My friend Brian once said that having a dog is “guaranteed heartbreak.” Knowing this eventuality, it’s somewhat mysterious why logical, intelligent people would continue to get them as pets. But for those of us whose lives have been saved by dogs, I suppose it’s not a big mystery (and when I say “saved,” I don’t mean rescued from drowning or anything nearly that exciting).
Over the weekend, I went to be with one of my best friends while she was putting her dog down (I’ve never liked the term “putting to sleep.” Bad description all around). My friend got her dog, Zee, the year she was married. And when she got divorced a few years ago, Zee was the only thing that really stayed with her. Her husband bailed, she had to move out of her house, and her daughter was with her ex half the time. Zee was the constant. And now she’s gone. My friend said, “It sounds crazy, but she was my best friend.” To me, that seems perfectly sane.
I read a story recently that one-third of married women think their pets are better listeners than their husbands (it’s 18 percent for men, so on the whole, I guess we’re slightly better at hearing than they are). I think it would be easy to say that people find comfort in confiding in beings who won’t judge us or talk back. But if you’ve loved a dog, you know that they’re smarter than that. They actually get to know who you are and what you need — sometimes so much better than people that it’s scary.
I know because we were “saved” by our dog. We rescued Uno from the animal shelter’s chopping block when he was almost three. He was a 75-pound, full-grown male who’d been there for a month, so his number was up. It was love at first sight. When we brought him home, I was in fairly bad shape. I still didn’t have a handle on the fibromyalgia, so I felt pretty terrible most of the time. And, in a word, I was sad.
But Uno didn’t care. Didn’t care if I was tired or bummed out or sore. He just cared about getting up early and going for a walk every day. So that’s what we did. The Uno Exercise Plan (it’s relatively cheap compared to a gym membership — we just pay him about $40 a month in dog food). If it weren’t for him, I’m thinking my pregnancies would’ve been sedentary, Tenzin would be fat, and the kids would be afraid of dogs. But that’s just speculation.
It’s not hyperbole to say that our dog convinced us to have kids. He got me into good enough shape to feel more confident physically about having children. And we thought if we could love a dog this much, surely we could love a child (although on some days, Uno definitely wins).
I suppose it’s a typical story. He’s protected us from people trying to sell us magazines or save us from hell. Sat with me for hours when I’ve felt like I was never going to feel good again. And been the only thing that’s kept me from calling the police when I’ve heard a bump in the night. My husband leaves for work. The kids go to school. But Uno always stays.
But now, our Uno is slowing down. He has some leg problems that are keeping him from pushing our lazy asses out of the house every day. And when we do get out, we all walk a little slower. To make matters worse, it seems like I’ve been inundated with terrible stories of dogs getting sick and parents deciding whether or not the kids should be there when they put them down. And then the other night at dinner, Newt said he “wished we could all stay just like this, then everyone would be alive.” So I guess I feel like our clock is ticking, and it’s seems like it’s always at the forefront of my mind.
We were never those dog owners who ditched their dog for their kid once they had a baby, but Uno’s “scratching time” went down significantly when Newt was born. The other day, I noticed I’ve been sitting on the floor with Uno like we did during our pre-kid days. Even if I’m already in bed, I’ll get back out to go give him a goodnight rub if I’ve forgotten. And when I hug him, I wish I could bottle the smell of his big, furry head — that indescribable smell that has a hint of tortilla chips and makes me feel instantly relaxed, warm, and happy.
I guess I’m just trying to appreciate my constant for as long as I can before we get handed the guarantee.