilled if I were to get one. And that’s putting it mildly. But, guess what? If I were to get a little dog, a friendly little critter who showed her as much love as I envision it will show me, she would be utterly smitten. She would become just as attached to it as would I. How do I know this? I just do. I’ve seen her around other little dogs. As long as they are not too friendly (that is, as long as they offer their affection rather than energetically force it upon her), but are friendly enough, she like them. She’s attracted to them. I think she would like the dog I envision I would choose. But, again, it’s a fantasy. She would not renege on her willingness to accept a dog, but she wouldn’t like it. Until she did. But in the interim, she wouldn’t. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she would never warm up to the idea. And dogs eventually die. And I know how I react when dogs die. Maybe it’s not such a good idea, after all. But at least I got it out of my system for at least a few minutes. But it’s not really out of my system, is it? No. But on top of being a dreamer and an idealist and a romantic and a fantasizer, I’m a realist. A dog just isn’t in my future. Unless, maybe, it is. My wife would kill me. And, as much as I sometimes think otherwise, I don’t want to die.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to I Want a Dog

  1. bev wigney says:

    It’s a great organization. Volunteers help those who need help — everything from transporting home bags of pet food, to walking dogs while someone is laid up, sometimes doing some dog sitting while someone is in the hospital for awhile — and so on. Such a great idea. The first “pawd” in Nova Scotia was started by a doctor near Mahone Bay. Now there are several pawds around the province and more starting up across Canada. I’m sure there must be a close equivalent in the U.S. Anyhow, probably worth checking into if you ever do become serious about welcoming a dog into your home. 🙂

  2. Bev, what a great idea (and you are a bad influence, but I like that about you!). I will explore a bit. I would imagine there must be something like ElderDogs or ElderPaws around here. If not, there should be. At any rate, I’ll look into it. I love the concept and I can imagine such an organization would be a great resource, both for folks whose pets need looking after and for those who could use a little temporary companionship.

  3. bev wigney says:

    I’d be a bad influence on this matter. Life without dogs isn’t life at all. 🙂 Actually, if you ever did decide to get a dog, you could see if there is an ElderDogs (or similar) group in your area. We have a thing called ElderPaws up here in Nova Scotia. They help seniors or the disabled, or anyone ill, to care for their dogs through problem times, and if something should happen to the person — usually something like going into an extended care facility, they try to find the most loving home possible for the dog. Most of the dogs tend to be small – lap dogs – and are used to a lot of love and attention. Most are a few years old already — well passed puppy stage — and most are well trained and know how to be a good companion. Anyhow, maybe not practical for you at the moment, but might be worth checking into this if you are still feeling that you would like the companionship of a dog. Might be a good thing to consider — a reason to get up and go for walks and such.

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