Two hamsters and five fish – that is the sum total of non-human creatures living in our house right now. We have cycled through two additional hamsters, a number of fish (who seem to die and get quickly eaten by their compatriots before we have the chance to flush them away), a hermit crab, and, before there were young human members of our family, one cat, to which I was allergic.
Needless to say, this is not a satisfying litany of pets, according to my children. They want a dog.
I want a dog too. Sometimes. Sometimes the thought of having a sweet animal, who will lavish me with unconditional love and force me to take long, soul-reviving walks in the park, is enormously appealing. Sometimes, the thought of another creature to feed and bathe and take to the doctor and tend to makes me want to tear my hair out.
The schizophrenia of it all has been enough to keep the question at bay for many years. That, and the fact that my husband has been adamantly opposed to the addition of a family member that will require early morning walks on our dark, cold, icy, winter streets and assiduous grooming and vacuuming to prevent pet hair from covering everything, including us.
The kids, you won’t be surprised to hear, have made sincere promises that they will be the ones who walk the dog. At least in the afternoon and evenings (no one really wants the morning shift, not even I, and I like to rise at 6:00 am.) But I seem to remember reading an article noting that even the seemingly well-behaved and perfect Malia and Sasha Obama, who, in their fervent pleas with their dad, aka the Leader of the Free World, promised to walk the First Dog all the time, haven’t lived up to their dog walking promises.
In our house, guess who’s the staff?
I always mused that when my youngest child, who is my cuddliest, was no longer snuggly, we would get a dog. He’s moving in on 10 ½, and he is still pretty cuddly, so we have some time before I have to make good on that promise.
But in the meantime, my oldest, a junior in high school, is making annoyed comments about how if we ever get a dog, it will be after he leaves the house. That does seem to be the trajectory, and it will be one more thing he can take to the therapist’s couch when the time comes. I do feel a bit guilty about that, but it’s simply the way it goes.
The youngest one, however, is clearly a “boy and his dog” kind of kid. You can just see him being best friends with a furry housemate. My daughter, who was terrorized by and terrified of dogs when she was little, has definitely made her peace with them, and has even learned how to walk a dog, thanks to her second family down the block, which has a great dog. But she is almost equally happy with her hamsters, and can often be seen taking them out of their cages to pet them, and allow them a little fun time rolling in their plastic balls down our hallway. Those are my kinds of pets.
One of my biggest fears about becoming a dog owner is that I don’t quite understand the human side of things – the dog walking/dog park protocol. I see people walking their dogs all the time, and allowing their dogs to stop and greet another dog along the way. Sometimes, the dogs are happy to see each other – their tails wag, they circle each other as they smell each other and all seems friendly and fine. But sometimes, one or both of the dogs will begin to growl. The alpha dog in this scenario will assert his dominance, and the other dog will bark back, and suddenly, all the warm fuzzies will disappear.
What do you do as the dog owner in this situation? Is it like children on the playground? Do you quickly sweep up your child if he or she is behaving badly? Do you let them duke it out? Do your parenting instincts have anything to do with controlling dog behavior?
I also don’t get the whole dog park thing. When you have, as we do, a park nearby where dog owners allow their dogs to run free (although I have to admit, as a non-dog owning human, when I had small kids running on that field and in that playground, loose dogs made me pretty unhappy), how do you make sure your dog heeds your calls and warnings if it looks like doggie war is about to explode?
I also have to admit that I find the attitude of some dog owners to be a bit unrepentent. Many years ago, when my daughter was a few months old and my son was 4, the three of us were playing on our front porch. My daughter was strapped in a bouncy seat, gurgling happily, and my son was kicking a ball. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a rather large dog bounded up my front walkway and onto my porch, its owner still several yards down the block.
I was completely startled, and scared that the dog might hurt my children. It was neither a dog nor an owner that I knew. I stood up and yelled out to the owner to please get her dog off my porch. Do you know what she said? “Oh, he’s friendly!”
I couldn’t believe it. I had no interest in getting to know how friendly her uninvited dog was, or to have it anywhere near my tiny children. I told her I didn’t care, and that she had to get him off my property and off my porch. She sulked (she actually sulked!), as if I was asking her something unreasonable, and called to her dog, who leapt off my porch and continued on their walk.
Ever since that day, I have been cautious around dog owners who seem to believe that their pets are the center of the universe – much like parents who think the same of their children.
So there are issues. Perhaps if we lived somewhere without cold winters, it would be an easier decision to make. Perhaps if I were a little less nervous around animals myself, it would become clearer. Perhaps if I didn’t think that adding a pet of this magnitude would tip the delicate balance between managing my work and home and children and utter chaos, I would see clear to a doggie adoption.
But last weekend we took a long walk in the park with friends who have a sweet, large, galumphing kind of dog - a Golden Doodle. My 10-year-old was in dog heaven, walking the dog, playing with her, throwing her sticks and helping her wade in the creek where we strolled. His little face was shiny with love and longing.
I think the answer is coming clearer. Make room for doggie.
Photo by epSos.de via Flickr