When it came to a choice of animal companions, my family always fell into the “dog people” category. But there hasn’t been a dog in my life for a very long time. There are a number of reasons for that, including this reason. So over the years since then, I have lived a relatively pet-free existence.
The obvious perks to not having the responsibility of a dog in the home: Cleaning up after them – the extra vacuuming, dealing with the hair. Housebreaking. The freedom of coming and going as you please – not having to adjust your schedule to get home in order to walk and feed them. Being able to go away for long weekends or trips without worrying about who will watch the dog. The expense of their health care, food, grooming, parasite control, and boarding if necessary. And the emotional investment. There is that part, getting attached to something with a somewhat predictable, relatively short life-span. For me, that has probably been one of the biggest hurdles to having one again. Loss and abandonment issues? Maybe a little….
Last winter a friend asked if I could watch their dog for a long weekend while they were away. The dog is a small little rescue dog, about a year-and-a-half old. I had actually gone along on the excursion to pick up this little adoptee, who rode curled up in my lap for the ride home. With the sketchy history that many of these rescues possess, he’s an odd little guy with a few quirky habits. A little fox of a dog, he’s possibly a cross between a Papillon, a Pomeranian, maybe some Chihuahua mixed in. Relatively quiet, he appears sort of timid regarding the world around him, at least initially. With one ear up and one ear down, he’s incredibly cute. Since I was there for his arrival, making me sort of a “godmother”, I figured it would be no big deal to watch such a little imp for a weekend, do friends a favor and perhaps provide a little bit of a re-initiation regarding having an animal back in my life.
My friend dropped off the dog, his crate, his food, his treats, his leash, gave me some last minute instructions, assured me the dog had just been walked, and gratefully said goodbye. Within literally five minutes of his departure, the dog crapped on the floor.
Over the next three days, I discovered that our little friend was what I would dub a “stealth-crapper”. Luckily, he would not pee in the house, but he preferred to leave surprises on carpets – not the wood or tile floors but the carpets – in secret. I would take him out for lengthy walks (in the snow and cold, at all hours), and he just would not go outside. Then we would get back in the house and he would immediately slink off and leave a surprise. Luckily, being a small dog, his surprises were small ones; but surprises never the less, and sometimes messy ones.
The second thing that snapped me back into the reality of pet ownership was having to get up earlier in the morning, or going out later at night (in what was then bitter cold) to take him out. Back when I had dogs, I always lived in rural settings. We used to just let the dogs out the back door, they would do their business and obediently return. Now here I was living in a fairly urban environment without even a fenced backyard, an environment where you have to walk your dog on a leash and pick up their poops in little bags. This scared little fox was slinking down the sidewalk, cringing at the sound of every car that went by, skittering away from snowbanks that were larger than he was, tail between his legs. Although he was cuddly and sweet, he was a bit high maintenance.
Experiencing the oddly dead stillness of my neighborhood in ten degree weather at 4 a.m because he was crying to go out was something new. This did not go over well with the S.O. either. Apparently the schedule this dog had gotten accustomed to with my friends (vibrant, late night people) was different from ours (old, farty, early to bed people). I rearranged my weekend plans in order to accommodate his needs and issues. Because of his lack of housebreaking, he also spent a little more time in his crate than I would have liked. Despite his sweetness, I was relieved by the time the dog-visit was over and he was picked up to go home, reinforced that a dog was not in my near future.
Flash forward – here it is spring and my friends are leaving on a two-week road trip. I asked them “Who’s going to watch the little pooper while you are gone?” because I knew it wasn’t going to be me. They had a list of possibilities, including boarding as a last resort. However, when it came down to the very last day, the list of possibilities had petered out and the final option fell through. The price to board was prohibitively expensive. They asked me if I would consider taking him again……except this time it was not for a few days, but a couple of weeks. And so, against my prior convictions I said I would, if it was OK with the S.O. He said it was fine as long as I did all the care and cleaned up any messes.
So “the pooper” arrived with the food, the treats, the crate, the leash, his brush and a towel (“because he pukes when he rides in the car”). Our first evening was uneventful and I was feeling pretty confident about having him. On day two “the stealth-crapper” bombed both the oriental rug in my living room and the sisal rug in the dining room. I also stepped in one of his poops with my bare feet.
After that, I came up with a system for confining him to non-rug areas until after he had done his business outside, that followed by lots of praise. The first two days I took him out for walks he was a skittish mess. When a truck drove by and its air brakes hissed, the dog literally levitated off the ground. When someone walked up behind us on the sidewalk and spoke, the dog flung itself to the end of the leash and did a back flip in mid-air. When a large leaf got stuck to the back of his furry pantaloons and dragged on the sidewalk behind him, making a skritching noise, he totally freaked out but would not hold still for me to pull it off. He was a nervous wreck of a dog. I wondered what he had been through in his prior life, and how my friends had been dealing with his quirks. I wondered what I had gotten myself into yet again.
And then on day three and four, an interesting thing happened.
We got into a routine. The little guy came to expect when he was going to go out and what time I would feed him. I got to know when he tended to poop (first thing in the morning and again an hour after eating), after which time he was allowed the run of the house. There was no more stealth-crapping. He got used to the sounds of the neighborhood and began setting up his territory, marking every tree as his own. He began strutting up and down the street with a bit of bravado, kicking up the dirt after he left his calling cards, trotting up ahead of me on the leash with his tail waving high.
For me, taking care of him meant getting up and getting out of the house instead of lounging on the computer. It meant getting a little exercise. I began taking him for excursions beyond our block, on both sides of the street, into areas I usually would not walk. Suddenly I was greeting neighbors I normally would not see, noticing houses and gardens, changes and nuances of the neighborhood. As it is springtime, each time we would go out for a walk there was another difference in the flowers, the buds on the trees, an awareness of how quickly everything was changing and growing right before my eyes – the magic. Even the S.O started taking him out unbidden.
At night after the last walk, “the little pooper” would settle himself in his open crate. A few hours later he would then visit us by jumping up into our bed to spend the rest of the night, sleeping curled up against us. In the morning he became animated and playful, with harmless little puppy-like bites, a lot of head-shaking, posturing and running in circles. As timid as he can be, his attacks on both the broom and the vacuum were filled with tremendous ferocity as he defended the household (and dust bunnies) from mechanical intrusion. He made me laugh out loud and I would find myself talking to him throughout the day. He became a cozy, cuddly, very loving little companion. We developed a nice bond. I found that I actually was rather attached to this little dog, whose care has given me a new view of my own environment, and who has soothed an old wound. It is remarkable how settling, how calming, how grounding it is to have a warm, loving pet by your side.
This little visitor has stolen my heart.
He went back home to his people today. They have been missing him, and I can see why. I am going to miss him too, miss his companionship and sweetness. As I sit here writing this, it is already apparent that he is absent and it feels a little empty. Just a little bit. Some of my reasons still stand for not wanting to commit to another dog (yet), but a door has been opened to future possibilities. However, like grandchildren, it is sort of nice to be able to enjoy and love them up for a while, then send them back home to the responsibility of their parents. I think he will be welcome to stay here for another visit again.