What wasn’t pictured in my pet ownership
It was a long con, or maybe a short con; I’m not really sure how those kind of things work, but there was definite trickery. Smoke and mirrors were utilized. I was a rube. But let’s start at the beginning; someone told me once that’s a very good place to start. I think she was spinning on a hill though, so we’ll have to take her ideas with a grain of salt. Anyway, the beginning: I did not grow up with pets, not really. We had a parakeet named Bluebell when I was young but I did not feel particularly attached. My clearest memory of her was how I was nauseated when I heard she was dead. We had just arrived back from a vacation. I don’t remember how old I was or where we had gone. (Under 10, somewhere warm.) My mother called her mother from the airport on a pay phone, that’s how long ago we’re talking. “Bluebell is dead,” she said. I only felt revulsion at the thought of the body in the cage. I had seen birds kamikaze into too-clean windows. Death is awful. I still turn away from roadkill. I made her assure me the body would be gone when we got home. I wanted the cage gone too. And that was it for me and pets until college when I adopted a black cat from the shelter. His name was Batman; I changed it to Jack. Jack moved around a lot over the years, sometimes with me, sometimes with friends or family when staying with me wasn’t a great option (the semester I spent abroad, when I moved from Boston to Seattle). Maybe because of that, he never felt like a pet as much as an acquaintance. We were both gypsies living parallel lives. We kept our distance. When he was 12 and my roommate moved out from the house she shared with me, my husband, and our son, I let her have him. They loved each other more and he never felt like mine to keep.
My husband’s family were pet owners, he grew up with dogs, a string of mutts he felt such genuine affection for. The baby of four, he includes these dogs in the stories of his childhood as though they were another sibling. He has always wanted a dog. My son, I think, was born whispering, “dog”. They would bring it up from time to time trying to entice me. Regardless if I wanted one (no. I don’t know. Maybe.), there were always landlords. We couldn’t have a dog. One day, after my landlord who lived directly behind us had been dog-sitting for awhile, I said to her, “My son wants a dog”. We had been good tenants for three years. “OK,” she said, “Not too big”. Immediately, I thought of how cute we’d look, me and my hypothetical dog. Not that he was necessarily an accessory, I didn’t picture him (always him) in a purse or anything, but a new member of the family certainly calls for accouterment. Leashes, bowls, toys, a crate, collars, sweaters! In all fairness if you’re judging me here, I had similar thoughts about being pregnant with my son and I promise I’ve done a good job. I went on Petfinder and looked at dogs. What kind of a dog do I want? I only cared about who elicited a visceral response from me, which is a fancy way to say I wanted a cutie. For someone who prides herself on being a feminist, I was really objectifying these dogs for squee-appeal. And there he was. He didn’t even look real! He was like a stuffed animal! He was so little and white with black ears and little black eyes that looked like Hasbro had put them on. He sat in the grass in a field. Brody, they said, was 8 weeks old and great with kids. He was a Jack Russell/Lab mix. He had to be mine. Did you read that? Jack Russell mind in a Lab body. What was I thinking? He was so little in that photograph. His paws were not pictured.
I could tell you all about how we got him (he came from Tennessee to New Jersey and we brought him to New York) but what you need to know is that immediately I knew that he was bigger than I was expecting him to be at 10 weeks. I started to wonder how big he was going to get. I began to feel nervous. And he just kept growing. And he was bad, really bad. He was trained 3 times but it didn’t seem to take. They tricked me with those paws. Everyone we met said, “Oooooooo; look at those paws! He’s going to get BIG” and I said, “ I didn’t know! They weren’t pictured!” as though that absolved me. I needed people to know I was not to blame. I never had a real pet before! We had a hamster named Astro at this time too and when he died we all admitted to feeling only relief about it because we would no longer have to feel guilty about how little we cared about him. Anyway, we had bigger things to deal with, the dog was still growing! I remember my husband saying, “If he gets too big, we have to move” and I said, “He’s not Clifford, Mary Elizabeth!” But then after about a year, it did feel like there was no room for all of us. We would never be able to stay there with him. Something would have to be done. So we moved again, to make the dog more comfortable.
This dog has us all wrapped around his wagging tail. The first day we had him, after we renamed him Albus Dumbledog (Albie), he jumped off the couch onto those little legs (with HUGE paws) and hurt himself. He let out this sad (and adorable) little squeal I drove him to the vet thinking of how I would get money if he needed a new leg. I’ll sell the car, I thought, I hardly use it. He was already mine. I would do anything for him. There is no indifference with this animal. He is torturous; he is ridiculously precious. He won’t come when called. He is 80 pounds but thinks he’s a Jack Russell, which is annoying enough even if he wasn’t as tall as me standing up. He just kept growing and getting into things. He ate through my shoes, he ate through our couch. Albie is an aggressive lover. He doesn’t appreciate physical boundaries; he needs to love you somuchrightnow. He’s just so big. And crazy. And he wants to run and play but can’t really be trusted to be off-leash or off tie-out. I don’t know if I would have picked him if I understood what Jack Lab meant. If someone had described Albie to me prior, not what he looks like, but who is is, I would have probably said no way. I went from no dog to all dog, all the time; I went full dog. Oh! And he sheds. Everything is covered in a fine layer of white hair. Everything. We recently put him in a kennel while we went to visit family for a week. On the plane ride home, after a week in a state across the country, my husband found a thin white hair in his book. “Look, “ he said and we sighed in unity, “Awwwww, Albie. We’re coming home, baby!”
Dogs are weird things. They aren’t things at all. I think it was George Carlin who said that getting a dog is like inviting a tragedy into your life. Best case scenario, BEST case scenario, they live a long life with you. They are happy. You love them. They become a part of your life for eighteen years and then they die. Why invite in that pain and heartbreak? He’s not wrong, but I understand the why now. I love Albie so much. Without him my life would be cleaner, among other benefits, but I’m not interested in that anymore. He has completely changed my feelings about both pets and dogs because he is so much more than anything I could have imagined. He is absolutely a part of our family.
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