Betty Duffy

Friday, October 7, 2011

Weiner Dogs et al.

When I arrived at my friend May's house, a little wiener dog, in a bright orange sweater rounded the corner to the front door. A wiener dog in a sweater? I thought I must have come to the wrong address, driving in the dark.

May rounded the corner behind her pet, smiling and waving. "Only forty five minutes late," she said. "That's almost on time for you," which was completely true. I am always late, and always hungry.

I was anxious to address the cheese and crackers on the table, but it had been a long drive and I needed to visit the loo before I could get comfortable. In the bathroom, I noted a wiener dog calendar hanging over the john. Weiner dogs in tutus, sunlit from behind, frolicking in flowers. People really do love their dogs.

Drying my hands on my pants, I returned to the kitchen and asked May, "So, when did you get into wiener dogs?"

"Oh, I don't know. A long time ago." We looked at the dog, sitting on the couch, returning our gaze. "He knows we're talking about him." The dog really did seem to know we were talking about him. He looked sheepish if that's possible, with a hint of defiance.

"Can I pet him? Will he come to me?" I asked. May brought the dog to my lap, and I started to pat his back. "I don't know if I'm petting the wiener dog, or his sweater."

"He doesn't care either way. He'll probably just lay there and go to sleep on your lap. That's what he likes to do." And so it was, an evening with friends, cheese and crackers, and the wiener dog sleeping on my lap, radiating heat like a hot little potato. It confirmed a thought I've had lately, that Fall is just as good a time for furry animals as it is for things like roasted apples and decorative gourds. I don't even mind if our own big, stinky dog touches me if it's cool outside.

At the end of the summer, a kitten followed me home from a run. I've never been a cat person. Much like I never was a dog person until a couple years ago. The kitten was mewling in a ditch, and after calling the neighbors to make sure it wasn't theirs, I set about trying to find the cat a home. Needless to say, everyone became attached to the cat, most surprisingly, me. So now we have two furry animals, and sometimes they cuddle up together in our entry way; the lion lays down with the lamb.

Until recently, pet people thoroughly confused me. My kids and I took my dad's puppy on a walk one time, and almost everyone we passed stopped to comment on the dog. But not a soul commented on my kids, who in my opinion, were much cuter than the dog. I felt indignant. And I wondered how anyone could invest effort in saving the animals, when there were people who needed saving, starving people.

But having had a dog that I actually like for a few years, I've come to appreciate the comfort and companionship of having a good pet, and the little doors of communication they open between perfect strangers.

At the low cost vaccination clinic every year, people line up for hours and share tidbits with other people in line about their animals. The older woman in front of me opened up her jacket to reveal a quivering mini-poodle named Girt who is so old, she doesn't have a tooth left in her head. Girt's lips curled around her would-be teeth, as she looked to her mistress for reassurance. It occurred to me how much these two old folks needed each other.

One man arrived to the clinic in a big pick-up, out of which he pulled a shitzu. In line I overheard him tell the story of how he inherited the little dog from his grandmother when she died, and that he really didn't want another dog, since he has a couple big dogs at home, but he and the dog mourned the loss of his grandmother together, and now he could never part with it.

My sister, being unable to take her dog, Bosco, on a recent move to Guam, left him at my parents' house until her return. Pedge borrowed Bosco for a couple days in an attempt to quell her kids' frequent requests for a dog. When she brought him back, she had all kinds of insight into what kind of a life Bosco had with my sister's family. "Does your sister go running in the morning?" Every morning, he woke up, anxious for his leash and a walk. He was friendly and tolerant with the kids, but he looked to Pedge to be my sister for him.

Not only do pets occasionally reflect their owners' physical appearance, but also their lifestyles and dispositions. Maybe this is why we either love pets or hate them.

It's great to have a dog reflect your active lifestyle, which is probably why I like my dog these days. However, we had a dog when my kids were all babies, and I was barely cutting it as a human being, much less a mother, still less as a pet owner. No one needs another reminder of all the ways they're failing. We had to give that dog away.

It's a vale of tears here on Earth, and there are many ways for people to starve. Having loved a dog, I can no longer begrudge anyone their toothless poodle, their grandmother's shitzu, or their be-sweatered wiener dog, if it provides a little comfort and companionship to my fellow pilgrims.

Also, if you're wondering whether or not your pet is overweight, this video might be instructive in letting you know it's time to cut the pet-food budget and donate the savings to Catholic Charities.


Alishia said...

I totally empathize as we gave away two dogs before I had our third child. People thought we were crazy/heartless and I kinda felt that way. However, it was such a relief. "It's just a dog," I would tell people. I do miss that miniature pinscher we had. He was sweet. And I have especially noticed weiner dogs around town lately. Maybe there's one in our future--when a child will be it's master.

Kimberlie said...

