Those of us who have them and love them turn into some high-pitched howler monkey when we see a puppy.
As a kid, my family always had dogs. My dad worked for Hood in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and may have brought a stray or two home who were wandering around the loading dock. There was always an animal of some sort in our house. A dog, a cat and/or some other random marsupial type. Once a hamster sprung loose and was on the lamb in our house for weeks until mother put the hammer down on that whole operation after we found it living inside an air conditioning box in a closet.
Along came Polly. She was “that” dog. You know, the one you had the longest and spent the most time with and left the biggest hole in you heart when she was gone. She was a bad ass little shit. A poodle, but with street cred. She looked like a little Rastafarian. We would plead with our mother not to give Polly the humiliating poodle Pom Pom cut and let her gnarly corkscrews grow long. Inevitably, my sisters and I would come home from school and there was Polly with her four point bald Pom Pom poodle coiffure. Unrecognizable. Shivering under the kitchen table because A) she was friggin freezing and B) the girl was mortified that she looked ridiculous. It was as if my Mom was trying to polish up a little feral carnival kid.
The first dog that was just mine came when I was 24 years old. She was what I wanted (and paid for); a purebred miniature pinscher. As she grew and developed, I realized there was a chance I’d been had by the breeder. She looked like some science experiment gone horribly awry. Her ears were the biggest part of her whole existence. I dressed that fool up for every holiday — 15 years of Halloween costumes and Christmas card pictures. She needed little sweaters because yes, dogs do shiver and get cold. I’m not sure the leopard coat with the matching pill box hat was entirely necessary but whatever.
This is what dog people do.
We treat them like our kids because they are our family. I can’t imagine my life without the two dogs I have now. Clearance rack rescues. Red sticker. I love me a mutt. One of which is a bad-ass warrior from Hurricane Katrina and the other one looks like he was assembled by a committee of drunk people. I sometimes stare at him scratching my head and wonder how the Christ this cat-dog got lucky enough to land in my care. He’s the kind of dog that if he could speak, would say things like “eeeew” or “you’re not my real Mom.” But this goon is attached to me like a barnacle and I’ve never had anything love me as much as he does. The feeling is mutual. That’s all they want from us. We have such full lives. We have friends and jobs and parties to go to and appointments and countless other places where we interact with people. They have us. ONLY us. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve cried many times into their fur when my heart hurts; that there are days I just want to be with them because I don’t want to talk to anyone; that I have a hard time falling asleep when I’m away because they’re not stretched across the bed with paws dug into my back giving me the paltry few inches of mattress they allow me. I will talk to my dogs in full conversation (oooh yes….questions and all.) The actual one-sided dialogue that goes down in this house may be enough to have me committed or, at the very least, evaluated psychologically.
There is something about a dog that touches a place in us that no one other being can find. The shit is deep. My love for them is powerful. You get it. I never get mad at them because when Millie gets into the trash and hangs her head in such shame or when Milo has his entire pea-head shoved into my banana smoothie, they’re just being dogs. They’re not being spiteful. Let one of my friends or sisters take a sip of my smoothie, all hell is about to rage. I will share food with my dogs, but not my humans. Go get your own.
I look at my old girl. Her grey and white aged 14 year-old face. Blind, diabetic, and slow and I know she’s not too long for this world. I talk to her a lot. We have an agreement. You know the one. As I write this, old girl is asleep on the floor and barnacle boy is firmly tucked up against me like a backpack. We are the most routine household. I realize I spend most of my free time, if not all, with them. I owe them that. They give me FAR more than I can ever give them. I may be single in my 40s, but I am never lonely with these two around. Dogs soften all of us. They’re better than any medicine. They heal and soothe. They love and listen. They have a job to do in their short but mighty lives. What I’m most grateful for? That my dogs can’t talk because they would have LOTS and lots to tell.