My reaction is complicated. I say no. To my kids it sounds like “No.” That’s because it is no. Jane has been wanting a pet since Christmas and she is thinking of every way in the world to get one. We have a couple pets already; Diaper Dog, Crazy Cat, lots of other animals who live at different grandparents’ houses. Part of me wants to say that she has enough interaction with animals and that another pet is a burden we don’t need.
Pets are trouble from the word go. Whining, eating, pooping in the floor, taking them outside or changing a litter box, training them, getting attached to them, paying for medical procedures, and ultimately knowing that they don’t live long enough. If you ever try to go out of town then you have to find someone to watch over them or even tougher you have to take them with you. Why would anyone want a pet?
That is the easy button response. I need to know my reasons at a little deeper level so I did some research back into photo albums from the past. I wanted a complete picture of what dogs have meant to me growing up.
What roles have they filled?
My First True Friend
My first remembered dog was named Sam. He was a Golden Retriever and a perfect family dog. Sam was trained well and I enjoyed having him follow me on my adventures around the farm. I learned loyalty from Sam and, in a round-about way, empathy. I can remember telling him to sit and he didn’t listen to me so I hit him over the head with a plastic whiffle bat. I got in trouble but was told to think about what I did and how I would feel about someone hitting me. I can remember thinking about loving someone who is mean to you and that stuck with me. To this day I can’t stand people mistreating animals. Anything that can consider another something worth loving is at least worth respecting.
Sam followed my sister and me everywhere. Guarding over us because we were his pack. He proved that family doesn’t know trivial boundaries like race and species. Sam loved his family and was most at home in the middle of the madness. There is a similar dog at my mother’s house now and he is named Chester.
He was rescued from under a bridge and totally destroyed my house. He is the reason we have hardwood instead of carpet and the reason that our wedding photo was destroyed. He is still a good dog and he has found his place living at my mother’s farm. He reminds me a lot of Sam and he hovers around my children in the same tolerant and protective way. He will always have a home.
Sam is also my first reference for unexpected loss. Sam had cancer in his mouth and after a while it looked like he was holding a tennis ball. He was in a lot of pain and one weekend when I was gone from home my parents had him put down. I came home looking for Sam as my mother cried and told me the news. I remember very clearly the feeling of realizing I wouldn’t see Sam again. Empty and hollow loss. I never got to say goodbye.
Dogs Are Playmates
Sam wasn’t our only dog. We had a squirrel dog named Alicia, coon hunting dogs, and several dogs that were just passing through. One dog was a hare-brained Fox Terrier named Hot Pants or “HP” for short. We weren’t afraid of any of the dogs and never thought twice about them not liking us. They followed us and played in the creeks and woods all around the back of our house.
My aunt had Scottish Terriers that loved chasing balls around the backyard. We loved the fact they would play soccer with us. I had a friend who had a mean Schnauzer that would chase me every time I came to visit. Dad had a dog named Panda that was so ugly that she was cute. Panda looked like a fuzzy warthog mated with a shaggy throw rug and she was a sweet heart.
There was a dog named Rebel (I called him Lenny) and he was shot by a redneck neighbor who thought he might try to breed with a [somehow pure-bred yet half-wolf] type of dog that he had chained to a shitty plywood dog house. That is the closest I have been to pure hatred.
My First Pseudo-Responsibility
Pets came and went.
We had gerbils from hell. The long tailed rats ate everything. They ate their wheel, the steel screen over the cage, the inside of a Websters Dictionary that I put over the holes in the screen, and the one time I tried to hold one of the bastards it ate my thumb. Well, a piece of my thumb. We had rabbits that bred into uncontrollable numbers and were eventually murdered. Cats that went crazy or got run over by cars. Pet goats, ponies, and even a tamed pig named Speck. None of them hold what dogs do for me.
I begged for a pet of my own as a kid. Eventually, my mother waved the white flag and let me get a Dachshund that we named Penny. She was a weird dog. Penny loved her little house that she slept in at night. She would hide everything in her house. We found toys, socks, empty cans, and bones stuffed in the back. I taught Penny to sit and roll over. Penny slept on the end of my bed at night and is a placeholder in my memory for a time from pre-teen to leaving for college.
Penny became my mother’s dog when I moved and lived until a few years after we moved back to town. She grew old and lost her sight and hearing. One day she wandered off and ended up in the road. Honestly, it was quick and in the grand scheme of things not a bad way to go. I cried when I heard because it was the turning of a page and it felt like a new chapter.
