When my husband, Peter, and I met, we each had a dog.
Peter had a collie named “The Pretty Boy,” (Yes, “The” was part of his name) and I had a pound puppy, part golden retriever, part border collie mix named “Milo.” The Pretty Boy died shortly before we were married, about five years ago, and Milo died just over a year ago.
We talk about getting a new dog, of course, but all the good reasons not to have a dog prevail. Extended travel, actually travel of any kind, is enormously complicated with a dog. So, for a year now, Peter and I have stuck to our guns and only for a moment here and there been seriously tempted. But this doesn’t mean we have stopped loving dogs.
I see dogs every day and I no longer even hesitate to interrupt some poor person’s walk to talk to their dog. I talk to the dog and the dog lets me know if it is shy or finds me a little tedious or would prefer to keep walking or, in some cases, is really excited to meet me.
Being less focused on my own dog and more aware of other dogs has given me a new appreciation for all the breeds of dogs I never noticed before. In the great universe of dogs, I no longer play favorites. And I think this is a good thing because, the more dogs I meet, the less difference I see between dogs and people.
This got me wondering what kind of dog I am.
Naturally, in the past, I assumed I was a lot like the dog I owned. I imagined I was sort of a golden retriever mix. I was a cool dog, a chill dog. I was mellow and relaxed and, if something out of the ordinary occurred, I would tilt my head slightly in bemusement.
I am actually nothing at all like this.
If I were a dog, I would jump on the furniture when a new person entered the house. “Look at me. Look at me. Don’t you like me?” I would yap. If they failed to react, I would run circles around them until I got their attention. I would get overexcited and probably piddle on the kitchen floor. (For the record, I do not do this in real life.)
Whoever had to live with me would heave an exasperated sigh. “Does someone need to go for a walk?” they would ask me.
“A walk?” I would bark, as if I had never had a walk before in my life. “I want to go for a walk” I would lunge for the leash and race towards the door. You know this kind of dog. This is what I am.
It would be nice to be the golden retriever I imagine myself to be. The problem is that I will never be that dog. And so, instead of thinking of myself as a golden retriever who always falls short of the mark, I’ve begun to think of myself as the dog I am, not much hair, rather small and hyperactive, impatient and desperate for affection, that’s the dog I am. Maybe, I thought, maybe I could love the dog I am, just as I am.
This is a useful way of thinking about others as well because it’s a lot easier to love a dog for what it is; whether that dog is me or someone else.
“Oh. You’re a good dog.” I say. “You are just perfect for the kind of dog you are.”