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Be obsessed with your dog!
and the many reasons having a dog is wonderful, terrible, and perfect
I have always wanted a dog. I grew up with a dog, a wonderful but aloof terrier who allowed me to lavish him in affection but simply could not have cared less if I was there or not. Monty was my mother’s dog, and he lived to be seventeen years old. When it was time for him to be put to sleep - his back legs no longer worked and he was struggling with even the simplest of movements - my father, recently separated from my mother, drove over to say goodbye. Though Monty had been my mother’s dog, it had been my father who rose at 5 am each morning to walk him for nearly fifteen years straight. I had, on occasion, joined him on those walks. What struck me the most was how my father, the most rushed, pressed-for-time Jewish man I have ever known, never hurried Monty along. We would stand for minutes on end for Monty to sniff two bushes three feet apart. He never pulled on the leash. He was immensely gentle and patient. Being young, wanting Monty to be more like Old Yeller (before the end scenes, obviously), I would ask to take the leash and run home with Monty, to which both my father and the dog obliged. Once I asked my father why he never rushed the dog like he rushed my brother and me when we were getting ready for school in the mornings.
“It’s his time,” he told me, “how would you feel if the only times you got to go outside and smell the world, you were being dragged around by some putz?” I hadn’t thought about it that way, of course - I was seven or so - but I still think about it now when I feel impatient with my own dog on a long walk.
So, years later, when it was Monty’s time to leave us permanently, my father drove over to see him. At this point, Monty was too weak to go on a walk - he scrabbled helplessly forward on our tile floors, and needed to be lifted in and outside to use the bathroom. My father, fresh with the hurt of my parents’ separation and undoubtedly devastated at this loss as well, offered Monty a final act of kindness. He wrapped the thirty-pound dog in his arms and began to walk. I wanted to join them, but had the good sense to let the two go by themselves. In that way, Monty and my father took their final walk together, following their usual route.
A year or two later, we brought a new dog into our lives - Sox. He never grew bigger than eight pounds, and was a small black puff of fury and kindness. I was eleven, and knew little to nothing about raising a dog, so I made a million mistakes. But we had Sox for another thirteen years, and he was gracious the way dogs always are. He forgave me every mistake, and comforted me through the worst years of tween and teenager hood, thrilled to see me each time I returned home. I was not with him when he died, which is one of my greatest regrets. Yes, he was only a dog. But he was also my only friend in a lot of lonely moments. I hope he forgives me for the final goodbye that I missed.
And now I live on my own, away from both parents, and blessedly have the company of my dog, Pilot Jones. He, like my two dogs before him, is just a dog. But he is also the most consistent source of joy and frustration in my life. Raising him as a puppy was an exhausting and never-ending cycle of training, carrying him around outside and inside and in a backpack and in my arms, of working together and failing often. I will probably never get another puppy, but every minute has been worth it. Every morning (though not at 5am) we get up together and take a long walk. I do not rush him. I take pleasure in seeing him enjoy the smallest things - a new smell, a new treat, a stick lying on the ground, a quick romp in the grass.
Pilot didn’t save my life - but he became a part of my life that I knew I absolutely could never part with, and in that way, I’ve worked hard to improve things about me and our surroundings so I can better give him the peaceful, happy life that he deserves. He didn’t have to be my dog, after all. He could have ended up any number of different places. He didn’t choose me and I didn’t choose him. Something more magic, I think, than that happened. We found each other.
I know I’m an intense dog person. It’s a Special Interest. I know way more than the average person about most things dog, which is largely embarrassing. I miss him when we’re apart, and I’m always wondering how I can make his day more fun. I try not to be the annoying “dog dad,” and have absolutely never used the words “fur baby” in a sentence, but even still, anyone who knows me knows that Pilot is the single most important thing in my life. And I think it’s special, and I think it’s great - you should be obsessed with the things in your life, be it a dog or a cat or a person or a hobby or whatever. Not being obsessed is weirder than being obsessed. These kinds of unconditional loves help us reorient ourselves in this dark, grief-filled world. I love when other people incessantly post about their pets, and I want to cry when anyone has to say goodbye to them. It’s not a complex opinion, I realize that, not some nuanced take, but I think loving someone or something so deeply and without reserve is gorgeous. I tweet about this an inordinate amount, but when the world feels absolutely impossible to me, I take Pilot to the park and we throw a toy, run around, or just walk together, and it’s his happiness, the lolling tongue, the exhausted collapse of his limbs after a good play, the thumping of his tail, that makes me feel like I can keep going for a little longer.
In a month, Pilot will be five, nearing those adult years of doghood. Thankfully, he’s immortal, so I’ll never have to worry about him getting too old or my having to say goodbye.
Pictures of us below, of course!