Pet Issue 2016
SO YOU’RE THINKING of getting a dog.
I get it—everybody wants a dog! It is a fun thing, a thing that will give your life at least a temporary sense of direction, and perhaps briefly divert your mother from announcing at brunch, apropos nothing, “It sure would be nice to have grandchildren.” Dogs are cute. They are little buddies. They will love you even when no one else does (you’re kind of a dirtbag, to be honest). Plus, think of all those shelter puppies trapped in dog jail right now, rattling their metal bowls against the bars, carving Kongs out of soap, just waiting for their person to rescue them.
So you say YES to getting a dog. You scour the local shelters, compulsively refresh the Multnomah County Animal Services website, show up early for the Soviet-era breadlines that form outside the Oregon Humane Society in hopes of getting your name on a list for the perfect pet. Your friends will send you links to dog profiles and you will pore over them and say, “Oh, he’s cute, but he doesn’t like cats,” as though the two-sentence verdict passed by a veterinarian and a few shelter volunteers can adequately sum up the complex personality of your future life partner.
And one day you’ll find a dog. Your Dog. And everything will fall apart.
Your dog will hate skateboarders and bicyclists with an irrational intensity. Your puppy will wake you up four times a night with heartbreaking howls of pure desolation, because only a monster would lock a puppy in a crate and you, my friend, are a monster.
You will buy the green biodegradable poop bags, and the green biodegradable poop bags will fail you. You will hold poop in your hand.
Your pockets will fill up with bits of cheese and crumbled Milk-Bone. You will start to smell, every so slightly, of your dog and its treats. Soon you will stop noticing that you smell. Everyone else will still notice.
Your dog will eat some pot candy, and the vet visit will cost hundreds of dollars. Your dog will hurt its leg playing Frisbee, and the vet visit will cost hundreds of dollars. Your dog will get fleas, and the treatment will cost hundreds of dollars, and then somehow he will still have fleas. One day, your dog will get old and sick, and you will have to decide when to put her down; if you’re a good person you’ll do it before you’re ready, before she really starts to suffer. Putting your dog down will cost hundreds of dollars.
Is this getting too dark? It is, isn’t it. Wrong side of the line. This is supposed to be a funny article about why you shouldn’t do something that you’re obviously going to do anyway. I’m being contrary. It’s edgy.
But here’s what’s really going on: My dog is sweet and smart and likes to cuddle. He has a dopey, cheerful face, like one of those talking Pound Puppies from the ’80s cartoon. And he’s got issues. A few months after we got him, he bit someone. Our trainer (hundreds of dollars) told us he has “fear aggression.” When something scares him, he wants to bite it. Lots of things scare him.
You can’t rehome a dog that’s bitten a person; either you keep him, or you put him down, and we’re not ready to put him down. So my dog is medicated, muzzled, carefully managed. Backyard barbecues are out of the question; so’s the dog park. When we’re on a walk and a stranger tries to pet him, I say, “HE’S NOT FRIENDLY” in my meanest voice, and then they think I’m not friendly, either. This morning I said to a friend: “If he bites someone again, I hope it’s me, and I hope he bites me on the leg or arm, but not the face. Then we’ll know we have to put him down.”
I love my dog, but I regret getting him, and if I could go back and make a different decision, I would.
But I can’t. And since you’re probably going to get a dog anyway, if you end up with a problem dog like mine, here’s what comforts me: My dog doesn’t care that he can’t go to barbecues or meet my friends. He doesn’t care that we go for walks at weird times, or that he gets shut in his favorite room of the house when our friends come over. He just cares that he’s fed, and exercised, and gets to hang out with his people. And for him, that’s enough.