I guess we’re getting a dog
The following is a dramatic adaptation of conversations held in our family’s house on April 13, 2020 and April 13, 2021:
(The curtain rises. A suburban two story, single home with 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, and a garage appears. The house is 34 years old and, according to a township survey, stands on approximately a 1/2 acre of green suburban grass. Moving inside, the house is not messy, yet it’s not perfectly tidy. A tangle of sneakers huddle by the backdoor, an empty Skittles wrapper sleeps on the counter, a lonely black sock lays by the couch, a dark-blue sweatshirt hangs by its hood on the staircase railing, a full trash can stands in the kitchen, and a worn soccer ball, in the middle of the living room, waits to be kicked.
A solid oak kitchen table sits in the middle of the home where junk mail collects, where all meals are eaten, and where important family matters are discussed.
April 13, 2020. Around the kitchen table, the family enjoys a spaghetti and meatball dinner. Yet outside their home, the world has been infected with a virus. Panic and death fever the headlines. Most stores are closed. Schools are closed. You must wear a mask outside. You ‘re forbidden to cross state lines. You ‘re encouraged to sanitize your hands, your paper money, and your groceries. The kids in the house have a lot of serious questions: Will we ever go back to school again? Will we ever have friends over again? Will we ever be able to play a soccer game again? The parents do their best to answer the questions. And then, in a time of great stress and worldly uncertainty, the kids make a surprising yet certain demand.)
Kids: We want a dog.
Kids: We really want a dog.
Kids: Why can’t we get a dog? Everyone has one.
Parents: Because we’re (pointing at each other) the ones who will have to take care of it.
Kids: No, we’ll take care of it.
Parents: So you three will take turns training the dog, walking it, picking up poop, feeding it, and giving it a bath? Will you three pay the medical bill when the dog eats one of your socks that you leave around the house? (Slight pause.) Will you pay the kennel if we go on vacation and can’t take the dog with us? Will you buy the dog’s food and toys?
Kids: (looking at each other with steely commitment) We want a dog.
Parents: (sighing, looking contemplatively at each other): Okay, we can get a dog.
Parents: Under one condition (grinning devilishly). You must practice soccer for 20 minutes every day for an entire year.
Kids: An entire year?
Parents: Yes. 365 days of dribbling, shooting, passing and juggling.
Kids: Even on Thanksgiving?
Kids: Even on our birthdays?
Kids: Even if we’re sick?
Kids: What if it’s raining?
Parents: Practice in the house.
Kids: This is not fair. This is impossible.
Parents: (Serious parental voice) If you really want a dog, you must work for it. Owning a dog is a serious, everyday commitment. It takes hard work. Hopefully, this soccer challenge will teach you that.
Kids: (thinking) So if we practice soccer every day for an entire year we can get a dog?
Kids: YAAAY! We’re getting a dog.
(The parents look at each other and smile. They believe they just foiled the kid’s seemingly impulsive desire to get a dog.)
One year later.
Kids: Do you know what today is?
Parents (looking at each other in utter disbelief): …Yes.
Kids: Today is April 13, 2021. Day 365 of the soccer challenge! And you promised if we practice soccer for 20 minutes every day for an entire year we can get a dog.
Parents: What about a turtle?
Kids: No. A dog.
Parents: How about you each get your own fish?
Kids: No. A dog.
Parents (taking a deep breath): Okay. A promise is a promise. (The kids cheer.) First, we have to decide what kind of dog is the best fit for our family.
Kids: Let’s get a big, fast dog so we can ride it.
Parents: Let’s not.
Kids: How about a dog that likes to swim and hike and can jump really high?
Parents; No. How about an overweight, three-legged dog that likes to lie on the couch and watch baseball?
Kids: No. We want an in-shape, four-legged dog.
Parents (with quiet resignation): I guess…we’re getting a dog.
END OF SCENE
Let me be clear: I have nothing against dogs. I like other people’s dogs the way I like other people’s newborn babies. They’re cute, fun to talk to, shake toys at, but they are someone else’s responsibility.
However, I (along with Cindy) made a promise to our kids and breaking such a promise will probably cost me more therapy bills than the cost of owning a dog. Kids are infamous for their spontaneity. For their desire for instant gratification. For their “phases.” And honestly, I thought this “let’s get a dog” phase that would pass as the “let’s pretend the staircase is a sliding board” phase did. But my kids proved they were serious. They earned this. So reluctantly, I have to honor and respect their dogged commitment (pun intended).
Since retirement, I’ve settled into a weird albeit selfish life. There is no alarm clock. No scheduled lunch break. No meetings. No boss. No work emails of “high importance.” No counting down the minutes of the workday. I’m responsible for creating my schedule. For my reinvention. (Which is proving more difficult than I thought.) I decide when to read and write and take walks and eat lunch and stare out the kitchen window and browse Target with the old ladies. From 7 am to 4 pm, I worry about no one but myself. But a dog eliminates such self-indulgence. Because even though the kids may claim it’s their dog, I will be the one taking care of it most of the time. Which makes sense, I’m the family member with the least responsibility.
Dogs, like those newborn babies, are an unavoidable reality. Cute but disruptive. Cute but inconsiderate. Once I bring that dog home, I will be at the mercy of her schedule. Her impulses. Her demands. And this terrifies me. I will have to think of someone other than myself.
What also terrifies me is something Haley said to me the other night. “Dad, can’t you see yourself sitting at the table, writing, and our dog right beside you?”
From what I hear, dogs are so much more than pets. They are loyal companions. A furry source of unconditional love. They nuzzle into your heart and paw at your humanity. And yes, I can see myself sitting at our kitchen table, in a quiet house, writing tales, as the dog lies beside me quietly wagging her’s.
I need some advice. I know there are a lot of dog owners out there. I’m doing some internet research but I value first-hand experience and insight. If you could drop a comment on this post about any of the following questions/concerns I have about owning a dog, I would appreciate it.
Should I adopt? Do you have an adoption center you recommend? Should I contact a dog breeder? Is there a dog breed better suited for first-time dog owners? A dog for a family of three enthusiastic children and two nervous parents….one being retired and who wants an underactive dog who will put-her-paws-up and watch a baseball game? Also, what have you learned, maybe the hard way, about owning a dog?
If you like this post, you may also like:
Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.