My Wife’s Little Sidekick
Supermom is an only child. She grew up with a cousin close to the same age so she has the experience of siblings but not living in the home with her. Beauty was a Cairn terrier who was her sidekick from ten years old until a little while after we started dating. Beauty lived the luxurious life of the only pet of an only child. She was treated like a person and the family liked to watch her explore snow and express her sassy personality. Like the baby toddler of the family, Beauty was doted on. Supermom brought Beauty to visit my apartment and she promptly jumped up and peed on my bed. She must have sensed competition and was trying to mark me out of her life. My mother-in-law would have been proud at the time, although hopefully she doesn’t still wish for dogs to ruin my sheets.
It wouldn’t work. Supermom and I were getting serious and one weekend we traveled across the state to meet my family. Beauty wasn’t allowed to come along. While we were driving in my hometown Supermom got a call on her cellphone and with a confused look handed the phone to me. It was my future mother-in-law telling me the sad news that Beauty had died. I had to be the one to tell her and hold her while she sobbed. My first time for being a shoulder to cry on. Her sidekick was gone and she never got to say goodbye. I didn’t have any words worth saying but I understood. Sucks.
A Dog Was Our First Child
After celebrating our first New Year together we visited my hometown again. My dad had a boxer named Dixie who was the mother of several family dogs. She was a brindle colored Boxer and we learned that in this family the brindle color came with hereditary joint problems that led to pain and paralysis. But a few years before we learned about that, Dixie had a litter of puppies.
One of them was a sandy colored puppy that took to me right away. I didn’t necessarily want or need a dog but after an afternoon of snuggling with this tiny life, Supermom and I decided that the puppy needed to be our first child.
Biscuit is the Diaper Dog that you may have seen in other posts. She moved with us back to college and lived in our apartment. Then later we moved in with my future father-in-law. Biscuit was a shared love and responsibility that helped teach us some of the basic tools of parenting. Namely that you have to plan ahead for feeding, pooping, and peeing. She also didn’t like Mommy and Daddy to be upset at each other and she would try to give kisses between us when we acted like we were angry with each other. Custody over Biscuit would have been an ugly battle.
Every morning at 5:30 Biscuit would wake me up to go pee outside. I would stand on the front porch while she went out in the yard and usually I would have to go too. At 5:30 am in the middle of nowhere… I peed off the porch. One afternoon I see my father-in-law standing in the yard staring at dead patches of lawn and scratching his head. “What in the world is killing the grass? Look it is just in this one spot.” I had to explain that I had been peeing in that spot for a couple of months every morning. I found out he had been trying to figure out the grass problem for about the same amount of time.
Biscuit is our official relationship dog. She represents almost the entirety of my life with Supermom and even as I type this she is laying on a pillow napping next to me. Diaper and all. She loves her family as deeply as anyone and considers herself second in command. If I am away from home she doesn’t allow guests to approach the children or my wife. She doesn’t growl or make much of a show but she keeps her body between family and company at all times.
Dogs love sacrificially and I will always remember a day that I was swimming laps in the pool at my dad’s house. Biscuit was pacing at the edge of the water and very concerned that I was drowning. I continued my laps and suddenly she had decided that the risk was worth the cost and she dove into the pool. Boxers aren’t made for swimming and I had to rescue her but she proved herself to me. I hope that I would be as brave to protect my family. In fact, there are some stories on this blog that prove I wouldn’t be. Biscuit is definitely the unsung hero. That is something beyond words.
Age isn’t nice to dogs and as she gets older I have the constant fear of finding her cold and still or even worse is the thought that I would have to make the decision to put her down. I don’t know that I could do it. She is in all of our photos. Biscuit was our first. She saw us date, marry, have children, move houses, celebrate birthdays and Christmases, travel to see family, welcome new pets to the family, and has more than once been a pillow to cry on for someone. She watched over our children and probably taught them some of the same lessons that Sam taught me. She is this stable symbol of friend, family, and love.
Dogs Are Heavy On The Heart
When the kids ask for another dog I think of all of these things. I have the denial of losing Biscuit. I have the bitterness of choosing her replacement. I think about what will replace her and mark the next phase of our life. Replacing Biscuit means allowing time to move forward. It means the kids will move from “Sam” to “Penny” and eventually a “Biscuit” of their own.
So when they ask, “Daddy can I have a puppy?” my brain screams, “No!”. But the kids know better. They see the look in my eyes and know that it isn’t even a question.
Of course we will have a puppy. Life requires it. You’re welcome.
-Underdaddy to the rescue.