Wouldn’t it be great to have a dog? Some of you probably already have a dog. When my family had dogs (two, at different times), they solved all our problems.
Our golden retriever, who only lived from 1986-1995, and was in many ways a very bad dog, may have saved my life. He also dragged me face-down on the sidewalk for 20 yards and ripped out my mother’s garden flower by flower, but when I planned suicide in 1989, it was his face that always stopped me. Don’t kill yourself, I’d think. Just hug the dog. And he’d let me. My mother has photos of me and the dog asleep on the stair landing, hugging each other.
Our mutt was even more heroic. After I went to college, my folks adopted a four-year-old retriever-shepherd mix who was our familial fantasy dog. It’s weird to call a dog brilliant, but he was, and funny and handsome. He had a winning smile and a clever way of training us to meet his desires while remaining perfectly obedient. My parents think he saved their lives, having alerted them to a fire burning in the backyard. I credit him with saving their marriage. When they went through a horrible period of distance, loathing, and mutual recriminations, they got past it by talking through the dog, admiring the dog, loving the dog when they couldn’t love one another.
I think that’s what’s hard about the abstract idea of getting a dog. I know I’d be doing it because dogs are how we fill holes in our lives. We don’t have anyone mirroring the love we want to give back at us, and a dog would do that. It’s so selfish. And maybe we’d resent the dog for making it hard to travel or have late nights out. “I have to walk the dog,” we’d say, leaving a date with some lovely thing we’ve found.
But maybe a dog is just what one needs, a reason to snuggle in, someone to smile at, an excitement about going home for lunch.