How I Learned To Love You

I have always hated dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, medium dogs, purebred dogs, mutt dogs, sad-eyed dogs, skinny dogs, nice dogs, new dogs. They’d jump and rake their dirty claws down my legs, they’d jam wet noses into my crotch, they would sit there and smell like an STD, and then they would look at me longingly. “I need you,” they’d say. “For everything. God, I love you so much.”

“Ugh,” I’d say. “Go to your bed.”

When Paige and I began planning our Minneapolis move-in together, she had just got the puppy she’d always wanted. A morkie, of all things! A maltese and a yorkie united as one for ultimate foofy friendliness: this breed was named like Brangelina. I envisioned his tiny rat-like body, yip yip yipping around the apartment at all hours, gnawing on my unmentionables and pooping in the kitchen. “His name is Otis, and he’s super cute,” she said. “We need to find a place that allows dogs. Will you be able to just walk him at noon during the week?”

I really wanted to live with Paige. She said he’d otherwise stay in his kennel all day, and we were moving in across the street from a park, after all. I sighed in resignation. “Yeah, that should be fine.”

When I first met Otis, he stood on his hind legs and eagerly raked his dirty claws down my bare legs. “Ahhhhghhgh, Otis . . .” I said halteringly. “Aren’t you . . . aren’t you just a cute one.”

“Right?” Paige said. She looked down a little fiercely at this jumping tongued mop. “Mommy loves you Otis.”

Otis looked up at her adoringly through a greasy curtain of eyebrows, and panted. “Happa happa happa!”

It took me four hours to assemble each bookshelf. I had two of them. It was a long day, sweltering and confused, my box fan wobbling in the window on high speed. “What?” I cried to the universe. “I don’t even have that screw. Shut up.”

Otis came bounding into the room, squeaky toy imprisoned in his tiny maw. He dropped it at my feet.

“Not now, Otis, I’m busy.”

He looked up at me in confusion. Nudged the toy closer.

“No, Otis, I’m trying to concentrate.”

He walked back to me, picked the toy back up in his mouth, and then he flung it all the fuck around his head, beating it against the floor, flinging it to the walls, running and sliding on the hardwood floors, his body crashing into the bedframe. SQUEAKY! SQUEAKA SQUEAKY!

“Aggghhgh!” I cried. “Paige, Paige your dog is out of control. Call him to you. Paige!”


And just like that he was gone.

This may or may not say anything, but even in the tenuous first few days that we were alone together, I did not leave him in his kennel. I woke up around 8 every morning, and the first thing I did was let that dog out. “Otis!” I’d exclaim. “Morning time! Otis Otis! It’s morning time!” And I’d unlatch the door and his little body would eagerly wriggle out, tongue hanging. He’d stand on his hind legs in joy and rake his claws down my bare legs.

The thing about having him out of his kennel was, he was still a puppy, and unconfined puppies need to be walked every two hours or they pee the rug (lesson learned: 4 times). I’d grab his leash, at first at least pretending to be begrudging about it, and together we’d explore the neighborhood, my little sidekick and I.

“Happa happa happa!” he’d pant.

“Hee,” I’d say.

It turns out, there is actually nothing more glorious in the world than running through an open field with a puppy. For one thing, you get to run through an open field, which pretty whimsical on its own. For another, sweet god, have you ever seen anything so happy as this creature bounding through the grass? Sometimes he chases butterflies. Chases freaking butterflies.

We now make this run across the park every day at noon. First he goes to the bathroom, then we greet the neighborhood kids. Then the sprawling open grass in between baseball fields: I turn to him. “Otis, you want to run?” And we take off.

“Why’s Otis wet?” Paige would ask, setting her keys down as he jumped up and down in greeting at her feet.

“Oh, I just gave him another bath.”

“You need to stop bathing him! You do it like twice a week, that’s way too often! He’ll get dandruff!”

I pouted. “I like bathing him.”

This weekend, Paige is out of town and so I’m dogsitting. Yesterday he got a bath. Today I thought Otis and I should go on a mission. I wanted to see how close we were to Lake Harriet; I wanted to wander through the rose gardens, see the bird sanctuary again, get a real walk in. I packed two plastic bags and grabbed his leash. “Let’s do this,” I said. He jumped.

It turns out Lake Harriet is about 17 blocks away. We made a few detours on the way, wandered by the cemetery and through the rock garden; found another open field that looked pretty tempting. Three limos pulled up and three brides emerged, hair gleaming, their dresses like halos swishing around their feet. Bridesmaids in sapphire ballgowns, tuxes with matching sapphire ties, everywhere uncomfortable shoes. They spilled into the rose gardens with one hundred photographers pointing. Here, over here. Let’s try this spot. Where’s grandma? Everybody smile!

“Let’s get out of here, Otis,” I said.

We began the walk back. For the first almost-mile he was okay, still happily panting alongside my feet, smelling every rock and flower and worm along the way. But around block eleven he was dragging. Block fourteen and I felt a sharp pull; I looked behind me and he’d just laid down on the sidewalk, eyes closed.

“Aw puppy,” I said. “Too much for you?”

He nuzzled into the concrete despondently.

“It’s okay, we can rest here for a while.” I stood over this half-sleeping dog awkwardly, wondering if we’d get in anyone’s way. I still feel weird about walking a small dog. If I were ever going to have my own dog, I thought, it’d be a big dog, respectable, horse-like. A dog I would train devotedly, something smart, something loyal, something commanding and brutish. Yeah! “You ready yet?”

Otis blinked sadly.

