Betty Duffy

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Suffering from Anthropomorphism (or Dead Puppies Aren't Much Fun)

My brother’s wife once said, “Dog people are nice people, so if I were an animal person, I’d like to be a dog person.” I might not be a nice person though, because I never paid much attention to the dogs growing up. My dad still teases me that I resented our dog for being the alpha female in the house. When I complain that his dogs are hogging the porch, he says, “You’re just jealous.” When I tell my kids to wash their hands after handling the dogs, my dad tells the dogs they need to wash up after being touched by my kids. There’s just no end to the laughs.

One of my dad’s dogs recently had a litter of pups, and my husband and kids, all being dog people themselves, are convinced we’re keeping one.

I know how this goes. We got a dog from the shelter several years ago, and I resented it because she was skittish, weird and racist, and our next door neighbor at the time was black. It didn’t go well. We ultimately had to part company, because of her weirdness, but mostly because I didn’t want to take care of her and train her in addition to my kids.

When my husband says, “We should keep a pup,” I immediately begin to act put upon. “How could you think it? We are not a good dog family. We ruin dogs. I know how this goes. Who’s going to shovel poop? Who’s going to vacuum the hair out of the carpet? I know who. It’s going to be me, and I’m not going to like it.”

But the other day when I was telling Pedge about getting a dog, it occurred to me that people might get tired of me saying, “Well my husband wants a dog, so here we go again—it’s going to be awful, but I’m strong.” What a boring old hag, the constant martyr. No more. If we are getting a dog, I’m going to like it for once. I’m going to train the damn thing, let it in the house, buy name brand dog food, and drive it around with me in the car. I’m going to become a dog person.

We recently watched my sister-in-law become a dog person, when she decided to get a pair of Beagles. She talked to a lady over the phone, drove to St Louis, and picked up what she thought were two Beagles, only they were Basset Hounds. To this day, she gets angry if you call them Basset Hounds, because the lady on the phone said they were Beagles. She subscribes to Beagle Magazine, has a t-shirt that says “Beagler.” She sleeps with her dogs and leaves every place she visits early in order to get home to them. She drives my husband crazy, because once she started treating her dogs like people, she ceased to be a fun person.

“Our dog is going to be a dog,” he says.

When my parents went out of town recently, they asked if we could take care of the puppies and their mother for awhile. I thought it would be good for the kids, and good for the dogs to get a little socialization. But mostly, I thought that the kids could prove their incompetence in taking care of dogs, and I could say to my husband “See, this is a bad idea.”

I let my eldest son take care of the feedings, until one of the pups turned up dead. He was alive and well before his meal, not breathing afterwards. It was a mystery. Did one of the kids drop it? Did it choke? Did the mother get after him? No one had an answer. We spent a somber Sunday morning burying a puppy before Mass in the rain. I was sad, mostly for my son, because he was sad and mystified, and I knew it wasn’t his fault.

This would have been my moment to say, “I told you so.” But instead, I felt guilty. What a burden to put on my son. I went out to the barn and sat there in a lawn chair for the better part of a week. I oversaw the puppy feedings. I watched how they played. They chewed on my pants and slept on my toes. I began to pick favorites.

A friend of mine wanted a pup, and I thought about which one might be a good dog for her. As soon as I’d picked a pup for her, I began to feel possessive of that sociable, energetic dog. But I didn’t want to share the quiet, gentle one either. Each dog had his merits, and each one I wanted to keep. I talked about it with my husband late into the evening. I talked about it after my husband fell asleep next to me. I talked about it after he rolled over and sighed and told me he had to be up at 5 am in the morning, and would I please stop talking about it.

My next door neighbor (a different one) decided he wanted a dog, and I began to feel stressed out about that. What if he doesn’t treat my dog well and I can see it across the lawn? He’s an 80 something-year-old man who has 80 year old ideas about how to treat a dog. How could I convince him he doesn’t need one of my dogs?

By this time, my parents had been home for over a week, but I was still taking care of the pups and their mother, because I wanted to. After the death of the puppy, life suddenly felt so fragile. I’ve never had any young thriving creature die on me like that. I thought puppies were indestructible, that my children are invincible—that nothing bad can happen to the young. So maybe, I became a little obsessive about spending time with them.

Husband: “Don’t you want to come to bed?”

Me: “Just a minute, I’m going to go check on the pups.”

If I wanted to cure my husband of wanting a dog, I have found the answer.

Only now I might want two, or five. And maybe they can sleep in our room so I can keep a closer eye on them.


Lisa said...

Every time I come over here I'm amazed all over again at your wonderful writing. Dead pups and all, this was wonderful, esp since I just went through much the same thing with puppies. Good stuff.

Enbrethiliel said...


Congratulations on becoming a dog person! ;-)

(Great post, too. You're a wonderful writer!)