Why do I have a dog? I’ve been asking myself more often than I used to; a few times a day actually. That isn’t good. It’s like asking yourself: Why am I married? Or, why is there so much hair in my shower drain? You know, those kinds of questions that make you feel uncomfortable. There’s obviously something wrong going on, but you don’t want to face it, because if you do, you will need to solve it somehow. Or worst, accept there’s no solution. Worst because I’m more of a doer, and have a hard time dealing with things that are out of my control. Case in point, the dog.
Why did I get it in the first place? The straight forward answer is guilt. I got it because I felt terribly guilty for all the sacrifices my husband and I imposed on our children. When they were younger we moved often, every other year in average. We both had satisfying careers, and we were doing well financially, but when my husband was offered an assignment in the US we embraced the opportunity full heartedly. We left our big extended family in Brazil, and embarked in a new journey. We didn’t have children then, and it all seemed like a wonderful adventure. After a couple of months alone inside an empty house—the company didn’t get me a working visa, and my husband had business trips at least one week every month—I decided it was time to have kids. Fantastic. There was I, alone, without the support of family and friends, with a new appendix attached to my chest. Even though my husband and I had always said we would have two kids, after three sleepless months I declared that would be our only child. No way would I go through all that, all over again. It took my husband three years, but he convinced me a sibling would be essential to a well-rounded child. As everyone who grew up in a catholic family, I’m easily manipulated through guilt, especially in what relates to my kids, and my husband is a master communicator. The man can sell the proverbial sand in the dessert.
When my older daughter was 4 and her baby sister only 6 months old, my husband was sent back to Brazil on a 2 year assignment. Both my daughters loved having the grandparents around. My older daughter was delighted to meet her cousins every weekend. They had a dog. She decided she needed one as well. She campaigned relentlessly for it. At first I said NO, which turned into no, and eventually my husband let me know he always wanted a dog as a child, but my mother-in-law didn’t give him one. The final blow to my resolve came from my older daughter a few months before we moved back to the US. She lamented: no grandmas, no grandpas, no aunties, no uncles, no cousins, and not even a little dog to play with. We stroke a deal. We would get a dog once we were settled down in our new home.
During 7 years all was well. I was a staying at home mom living near Atlanta, in Georgia, and had time to walk the dog every day. When the kids came home from school, they would spend at least an hour a day playing in our big backyard with their dog. They learned to brush, feed, and bathe it. The little rascal even moved with us to China. The poor creature had to endure a 2 week quarantine period in a special section of the Shanghai International Airport before being allowed in the country to live with us though. It survived. It learned to behave in an airplane, and in hotels when we were on the move. But even the most well behaved dog needs a lot of attention. As my daughters became more independent every year, I decided to go back to work, but the dog remained 100% dependent. The girls are busier with school work, sports, orchestras, and friends. On top of a part time job that occupies half of my day, Monday through Saturday, I decided to go back to school and get a degree in writing. Back in Georgia I used to live the dog loose in the gated, grassy backyard for hours. But we moved to California where big backyards are a luxury we can’t afford. The dog turned into a constant source of worry.
I could have gotten a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, I love the breed. But when I was researching it, I talked to a very nice lady who had that breed for decades, having to get a new puppy every 7 years in average. She went over the sadness of burying her cherished dog every so often because the breed has serious heart issues. I couldn’t possibly make my daughters go through that. I couldn’t go through that. My silly past-self thought: I need a healthy breed. After researching I came across this charming cross breed said to be the perfect companion for children; a smart and loving little creature called shih-poo. It’s true. Our shih-poo is smart and loving, and very, very healthy. The little thing is nearly 11 years old, but still behaves like a puppy. There, I said it. Now I feel terribly guilty because I wish I had chosen a not-so-healthy-breed. I have at least 6 more years of dog care ahead of me. The girls will go to college and I’ll still have the dog following me everywhere. Of all the people in the house I’m the least pet-loving-person possible, but the thing chose me. Seriously, it thinks I’m its mother.
Although it used to quietly sleep in its little bed in the laundry room, a while back it started barking many times overnight, keeping me awake. After four days dragging myself trying to get some work done. I called the vet’s office. I thought, that’s it. It turned 10. It’s an old lady now. I should prepare the kids for the big loss. I took it for a general check-up anticipating bad news. It’s as healthy as can be, the vet said. We’ve been having raccoons in the neighborhood. You should call a creatures-specialist. I couldn’t believe it when the pest-control guy found signs that rats had been enjoying the crawl space under my house. He set up traps, and in a week he returned to “collect” and clean up.
“You’re lucky you have a dog,” the pest-control guy said. “It certainly prevented the rats from getting to comfortable, and entering inside the house.”
Good grief. There was I, having mean thoughts about the dog, and it was protecting us from a rat infestation. I feel so terribly guilty I think I finally love her.