Pets + Animals
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I Loved My Dog, But Do I Really Miss Having a Pet?

(Photo provided by the author)

A couple of years ago, my friend Susie and I were strolling along the Riverside Park promenade with our elderly dogs, Lucy and Daisy. “So,” Susie whispered, as if she were afraid the dogs might overhear, “when Lucy dies, will you get another dog?”

After a moment of self-reflection, I whispered back, “I love Lucy. But when she’s gone, I’m done.”

“Thank god!” said Susie. “I thought I was the only one.”

Apparently, we both felt some degree of shame over our willingness to relinquish our status as dog people. After all, we’d both taken great pleasure in our dogs over the years and showered them with love in kind. So could a true dog lover really turn her back on all the wonderful things dogs bring to our lives?

Perhaps she could.

[pullquote]Lucy died a year ago, and I miss her every day. But she was also a pain in the neck –nippy, ornery and expensive.[/pullquote]

Lucy and Daisy had entered our respective households more than a dozen years earlier when we both had children at home to help with feeding and walks. But once our kids were gone, the burden of caring for those pooches fell squarely on our shoulders. As our dogs aged, that responsibility took some pretty distressing turns. Lucy took to pooping on my sisal rugs at least once a month. (Anyone who has a sisal rug knows how gross this is.) Daisy began demanding a 3:00 a.m. walk every night, barking until Susie threw a coat over her pajamas, waited for the elevator and then stood on a desolate street while Daisy did her business. (This charming habit continues to this day.)

Lucy died a year ago, and I miss her every day. But she was also a pain in the neck –nippy, ornery and expensive. So when people ask me if I’m getting another dog, I have trouble detangling the complicated clump of emotions that rises in my throat.

First, there are the facts: I know firsthand how much time and money it takes to be a diligent dog owner. As a city dweller, I headed to the park every morning for 15 years, no matter how freezing or sweltering or wet the weather. Lucy took several other shorter walks throughout the day as well.

I spent dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars trying to train an oppositional terrier who basically flipped me the bird and did as she pleased. At great expense, I installed an invisible fence around our upstate house in an attempt to keep Lucy in bounds when all she wanted was to hunt critters in the woods or, worse, roll in their poop. That fence stopped working intermittently – not that we knew it until we spotted Lucy standing in the middle of the busy road in front of our house or emerging from the front seat of a kind neighbor’s car. The fee for fixing that finicky fence? Eighty dollars a visit.

I kept grooming expenses to a minimum, trimming Lucy’s coat just twice a year, but at $90 bucks a pop, her haircuts still cost twice as much as mine. I don’t want to calculate the insane amount of dollars spent on food, toys, walkers, sitters and insurance – and don’t even get me started on vet bills. We coughed up our first four-figure payment when Lucy was just four months old and swallowed her doggy toothbrush. At the vet’s office, the doctor summoned her colleagues so they could share a laugh at the x-ray image that showed the toothbrush, clear as day, lodged in Lucy’s tiny tummy.  “Ha-ha!” they chuckled. Quickly followed by: “That’ll be $1,400 for surgery, payable in advance.” Professionally cleaning her teeth periodically? $750. Most years, the cost of Lucy’s upkeep outpaced my own.

But – and this but is the big one: Dogs rule. They are just plain fantastic.

[pullquote]When I visit my in-laws, I smooch their old lab despite the fact that he absolutely stinks. I seem to be suffering from dog deprivation.[/pullquote]

Even a dog as quirky as ours. Lucy was far from cuddly – she wouldn’t sit in our laps, never let us hold her for more than 30 seconds and deigned to give us a kiss once a month at most. But she was smart and hilarious, and we knew she loved us. When my boys were in high school, Lucy would spend the first part of the evening in Nick’s room, curled up at his feet as he did his homework. Later, she’d head down the hall for a visit with Peter, settling into the pillow next to his head. Before dawn, I’d hear her toenails scrabbling across the floor toward her final stop of the night – the dog bed next to our bed. When it came to filling our apartment with love, Lucy spread the wealth. As I type these words, I picture her snoozing in her favorite spot a few feet from my desk and I smile through my tears.

My kids would love for me to get another dog. “Come on, Mom,” they cajole, “you know you want one.”

They’re not all wrong. These days, there’s not a dog on the street that I don’t greet effusively. I practically stalk my upstairs neighbor so I can commune with her adorable mutt, Biscuit. When I visit my in-laws, I smooch their old lab despite the fact that he absolutely stinks. I seem to be suffering from dog deprivation.

I thought I might fill the void by volunteering at the New York City animal shelter in Harlem. After three rounds of interviews and the $25 purchase of my official t-shirt and ID badge, I was ready to hug some hounds. On my first day, a shelter staffer showed me how to remove the dogs – mostly pit bulls weighing in excess of 80 pounds – from their cages. This entails opening the kennel with your left hand while keeping your bodyweight against the door, then extending your right hand into the cage and looping the collar around the massive neck of a creature that just wants OUT.

