Dog fantasy

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.

11 responses to “Dog fantasy”

  1. FPS says:

    It isn’t selfish in any important way. It’s not like it’s a bad bargain for the dog that you just want it to satisfy an emotional need. With kids, that works out badly. With dogs, everyone wins. Dog gets love. You get love. I’m of course extrapolating from cat. I got mine during the worst year of my life and am pretty sure it’s what dragged me out, more than anything else. (Well ok, perhaps second to dropping out of a PhD program.) But she has never once said to me “I was just a furry Prozac pill to you,” and I think the fact that she can’t talk is only one of the reasons for this. Her experience of my selfish act was that I was an overly attached, grotesquely doting cat owner. Ruins a kid. Does not ruin a cat [dog].

    But yeah, it’s a bigger commitment than I thought about eleven years ago. They get old and need expensive care and sometimes crowd your disco lifestyle quite a bit.

    Even now, having spent part of my birthday weekend unhappily texting with my neighbors who couldn’t get the cat to come out from under the couch and take her insulin shot, having found for years that travel is extra-complicated, I think of the decision to get the cat as 100% good. When you’ve just moved to New York and know 1.5 people and your #1 emotion by volume is doubt, I can’t think of anything that helps as much as walking in the door to something that is excited you’re home.

  2. LP says:

    Get a dog! Dogs are like soft, furry comfort-giving machines. I like them. We can’t have one because RB is terribly allergic to anything cute and fuzzy. But we would if we could.

  3. Ivy says:

    I just sent mine (two, mini poodles, one black, one brown, no street cred but wonderful people) off with their granny for the week while I go on holiday. I hate it! They are the great emotional redeemers and also they make you do stuff. When I had untreated vertigo they got me up and out, which was probably made a huge difference to my well-being over that time. They keep you well, they really do.

  4. A White Bear says:

    The main problem is that I don’t know where I will be in a year. What if I move to Hong Kong? I won’t be able to move to Hong Kong.

  5. Dave says:

    The emotional dependence on pets is definitely a weird thing. Smearcase is totally right that well loved pets have really good lives. It’s not exploitation. Is it a character flaw on the part of the owner? I guess it can be, but most pet owners I know are pretty emotionally healthy even in their love of their pets. And you can have a kind of hybrid, human-but-not-human sociality with a pet that you wouldn’t want to have with another human or with something inanimate.

    I would love to get a dog but don’t know where I’ll be in a year either, and I think I can’t have a pet in my current apartment anyway.

  6. FPS says:

    And you can have a kind of hybrid, human-but-not-human sociality with a pet that you wouldn’t want to have with another human or with something inanimate.

    Oh, this is true. When nobody’s around, I talk to my cat in that revolting way people talk to their cats, ask her the same cutesy-inane questions over and over again (e.g. “Why are you so fluffy?”–there, see? You never want to talk to me again, right?) and do, alas for me, get something out of it.* God forfend I should ever talk that way to a human, or should need that kind of interaction after Dora goes to college** and have to ask questions to a hairbrush. Why are you such a hairbrush?

    *also sometimes I change the words of jazz standards slightly to be about her, which is pretty revolting, too.
    **approved euphemism for what inevitably will happen within the next 6-7 years. It’s my little joke about being emphatically childless. You have something for maybe 18 years and then what happens? It goes to college.

  7. LP says:

    Smearcase, I didn’t think I could possibly like you more. I was wrong.

  8. LP says:

    However, if you start changing the words of jazz standards to be about your hairbrush, then I will be concerned.

  9. AWB says:

    Yes, Smearcase, 6 is extremely adorable. I think it must be good for a person, no? I feel nicer to others after interacting with children I like, for example.

  10. T-Mo says:

    No genre of song is safe from having its lyrics altered to be about our cat. Isn’t this normal behavior?

    I just read Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, in which she discusses her childhood stuffed bear (“Beezum”) as an object of transference, something that is both the “not-me” and the “not not-me”, which somehow helps a child through the transition to understanding her being a separate entity from her mother. (Those actually familiar with child psychology, please forgive me if I’ve inaccurately described this phenomenon.) I think pets fulfill this same role for adults–a living being who is both completely alien (a different species) and yet familiar (of the family). Also, they don’t have complicated psychological needs and tolerate all sorts of silliness. .

  11. The cat says:

    Blah blah blah. Why do you humans think so damn much? You could use a good long nap.