My wife and I recently got a dog. It was an idea I had been averse to for a while. It wasn’t that I didn’t like animals, I just found myself, what would the word be, indifferent to them. I could see why people liked animals, but if you’re like me, life seems to be enough trouble as is without worrying about cleaning up some other being’s feces. Not to mention those people whose lives practically revolved around their dogs, spending every waking moment talking about their dogs eating and social habits. I never liked going over to another person’s house where the dog would jump on you and bark at you and nag you until you pet it’s stupid head.
However, I had been preparing myself for the inevitable. When Cat mentioned one day that we should go to the humane society after work I knew that we’d be coming back home with a dog.
On the way down we set some ground rules.
“We don’t have to get a dog tonight,” Cat says. “I just want to look.”
“That’s fine,” I say. “But in case we do, we don’t have time to train a puppy,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, obviously. And we both need to take care of it equally.”
“Agreed. And no dog that’s crazy. Something mellow.”
“Yes. And nothing too big. We live in a small apartment.”
“And no small yippy dogs.”
“Yes.” (I’m of the opinion that all small yippy dogs should be rounded up and shot).
On the way back home from the humane society:
“We’ll totally have time to train a puppy,” as the new dog we just bought bounds in and out of our backseat.
We ended up with an eight month old black lab-pit mix. We just couldn’t help ourselves. She was very medium sized with a cute puppy face and kept licking our faces. On the way home we stopped by Pets Mart and bought all the necessary items for our new housemate.
Growing up, my family had always had dogs. My first dog was a neurotic Border Collie named Panda we eventually had to get rid of. I thought my parents gave her away because I wasn’t mature enough at the age of five years old to take care of her. My mom would always say to me, “Levi, if you don’t take care of Panda we’re going to give her away.” I thought when that day came it was my fault. But turns out, I learned twenty years later, it had nothing to do with me, but because Panda would get anxious around little kids and snap at them. Thanks for all those years of pet guilt mom.
My next dog was a husky-malamute mix named Denali. She was a wonderful dog besides being a master escape artist and killing our neighbor’s chickens. Eventually she got bad arthritis and hobbled around our house like a cripple. My dad called me when I was a freshman in college to let me know that they’d soon be putting her down. I don’t know why a pet’s death is so sad, but it really is.
Everyone who has a dog has a story. Some sad, some happy. My wife told me a story about her coworker who had a dog when he was still a kid. One day the dog broke its ankle and it had to have pins and needles inserted. But the dog picked at the sore and was in so much pain that it whined the entire night. The dad got so annoyed that he took the dog outside and cut it’s head off with a shovel. That was a sad story.
So it goes.
This co-worker said that was the catalyst for his mom divorcing his dad.
My friend Nick once told me that he had the worst dog death story. His dad had backed up over their family dog as he was leaving their house. But it was the day Nick’s dad was leaving their house after him and his wife had divorced and he came back to pack up the rest of his things.
We named our new dog Amelie, after the French movie. She turned out to be a little more high energy than we wanted as well as a professional chewer/destroyer of shoes, but we just couldn’t help but love her as she laid her head down on our lap or snuggled next to us in bed. She turned out to be one of the cuddliest dogs in the history of the world.
At first it added quite a bit of stress to our already stressful lives. This was the first year of our marriage and the infamous year of bed bugs, parents dying, business endeavors, and buying a house. Cat was an emotional wreck, I was depressed, we were both riddled with stress and anxiety. I guess somewhere along the way we just decided to compress as many life changing events as possible into twelve months. Get it all out of the way early.
But eventually Amelie did wonders for our household. It was pretty remarkable how much Cat cheered up with a dog in the house. If I would have known this I would have bought her a dog months ago, as soon as her mom died. Amelie also gave us something to focus on and turn our attention to rather than the inward petty fights we’d inevitably have. Sure, it would be annoying to come home and find your favorite pair of shoes and half the couch torn up, but we could now direct our frustration at some third party rather than at each other.
“Stupid dog” we’d say. Then she’d do something cute like nuzzle her nose on our shoulders and we’d let go of all our rage.
It also helped us get out. I was at this point, like most other points in my life, drinking and smoking heavily. It was a stressful year. But Amelie made me start going on these things called “walks” and I eventually started running. It was a good thing because recently because my heart had begun to “flutter” every now and then. I’d have moments of dizziness and lapses of breath, sometimes having to sit down before I might pass out. Cat told me it was probably due to all the coffee and tobacco and liquor and cheeseburgers, but I don’t see a medical degree in her name hanging on the wall. But the way I was going I might have a heart attack before I was thirty. Not that it made me stop. If life wanted me to stick around it could at least slow the fuck down for a few seconds.
That year I used to sit and day dream of the day when our puppy might grow up and chill out and people would stop dying and we’d have a house and maybe I’d quit all my vices and Cat and I would stop fighting so much.
Eventually a few of these things happened. We found a house, though it was quite the laborious process. We started to handle conflict with each other better and life did slow down a bit. I remember when we finally got the house though thinking that maybe it was a bad idea. I am almost obsessive when it comes to making sure I get things that need to be done, done. I can’t relax and watch a movie until all the dishes are done or the leaves raked or my laundry folded. I like to stack my days up heavy in the mornings. I won’t take a lunch until two or three in the afternoon when I’ve gotten most of my work out of the way. I’d rather just work hard and get everything done. That way I can go home an hour or two early and get stuff done around the house so I can truly relax for the evening.
It’s very satisfying to me to cross all the items of my to-do list, to look at my inbox and see that I have zero un-read emails. But having a house is like having a never-ending to-do list. There is always something to do. It really freaked me out. I’ll never be able to relax, I thought. Even if I get all my work and writing done and take the dog out and spend time with the wife and clean the house, I’ll still have things like painting or yard work staring me in the face. Sometimes I’d break out the ole’ carrots and start rewarding myself with every little thing done.
I didn’t want a house to occupy my every waking moment. I remember growing up my dad would spend every Saturday and sometimes Sunday working on our house. Sometimes he’d try and wrangle me away to help him work on a fence or teach me how to use a saw. I’d oblige and looking back on it now I wish I would have taken the time to learn more from him, but I was in high school and who cares about those sorts of skills. I would ask my dad,
“Doesn’t it bother you to work so much? Can’t you ever take a day off? Don’t you ever get tired?”
“It feels good” he’d say. “Better than sitting around an office.”
To my dad it was relaxing to work on the house on Saturday. To me it just seemed like more work.
I don’t want to spend my Saturdays “working.” I need a day where I can not put on pants and make a big breakfast.
Having a house and a dog sort of reminds you that there will always be something to do. Always another walk to take and another wall to paint. Probably another funeral to go to. A never ending to-do list of obstacles and tasks. Some days I like to sit back and day dream about a time in life when there are no longer tasks to accomplish and words to cross off. A time when life becomes more like a movie you can just sit back and enjoy. A stroll through leaves. Useless days and endless forays through unnecessary activities. A time when time itself no longer exists and we drift like wispy clouds across a tundra landscape, with less rocks to scale and more evergreens to smell.