I have a complicated history with dogs. When I was around ten, my father, a devout dog lover who knew I would have given anything to have one, took me on an outing during one of our weekends together and bought me a beagle from what is now known as a puppy mill but from what seemed to me then as a farm in the country. We cared for her for a few days in his city apartment until it was time for me to return to my mother’s house in the suburbs and to face what it would mean to have a dog…there.
My mother, who was extremely scared of animals small and large, was extremely scared of this puppy, Pinky, and it didn’t take long before the whole plan to make me happy with a pet unraveled and before I was left to care for her entirely on my own without the support of either parent or of my older brother. I still feel great pain about leaving her outdoors on a lead for hours at a time or about locking her away in the basement when I was at school, and I have never been able to forgive myself for yelling at her and for hitting her when she didn’t behave the way I wanted her to behave. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that my mother told me she had simply opened the front door one day and had let Pinky run off, like that, though the official story until then had been that she had given the dog to someone who had acres and acres of farm.
Then, when my daughter was around ten and would herself have given anything to have a dog, Lucy, a wild and glorious thing of a German shepherd, came to us and stayed for about seven years. She was not an easy girl, and it took a very long time for her to decide she wanted, and would devote herself to, us; once she appeared to have made that decision, however, she became the most loyal and loving dog on earth, though I was not always the best human to her. As with Pinky, I have never been able to forgive myself for yelling at her when she didn’t behave the way I wanted her to behave.
I have spent the past several years thinking about getting another dog and had even become addicted to watching the Dog Whisperer on TV in the hope, I see now, that I might finally learn how not to be irritated by a dog being a dog and how to care for it in the best and most loving way.
Now, my daughter, who recently moved back to the city where I live, and I are talking about getting another dog and about somehow sharing the responsibility of caring for it. This makes me so happy. And afraid. It’s just that I’ve gotten more cranky as I’ve gotten older, not less, and more intolerant about the world not conforming to my idea of how it should be. Maybe an old dog can teach me some new tricks.