I’m not going to lie – this was scary for a skinny lady who was used to clipping a leash on a 15-pound fur ball. After a couple of tries, I lassoed my dog and led him outside for a walk. (It would be more correct to say that he led me.) We shared a few gentle moments as we sat on a bench and I scratched his ears, but then came the final straw in my pit bull walking experiment: My giant dog made a giant dump right in the middle of First Avenue. He expelled as much poop in one shot as Lucy had in a month. I stood there with my inadequate poop bag in the face of oncoming traffic, trying to scoop as best I could. A few days later, I wrote to the volunteer coordinator and bowed out. He offered me bunnies and cats. Allergic, I responded. Plus, they’re so not dogs.

So where does that leave me? Somewhere between the knowledge that the freedom of a dog-free existence is undeniable and the knowledge that there’s a hole in my heart only a (small to medium-sized) dog can fill.

Sorry, Susie; I’m not sure I can hold up my end of the bargain.

Filed under: Pets + Animals

by

Amy Barr

Amy Barr is a veteran magazine editor. She started her career as an editorial assistant at Working Mother magazine and rose through the ranks to become Executive Editor before joining Time Inc. to launch the online edition of Parenting, where she served as managing editor. Amy was also part of the online launch teams for Worth.com, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The South Beach Diet and Everyday Health. You can find Amy on Twitter at @amylbarr.

3 Comments

  1. Catherine says

    I loved this one!! Never been much of a dog lover until now that we hsve 2 MaltiPoos. I have turned into an ifiot – we call ourselves mommy and daddy- they are our kids. I am addicted to all the FB postings of abused abandoned dogs and donate almost nightly. I have bern tempted to volunteer at the Harlem kill shelter. Thanks for sharing your experience- that was my fear come true. The poop part made me laugh out loud!!
    We use wee wee pads to avoud having to take those early morning walks no matter the weather – same at night. So what breed are you considering

    • Amy Barr
      amy barr says

      Catherine, I’m not ready yet but your dogs look awfully cute.

  2. Gracie is a sweet, 14 year old American Staffordshire Terrier. She’s MY first dog. As the mother of 6, we always had a family dog; by the time my youngest left home, he had his own dog, and she left with him. With my nest completely empty of children and pets; we also had lizards, a parot, a crow and ferrets, over the duration, I decided to seriouslt pursue the two things I enjoyed, my professon, and traveling, and became a travel nurse, eventually taking a recurring seasonal job in a southern state, returning to the Midwestern during the summer. I had the best of both worlds, but no dog. During one winter assignment, I became a victim of violent crime. I was seriously injured, and also began having panic attacks, later diagnosed as PTSD. It was during this period in my life that Gracie came into my life. I had read an article about how the V.A. was using dogs to help vets with PTSD. Nothing my doctor tried had helped, so one evening, I toyed with the idea, scrolling through the animals available on Pets.com., not really seriously looking for a dog, just trying to divert my mind from the persistent episodes of PTSD, which intruded into my life to the point where I was unable to leave my home. I also had a difficult time sleeping, as I would wake up in a cold sweat, Heart racing, unable to breathe. The instant I saw Gracie’s picture on the website, something clicked; it was kismet! I had to see this sweet looking dog with the sad history of abuse, starvation and being repeated bred for her valuable pups. The minute we met, it was like we were meant to be together. We bonded immediately. I went back for 2 more visits, however, not wanting to act on impulse. On the 3rd visit, I took her home. It was like she belonged. Even though she was around 4, and from the history the rescue shelter gave me, she had been a cattle dog, always outside, in the brutal South Texas summer heat, so I expected to have to house break her, and everything that goes along with bringing an outside dog indoors. Was I in for a surprise, she just seemed to know that outside was the potty place, and never went in the house. She also did not get into the trash or steal food from the counter or table. She became my service dog, for my PTSD, and mobility problems from the injuries I suffered. She seemed to instinctively know when I was about to have a PTSD episode,I’m guessing, by the changes in my body chemistry, as she always stayed close to me and was always sniffing. She was easy to train for the physical assistance I needed. We’ve been together almost 11 years, and has been retired from service, for several years, except for PTSD, which is almost not a problem, any more. She was diagnosed with a heart problem, about 6 years ago, and has been doing well on meds, however, at 14, I can see her slowing down, every thought she’s never been a high energy dog, her age is showing. I have had to think about the day when I have to say, “good bye”, to this sweet creature who gave me back my life. Will I get another dog? My problem is somewhat different, as the things I have had to do for her have never been a chore, or a burden. I see it as repayment for all she has done for me. She is one of a kind, and, I don’t think, replaceable. I will be lonley, and miss her dearly, but, no, I don’t think I will get another dog.

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