“. . . Am I going to have to carry you the rest of the way, dog? Like fucking Jesus on a beach?”

No response. I scooped him up into my arms and he nuzzled into my chest, and in this fashion we got home, my little sidekick and I.

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  1. Dogs are the best. I’m glad you’re coming around to dogs! In the words of the immortal Cynthia Heimel, “Dogs are us, only innocent.”

    (I do have to put in a plug for getting a rescue/shelter dog. There are so many wonderful animals being put down in shelters every day, and so many of my friends buy designer dogs, it makes me sad. We have two rescue dogs and they’re just so freaking great.)

  2. I’m with Molly, I really don’t ever see any sense in paying money for any animal. All of my pets have come to me as a matter of coincidence.

  3. I get the logic of it: with breeds, you basically know what you’re getting, in terms of energy level, shedding, sociability, guard-dog-ness, etc. The question is in how important knowing these things are to you.

    I think it’s great when people get shelter dogs. I also understand it when people prefer a certain breed. (And hey, sometimes you can get both.)

  4. With cats on the other hand, I wonder if temperament is harder to control and predict, beyond the perpetually cuddly Ragdolls. Jack was a jerk of a Maine Coon: Pipsqueak was a wonder cuddle bunny of a mutt. But I think it’s less of an issue with cats. You can mostly ignore a jerky cat. You’re perpetually interacting with your jerky dog.

  5. I think the bigger issue is that by buying a bred dog, you’re supporting dog breeding as a system, which is pretty morally abhorrent (at least, if you care even a little about dogs). And considering that you could give the same commitment and resources to a shelter dog who could otherwise be killed if not adopted, it’s preferable to do so.

    But beyond this, I don’t see why you wouldn’t just extend your observation on cats to animals more widely. There are breed traits, but dogs also have personalities, and you can easily find a jerk dog of a breed you favor. Alternately, you can go to a shelter and spend time with the dogs to find one whose personality suits you.

  6. That’s an overstatement, and I’m sure there are better and worse dog breeders. But the whole idea of selective breeding means that you’re going to wind up having rejects and you have to find something to do with them. This would be why we view eugenics programs as morally problematic.

  7. I feel a long-winded comment coming on, I am sorry!

    I think my main thought is that there are SO many dogs waiting for homes in shelters (when you do an online search of the dogs available in any animal shelter, there are just a heartbreaking number of pages to search through). And so many of them have been abandoned or abused and would be really happy for a second chance at a nice life with a caring family. Of course, every dog deserves that, but shelter dogs have generally been through the wringer and have a larger chance of being put down and not finding homes.

    It feels good to know that we were able to give a loving home to two dogs that otherwise might have been euthanized or sat in a (no-kill) shelter for months. Granted, our second shelter dog Sophie probably would have been snapped up fairly soon by another family if we hadn’t adopted her, because she’s very unique looking. But our first rescue dog, Charlie, is just a nondescript black mutt, and apparently those kinds of dogs rot away in shelters and are put down in droves because not many people want a nondescript shaggy black dog, and there are TONS of them. And he is arguably the absolute most wonderful dog I know.

    Right now there is apparently an epidemic of Pitt Bulls being euthanized in shelters, because people will buy them for their tough image, and then ditch them for whatever stupid reason, and not many people want to adopt them because they get such a bad rap, so they have to be killed at alarming rates.

    Still, adopting a dog is a 10+ year commitment, so I definitely understand wanting to be selective and to find the perfect dog, and lots of people have favorite breeds and I can understand that too! So I can see both sides of the issue. I guess the ideal thing is to find a shelter dog of the breed you want (which definitely happens, because irresponsible people give up purebred dogs too; it’s just a little harder).

  8. SO CUTE. That’s the thing about those sites, all the dogs look so cute and friendly and eager to please and it just about breaks your heart that they don’t have families. Waaaaugh I want to adopt them all.

    Before we adopted Sophie she was part of this program where they dress up the ‘bully-breed’ dogs (the ones that look like bulldogs or pitbulls or whatnot) to make them look silly and cute and more adoptable, and a lady we became friendly with at the shelter who loved Sophie send us her photo-shoot pictures later…she was dressed up as a queen and she looked so utterly mournful and lost. Poor baby.

  9. If buying bred dogs supports the system, then doesn’t adopting a shelter dog enable the abandonment of dogs by giving the deserter the guilt free moral cover that they didn’t actually put the animal down, rather, the moral failing is transferred to people who would rather avoid an animal who, by even many advocates admission, were the subjects of neglect or abuse.

    One wouldn’t knowingly seek out an exceptionally emotionally troubled person, to rescue them, out of pity, out of sympathy for how poorly they had been treated in their past. At least, I hope you wouldn’t. If such is your impulse, good luck with that. I hope your health insurance covers a lot of therapy.

    Is there a moral equivalency that one should not personally procreate when there are so many abandoned and abused children in foster care and orphanages the world over? Seems it would be a logical extension. Maybe it is. But I’m not convinced that an absolutist rescue impulse to the exclusion of personal choice is always the appropriate or only moral choice. Does advocating stricter animal rights laws and contributing time or money to shelters absolve one of, or at at least ameliorate, the guilt of buying a bred animal?
    The world consists of many more shades of gray than we generally recognize.

    By the way, getting a pound dog or cat is a fine thing. Good on you. It’s just not the only thing. But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

  10. It’s a rare day that my dad, Alan, and I agree. Dad, we’re spot on on this one. Anyone who wants to judge me, or my “designer dog” Otis can go straight to hell.

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