I was never getting another dog. Why bother? I once had the world’s best, irreplaceable black Lab named Cooper. Not only was Cooper gentle and smart, but he was funny.
I used to travel a lot and my parents often watched Cooper for me. One day I was running late for an international flight so I drove straight to the airport. I telephoned my parents to pick Cooper up so I could board my plane. I finally reached Mom and Dad about 30 minutes before departure, too late for them to reach me. So I put Cooper in a taxi.
At first the cabbie didn’t want to take him. “What if he bites me?”
“Look at him,” I said, nodding at my smiling dog who’d just eaten something from the gutter.
The cabbie frowned. “I don’t know…”
I held out a wad of twenties. “Would this make a difference?”
“I’ll do it!”
So I put Cooper in the car, trusting the cabbie wouldn’t just release him behind some airport warehouse, and boarded my flight.
My parents told me the taxi arrived with Cooper sitting up in the back seat looking out the window. He waited for the driver to open the door, hopped down and then walked past my parents into the house.
He was empathetic, too. Once we had a friend watch him while Catherine and I went away. The friend was suffering a nasty divorce. One day she slumped to the floor in tears and Cooper went and leaned against her until she felt good enough to get up.
Mark Twain knew the virtue of dogs. “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
Twain also said when he compared the traits and dispositions of man with dogs he felt humiliated.
Doesn’t matter. When Cooper died I didn’t want another dog. Last year we raised a Lab pup, Cookie, until he could be taken and trained as a guide dog. (He made it.) But that wasn’t the same. Cookie was a good dog, but Lab puppies are a menace. Like having someone’s obnoxious miscreant kid as a long-term house guest. So I wasn’t getting another dog. I didn’t want to deal with the mayhem a puppy brings. And I wanted to be free to travel without having to worry about dog care or pet-friendly accommodation. I didn’t want my lawn covered with brown spots, or to find fur tumbleweeds under the chewed furniture and my hardwood floors ripped to ribbons by tearing claws. I wasn’t getting another dog.
We picked up our new puppy last Friday. His name’s Buster, he’s an English bulldog and is preposterously adorable. The size of a loaf of bread, he’s all wrinkles, snorts and wheezy breaths. When he walks it’s as though his joints aren’t attached. Apart from his solid head, he might be boneless. And his default expression is relaxed intelligence, as in, Would you mind getting the door? I’m enjoying this segment on 60 Minutes.
He’s so lovable I’m allowing him to sleep between me and Catherine. He curls up on a hand towel next to our pillows. Ridiculous. Embarrassing. I wake up at 2 a.m. and again at four and smile when I see his doughy little body.
But I had no idea my actions were so predictable. After Buster came home with us I discovered this poem by Deborah Landau perfectly recounting my life vis-a-vis dog decisions.
Before you have kids,
you get a dog.
Then when you get a baby,
you wait for the dog to die.
When the dog dies,
it’s a relief.
When your babies aren’t babies,
you want a dog again.
Oh, man, I thought I was original. I want to be original, but my dog patterns are so common and predictable this poet nailed them. Our twins, Holly and Annie, turned 10 a few days before we got Buster. They’re not babies anymore. And Lily will be seven in June. Did I just need a new baby?
There is “a time for every matter under heaven” it says in Ecclesiastes. Does this mean we aren’t really as much in control as we think? That the arc of our lives is as constant and repetitive as the changing seasons? This idea could either disturb (I’m neither original nor very inventive) or comfort (we’re all in this together).
I’ll choose the latter because to anguish over something unchangeable and immemorial seems stupid. I also find it somewhat liberating to consider that nothing we do or think hasn’t been done or thought before and our limitations aren’t ours alone.
Everyone’s got their own shit is a popular way of expressing this idea. No one is perfect. Still, perfection seems to be an overarching goal whether in action or intention. The fact that we’ll fail doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It’s this effort that makes us unique.
Twain saw dogs as perfection and man as deeply flawed by comparison. Maybe that’s why we need puppies; to remind us of what we could be if being human didn’t get in the way.