Sunday, July 02, 2006

Dog Days.

(This one shouldn’t be two parts, but I have to get up at 5am tomorrow in order to hike Mount Baldy before the full force of the midday sun scorches me into something you scrape off your Weber grill)

Many years ago, before Daughter was even a glint in the eye of a Polly Pockets retailer, a friend told me a story of coming home from the hospital with her brand-new son.

They stepped carefully into their 900 square-foot Park Slope, Brooklyn apartment, and my friend went to sit on the couch with her son as her husband moved in the 400 square feet of presents their tiny son had accumulated in the twenty-four hours since being born. As she sat there gazing rapturously at her son, their cat jumped on the couch and stared balefully at her, in that way much-loved cats do when you’ve been gone two days and have an interloper in what they know is their lap.

“Wow,” thought my friend, “Katrina’s a cat”.

When I first heard this story, I’m sure I thought something like “Well, yes. The meowing might have clued you in to that”.

But she was right, and I was a big snotty snot-box know-nothing. What, before parenthood, is a darling near-child without the burden of school tuition fees becomes, after parenthood…a pet. A loved pet, perhaps even a living thing with a better and more regular diet than some children in emerging nations, but it’s still an animal. I’m not sure I’d want to see the dynamics in a family where the pet took its old position of precedence.

My parents had a dog when I arrived, a half-German Shepherd, half-coyote named Ginger, and while that combination would strike some as only playing with a baby in preparation for eating it, they would be wrong. Ginger gave up her position as Principal Baby of the house without a peep, because I, as an infant, was a far more compelling thing for any dog with shepherding blood; I was a job. Working breeds, like German Shepherds, need things to do, otherwise they make their own fun, and it usually involves your most expensive shoes meeting their powerful shredding teeth.

To her way of thinking, Ginger was given the job of a lifetime.

I would squeak in the bassinet, and she would run and get my mother, barking and nosing her until she came to see me.

I would cry, and Ginger’s greatest agitation seemed to be that she couldn’t develop opposable thumbs fast enough to change my diaper or bandage my knee.

As I grew, she developed all the talents the dog of a small girl needed; she would eat whatever vile vegetable I could slide to her under the table, she wore any outfit I put on her, and she would sleep next to me every night, no matter how hard it got for her to get up there as she got older. When she died when I was fourteen, I cried for days, I think as much for this irrevocable end of a part of my childhood as much as the not-surprising death of a very old dog.

But that’s what pets are, Quinn says self-importantly; they are as much a reflection of who you are at the time they are in your lives as they are a reflection of their own personalities. Think back to my friend, her newborn, and her cat. Did the cat change in the two days since she and her husband went to the hospital? Doubtful, unless you count the hairball she left somewhere unexpected as a symbol of her displeasure with the babysitter.

My friend changed, so her relationship with the cat changed, so the cat was changed. Something tells me the cat wasn’t getting her tuna nuked for eight seconds, to take the chill off, anymore. Something tells me the cat somehow survived this.

Dog entered our lives when Daughter was six months-old. Consort had gone out of town on a trip that was part business, part pleasure. This was to be Daughter and my first week alone. Consort asked, repeatedly, if we were going to be okay without him. I believe I actually scoffed.

“I lived by myself for years. YEARS! She’ll be fine, the house will be fine, and I will be fine.”

She was fine. Turns out, I was not fine. Turns out, the house makes all sorts of noises every single night which sound exactly like someone breaking into it to hurt the mother and child inside in unspeakable ways. Sometimes, the house would make noises which sounded like someone disabling the alarm system before breaking in to do unspeakable things. I believe I slept no more than ten minutes at a stretch.

I wanted a dog to protect us when Consort was out of town; worst-case scenario, and the dog’s barking didn’t strike fear, I figured, I could at least throw the dog at an intruder, giving Daughter and I enough time to get out through a window or something. Since I wasn’t aware of a company which allowed you to rent a dog as needed, I was going to have to get a full-time dog. Also, Daughter liked dogs; she squealed with joy when one licked her toes. Of course, she also squealed with joy when they replaced the tape in the grocery-store register; life is a medley of extemporized entertainment for the under-one crowd.

Every day that he was gone, Consort would call. For the first three days, I kept up a brave front. But by day four, I was exhausted, cunning, and looking to close the deal. Pity Consort had no idea we were negotiating…



“Hi, it’s me! You sound tired; didn’t she sleep well last night?”

“Oh, she slept fine. So, remember how you asked me what you could bring me back?”


“I have a gift idea, and it won’t cost you anything”

“Go on.”


“We get rid of the television, as I have suggested before. You basically use it like talking wallpaper and it is a huge time-suck and it will force our daughter to worship Elmo.”




“We get a dog.”

“What kind of dog are we getting?”

Yes, readers. It went like that.

He got home Friday night, and we were at the shelter first thing Saturday morning. As far as he knew, this was a looking trip only; as far as he knew, he had all the dog-free time in the world.

I knew he was traveling again in three weeks.

I might have implied this was my first trip there, which might have been belied by the unswerving path I was taking towards one particular cage and the amount of people working there who said “Oh, hello Quinn. Back to see Nomi again?”

To be continued…


Blogger torontopearl said...

We have an adopted dog, an 11-month-old shih-poo-type mix. He pretends he's my child #4. I let him keep up his charade.

Max came into our lives, earlier this year, after Tyson, another dog we'd adopted three years ago, an older pug, died last summer.

Adoption of pets is so important. Curious to hear about your adopted dog...

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Quinn - we recently lost our first child (13 year old Siberian Husky) named Nikita. She preceeded the first of our 3 children by some 2 months. Your speaking of Ginger so fondly just brought all the good times back. You are so right - a pet is a pet they reflect who we are at the time. I too cried a fair bit (like right now). But our Kids are nearly teenagers and we still have our other dog Rosie - 4 year old short haired border collie. We got her to keep Nikita company when she got old. We were originally told huskies last about 10 years - we were lucky we got 13 years almost to the day.

Thanks again Quinn for putting life in perspective once more.

9:47 PM  

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