We had a dog. I wasn't really a pet person, but my husband was/is. Seriously a pet person. So when his mom found an Australian Cattle dog/Aussie Shephard mix, he joined our newlywed family. We named him "Finnbar" because I liked the name. He spent a lot of time outdoors in OK, but when we moved to WI, he spent a lot of time inside with me. I was lonely and he was a good companion. I couldn't bear the thought of him outside in that cold weather either. Then we adopted children. And only one child actually wasn't terrified of the dog. Nothing we did could get the frightened kiddos comfortable with him. Eventually he found a home with a neighbor and we still see him. She'd had a stroke and her beloved dog died. We thought it was a good fit because our one kiddo who loved him could still see him.

But she spoils him. She takes him to Starbux for cups of whipped cream, feeds him tidbits, and now he's horribly overweight. She'll call me occasionally and say "did Finnbar ever have seizures when he was with you?" Um, no. "Did Finnbar have trouble getting up from the floor." No! I want to scream at her "stop feeding him so much you are killing him!" When I saw him last month out walking about, he was so fat I hardly recognized him. I didn't think I really cared one way or another about him but now I know that I loved him and it's saddening me to see him losing his health.

Sorry for the long comment but while I don't understand people who call their dogs "their kids" or treat them like miniature humans, I do understand the comfort and companionship and the general good that having a pet can provide. I miss my dog.

Erin said...

I have been wondering lately if it's best for my husband and I to keep our dog or not. We love her so much, but while preparing for a move to a new town, it has been really difficult to give our dog the attention she needs -- she's a very hyper yellow Lab. But when I go to bed at night I somehow feel comforted that she's keeping watch just outside our bedroom window. As much as I think it would be easier in many ways not to have a dog, I don't know if I could let her go easily. She is definitely part of our family!

Erin said...

PS... That video makes me sick. Why do people think it's okay to make animals SO overweight. Sad.

JMB said...

We have two dogs, a boxer and a pug. One thing I've learned recently is the outright discrimination against BIG DOGS. My boxer wouldn't hurt a fly, but people freak out when they see her. My pug would eat a fly, but he's allowed everywhere. He sheds like there's no tomorrow and still, he can stay at hotels. Meanwhile, my clean short haired docile boxer is banned from being in public!

Misha Leigh. said...

When we recently (finally) (broke down and) got a puppy I was amazed at what our parents/grandparents all independently of each other said to my husband and I: Dogs bring two gifts - lavishly demonstrating unconditional love and the releasing of stress like nothing else can do.

Both have proven bountifully true. (Even if some things remind me a little too much of raising toddlers!)

karyn said...

We have the sweetest Golden Retriever but I so wish I hadn't given into the kids' request for a dog. It's just one more responsibility when I already feel overwhelmed. But, yes, I understand how people get attached. What I can't stand, though, is when people put dogs in strollers or even back backs! Or when Whole Foods-type stores sell those crazy expensive foods for pets - when there are hungry people in America! Yet a lot of those same people are pretty anti-kid.

BettyDuffy said...

JMB, my vet was talking about the very phenomenon you describe. Almost across the board, when he has to put a dog down for biting, it's a small dog. He said, the bigger the dog, the less likely it is to bite.

Erin, my dog ticks me off sometimes too. The other day, he ate two steaks off the counter I'd set out to thaw. I could have killed him. I probably should have. But then there's that protection thing. We don't have too many neighbors, my husband travels. I like having a big dog around. Also, sometimes, I run after dark in a park across the street. It's well lit, but I put a fierce looking collar on the dog, and take him with me. No one has ever approached us. Better than mace.

Karyn, and Kimberlie, I think i understand the temptation to treat pets like kids: they are affectionate, loyal, appreciative, no matter what you do, etc. In other words--nothing like real children.

Misha, --unconditional love, and stress relief. It's true. I hadn't thought of the stress part of it, but the dog gets me out of the house all the time. He makes me smile, just by directing his hopeful face at me.

JMB said...

We got our boxer when my youngest turned 2. We had been dogless for about 3 years before that. The best thing about getting a dog for me back then was that it forced me to consistently exercise. I ended up shedding the 10lbs or so of post baby weight that I had been carrying around for the past 7 years and I haven't put it back on since. I also made a lot of new "dog friends" and I discovered that the best socks to wear during the damp winter months are Thorlo mid weight camping socks. Would never have known that if I didn't have to walk dogs year round.

Conservamom said...

Our *1st Baby* Bit our daughter when she was a year and a half old. We ended up giving him away to a couple that had no kids he was a good dog but didn't appreciate getting his teeth brushed by a toddler. Needless to say he's happy now and living the good life. As much as I miss him and miss the *safety* of a dog I agree at this point with 3 under 5 I am barely a human,let alone a pet owner. You did make me *miss*the companionship a bit with this post Love your blog,glad I found it :)

Sharon Kieffer Steele said...

Your reformed view on dogs gives me hope that Grant, too can be rehabilitated. We always had a dog growing up and it seems weird now to have children and be without one. It seems that children and dogs are inextricably linked. He keeps promising that once we get a bigger yard he'll concede to the dog. Perhaps he'll like it, too.