Like having a child, the question when to get a dog can be put off endlessly if contemplated long enough. Is there ever a “good” time to throw ones life into this kind of turmoil? Best not to think about it too much.
However, we got a trial run by pooch-sitting a friend’s dog while she was traveling abroad for two months. He was a smallish, sweet-faced, silver-haired dog named “Otter.”
Among dogs, there are the kind you find and the kind that find you. Otter found my friend Maria by sitting under her car for 14 hours during a rainstorm one winter. He hit what you might call the jackpot. Ever since that fateful day, his life had been a tantalizing itinerary of long walks, chasing rubber balls and excoriating small stuffed animals. He had also been known to get Chateaubriand and swordfish for dinner, along with an endless supply of Snausages. For those of you who don’t know, Sausages are like those little weiners wrapped in cheese-flavored crescent rolls, only for dogs.
This was all news to me, a person who had a lifetime of limited fondness for dogs. Barking, slobbering, incessant sniffing, howling at ambulances, extended periods of shameless below-the-waist personal grooming: these were the hallmarks of doghood.
To top it off, as a child I believed there were basically two kinds of people: Dog people and cat people. This was not as in people who like dogs versus people who like cats, but as in those who act more like dogs versus this who act more like cats. Dog people were human versions of pack-oriented, yapping dung-eaters. Cat people were quiet, sophisticated and independent.
I had members of my family and friends divided into these categories. The bad thing was, I considered myself a cat and most of them were dogs. Dogs can be a lot of fun, but a favorite activity of dog people is treeing cat people. If one would start something, they’d all chime in, barking and growling and doing the pack attack thing. As a cat, you learn to sit quietly and wait for a distraction. Dog people tend to make a lot of noise and often show up as contestants on game shows.
So the prospect of dog ownership while having this little dog visitor, gave me a great deal to think about. One day I walked Otter past a convalescent hospital and the elderly patients sitting out front in their wheelchairs took turns petting him. It had been years since some of them had petted a dog and it seemed to bring them great joy. Otter didn’t excel in the eye contact department, because he was staring longingly at some poop in the planter box, but he scored high marks in the standing-still-while-you-adore-me department.
During our stay together, I observed some other distinctly dog-like things about Otter which impressed me. He didn’t freak out when I put flea medication on him, for example, or stand in the door trying to make up his mind whether to go out. A dog knows what he wants without a lot of hoo-ha. He also followed me around like he was genuinely interested in what I was up to. And he would lie on his back and let me rub his stomach while his mouth gaped open like he was laughing. He could have been saying, “God, no! I hate this! Stop it!” but he looked like he was having the time of his life. He would yawn when he was uncomfortable, and as my son pointed out, his tongue curled up like a piece of bacon.
When I’d walk in the front door, he would excitedly run up to me, as if to say, ”Hi! How ya doin’?” My cats’ attitude, meanwhile, was more: “Where the hell have you been?” He would also let you grab the top of his head and kiss the top of it, which counts for a lot in my book.
One day I took him for a ride in the car to pick up my kids from school and he stood on his hind legs to sniff out the window, which is another really cute thing dogs do. Cats sit on the floor and make a sound like they have a lifesaver stuck in their throat.
“Don’t jump out,” I cautioned him, and he did one of his tongue-curling yawns and looked somewhat hurt. I had wrongly accused him of catlike behavior. At the stoplight, I turned and petted his head, thinking how easily a dog can grow on a person, even a cat person. I also knew that as soon as we got home, he was going to get a Snausage.
Corinne Asturias is a freelance writer who turned into a dog person in 1992. She still loves cats.