“Outside of a dog, reading is my favorite activity. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx
I do not own a dog. I do not wish to own a dog. I am very happy without a dog. It’s not that I dislike dogs. They are beautiful animals and fun to watch. From a distance. Given my personality, I imagine people would, correctly, expect me, to be more of a cat fancier. But I don’t want a cat, either.
I’m amused and astounded by the fact that there is more time and money spent on pampering dogs in this land than it would take to feed the entire undeveloped world. It’s likely this canine-centric lifestyle is due partly to the fact that, unlike humans, dogs give unqualified love no matter how unremarkable, or even despicable, the owner may be.
In short, dogs validate narcissism, a commodity in ample supply in modern America. I could go on to turn this into a scholarly paper on dogs and the rise of narcissism in modern culture, but, that will wait for a future blog. To paraphrase Dr. Freud, sometimes a dog is just a dog.
I don’t need therapy to discover why I don’t want to own a dog. (Which is not to say I don’t need therapy.) Some of my aversion to dogs is constitutionally based. I have been blessed (or cursed) with a highly acute sense of smell. Not as good as a dog’s but better than most humans. Not being a dog, I do not find the odors of dogs aphrodisiacal. Call me germ phobic, but I also do not enjoy being licked and slobbered on by an animal that cleans his hindquarters with the self same tongue. Those factors may seem sufficient to account for my aversion to canine ownership, but even putting them aside, any shrink worth his salt would conclude that my problem with dogs is deeply rooted in childhood trauma. I am no doubt a virtual cornucopia of dog related neurosis.
When I was six years old, my first dog ran out of the house into the street and was struck dead before my eyes. Outside of picking his lifeless body up off the street and listening for a heartbeat, I don’t recall much about poor little Blackie. My memory of the insane cocker spaniel we had for a brief time soon after Blackie’s demise is limited to one episode when he was running in circles around the living room yapping wildly and snapping at everyone in his path. That dog disappeared, it seemed, the day after he arrived. “Frenchy,” my last dog, was “sent to live on a farm” while I was away at summer camp. Probably grief stricken and infuriated by my having abandoned him, the full size poodle leapt through a screen door and attacked the postman.
All our dogs were provided through the largess of my step-father’s domineering mother who repeatedly disregarded my mother’s impassioned pleas to abstain from foisting yet another dog upon us. Grandma insisted “the children need a dog.” I have a feeling it was more about Granny’s need to assert her dominance over the woman who stole away her little boy. Granny never said “would you?” but rather, “you will.”
And so it came to pass one fateful evening during my 12th year that she delivered unto us Frenchy, a full grown black standard poodle. Mom, having given up objecting to being used as a dog rescue service, simply resolved to have as little to do with the animal as possible. Dad was always busy at work. (Probably as a means of escaping both the dog and my mother’s constant harping on his favoring his mother over her.) My siblings were still little kids. Quite useless. Frenchy had no one to rely upon but me, the ever responsible one. Loosely quoting the Bard, some are born caretakers, some achieve caretaking and some have caretaking thrust upon them. Qualifyng on all three counts, I became Frenchy’s “master.”
Master is not exactly the right word. Knowing a sucker when he saw one and having no viable recourse, he would nose open my bedroom door at the crack of dawn, while the rest of the family were deep in dreamland, to demand his morning walk. Or shall we say, to walk me? Or shall we say to pull me? Frenchy was a very big dog, difficult for the weakling I was at that age to control. We eventually came to an understanding, and, though I was still not fond of the early hours he imposed on me, at least I was able to accompany him on long forays about the neighborhood without fear of being dragged face down along the sidewalk. In time, Frenchy and I bonded, but that led to the tragic sequence of events that spelled his untimely demise.
Somehow we avoided owning dogs after the Frenchy debacle, but during college, while working at a swim club, I brought home a kitten from a litter that had been abandoned there. I left him in the cellar and went upstairs to tell my mother someone was there to meet her. When she protested she wasn’t wearing any makeup, I assured her the guest would not mind.
Cornwallis became the family pet, and a much easier and more pleasant one he was. Mom, who bought offal from the butcher for his meals, came to treat Cornwallis as though he were human. Once while placing his food in front of him, she said, “Here’s your lung, Cornwallis. Oh, excuse me, I mean your liver.” My return to college foisted Cornwallis’ care upon the others. Sweet revenge. From that point onward, though, I knew I was really a cat person, sharing in common with them their independent streak and disdain of business meetings.
It wouldn’t be until I’d been married a few years and we’d settled in Albany, where we knew we’d likely remain after my residency, that Sandy and I became cat owners. Sushi was one in a litter from next door who were facing euthanization. We were childless at the time and not all that eager to be tied down by a pet, but Sushi made it clear she would not be turned away. Perhaps she was my grandmother reincarnated. We named her with the intent of outdoing our friends who always came up with clever cat names. To this day our daughter will not eat sushi.
Sushi turned out to be a singular cat, one who embodied both dog and cat-like traits. She was affectionate, fetched balls and, unless we locked her in, followed us when we left the house. She was a pure joy. It turned out our daughter was allergic to cats, so after Sushi departed this world we remained petless. The poor child pined for a dog, but, being cat-like, we viewed dogs as too much of an imposition on our freedom and independence. As an adult, she got her revenge by acquiring her beloved, slightly less than purebred Bichon, Hunter, to whom her husband is allergic. (Hunter stars in my novels under the alias, Harley.)
Hunter loves his grandparents and shows it by jumping up on us as soon as we enter his domain, a trait that, lest the skin of our legs be rent by his claws, requires us to wear long pants, shoes and socks when visiting, even during the “dog days” of summer. Still, we really do enjoy seeing him. The advantage of a grand-dog, like that of a grandchild, is that we are able to visit and depart, leaving him and his troubles to his parents. This is no imposition to my daughter who will probably grieve more at Hunter’s demise than she will at ours.
Though we have no wish to become pet owners in our old age, Sandy says she can understand why widows and widowers may want to own a dog or cat for companionship. As I mentioned in my blog, “Form and Function,” Sandy sees men as being a lot like dogs, oblivious to the messes we leave behind us. So it’s likely, after I depart for my heavenly reward or lack thereof, a dog might serve as a reasonable (probably a much more reasonable) replacement. At that point, it will be none of my concern, and, until that time, I shall remain ecstatically dogless.