I’m pushing fifty years of age and for the first time in my life I’ve become a dog owner. We’ve had pets before, two cats, both of whom died at an early age, a few goldfish, one that lasted nearly two years, but for the better part of a year our two children have been pushing for us to get a dog. When our last cat died of heart failure at the age of seven, combined with the hurricane in Houston, we decided that the time was right to adopt a dog from that area so devastated by Harvey. So, after several attempts, for adopting a dog is not as easy as it sounds, we finally were greenlit for a small terrier mix. Interestingly, the dog arrived on a tracker trailer from Tennessee and we picked him up at a rest stop in Maine, along with dozens of others who had adopted dogs.
Dog ownership is something like finding oneself in a secret club. For the first time people with dogs are now coming up to us on our walk and saying hello and stopping to chat. Neighbors who have never given us more than a passing wave or a banal remark about the weather are now engaging us in real conversation. Granted, the talk almost exclusively revolves around our dogs, but still, I’ve never experienced this type of acceptance before. It’s actually a little disconcerting since I live mostly inside my head. Having to stop and chat is, most of the time, a great chore, and truth be told, I get very little pleasure from the exchange. Nevertheless, the camaraderie of speaking with others is grudgingly pleasant. To interact with other people over our dogs gives us a commonality that non-dog owners seldom experience, I know, because as I’ve said, most of my life I’ve never owned a dog. For the first time in my life I feel like I am on the inside of something.
As a dog owner, my social circle has expanded. There seems to be no restrictions on the people who now come up to me wanted to pet the dog or discuss his pedigree, behavior, sleeping and eating habits, and of course, his need to relieve himself almost every hour. Moreover, people never seem to be short on or shy about giving advice. We have found a large group of fellow dog owners who give us advice on everything from doggy daycares, vets, treats and dog food, to what type of leash and harness we should have. The advice is always well intentioned and for the most part welcome.
The best moments about dog ownership for me is when we are out on a walk together. It gives me a chance to break away from whatever it is I’m doing and get in some exercise. It’s a terrific excuse to sweep the cob webs away and take in the fresh air. But now that the cold weather is upon us I’ve found that I have less patience with my dog. He loves the snow and is eager to jump through it, sticking his nose into piles every chance he gets. Most of the time this is fun to watch, but he is already an easily distracted dog, so now that snow is on the ground he’s more distracted than ever. If I’m working from home and he signals to me to take him out, I need to stop what I’m doing, regardless of where I am in my work, and bundle both him and myself up against the cold. However, once we are outside he’s off playing in the snow, leading me to places only he seems to know about. I tug at his leash, trying to move him along, but mostly it’s a game to him. Terriers, I’m told, are a stubborn breed anyway, so my dog and I become engaged in a battle of wills, which I always ending up losing. When it comes time for me to leave the house and I try to put him in his crate, he runs, avoiding me. But this is a game to him as well, for he wags his tail and barks for me to chase him. My patience, by now, has become depleted, and I find myself swearing at him. Then it dawns on me: I’m becoming Camus’ old Salamano, tugging and screaming at his spaniel. On our walks, I’ve tended to cry out in Italian to him, mostly “Che fai!” In my failure to be patient, I’ve witnessed myself devolving into a mess of raw emotion. “Filthy, stinking bastard!” Salamano lost his dog, and in the end was crushed by its absence. I now know how Salamano feels in a way that I never have before.
The love a dog shows you once you return home is one of the great joys in life. It’s wonderful to know that at the end of the day, no matter what you’ve said or done, there is a dog waiting for you excitedly on the other side of the door.