"If he wasn't a dog, I'd marry him," says my new neighbor friend of her eight year old dog. We often cross paths on our morning walks these days.
I don't look at her cross-eyed or consider she might be a little crazy.
"I get it," I said. "He'd totally make a great husband."
Yeah, man. I'm a dog person now.
It took a few weeks; it took about a summer. I loved him right away, but he kind of ruined our summer last year, in the endearing way that infants ruin our lives while at the same time making us feel like the luckiest people on the damn planet. So, no sleeping in, no sleeping more than four hours in a row.
"I'm exhausted," I wrote to my friend after the first night, "what have I done?"
"It will get better once your milk comes in," she responded.
We spent the summer jumping from one piece of furniture to the other in order to avoid the jaws of our tiny velociraptor. We didn't leave the house for more than two hours at a time. We chased him through the woods when he managed to escape out the front door. We cleaned up urine from our house 15 times a day. I kept asking my friends who I knew would be honest whether or not I smelled like a dog.
Oh, God. What had I done?
"I'm... sorry about... all this," I said one night to John in tears, as I watched his normally steady patience unravel. We were tired. And our skin hurt from sharp puppy bites.
Ah, newborns. Thankfully, they get older at some point. Even more thankfully, dogs mature at the rate of 7 dog years per one human year. By that logic, at four months, he was well over two years old, and that is just about when we hit we our stride.
And, ohhhhhh, did we. I am smitten.
Duncan. With the big brown eyes that tell you everything you need to know. Sweet Duncan Swing Biscuit. With the tiny Harry Potter lightening bolt right above his nose. With the silky brown ears that flop to the side when happy and shoot back when alarmed. Duncan with the torso that just doesn't end and the legs that end a little too soon. With the tail that curls up high in the air, except when he's in the car, where he hides it between his legs as he rests his head on my shoulder, leaning in as much as he can without falling over. Sometimes, he leaps into the back seat and sits on Noah's lap, refusing to budge.
Duncan. Duncaccino. Duncadoo. Dunky. Little brother. I've also occasionally referred to him as the great love of my life. His favorite person is not me - it's John (is it because he's a little more hard-to-get?? WHY???). But still, STILL, I am in love. Partially requited love.
I confessed to our dog daycare trainers a couple weeks ago that I think I'm actually in love with my dog. They looked at me as if waiting for the rest of the story. Because of course. Of course. It's not just love. It's in love. That's what it's like.
And what about him? What makes Dunc's heart sing (besides John)?
He loves: belly rubs, snow, morning sun, chasing squirrels, dog daycare, dogs, playing chase, peanut butter, chicken, nighttime on the couch, cool floors on hot days, daddy coming home from work, "his" recliner in the sun room, treat cabinet, stuffed animals with squeaks, stuffed animals without squeaks, vegetables.
He tolerates: runs with mama, car rides, hugs, small children hovering around him, wearing princess capes, dog food, parents sleeping in.
He despises and/or fears: wearing hats or coats, fruit, being left behind, eye contact, baths, vacuum cleaners, anything out of order in his usual spots.
Back before I was a dog person, I remember watching people throwing sticks with their dogs. I would think, "That's lovely, really. But it does look kind of boring. You go to the park... to throw a stick back and forth to your non-talking companion?"
You know what I'm saying, non dog-person people. This post, all about dogs, is the written equivalent of that feeling. Dogs are fine, you think, but how interesting can they be? Why waste my time thinking or reading about them? I mean, are you even still reading? Truly, I would understand if not!
Back in my 20s, one of my dear friends and roommates used to come home and report about various dog sightings she'd had or fill us in on what was going on at the animal rescue league where she volunteered. I loved how much she loved dogs and I treasured the stories she told about them, but I could not picture myself thinking about a dog when it wasn't right in front of me.
Things change. This equation is perhaps one of the most simple and predictable truths of our crazy universe.
Non dog person + Dog = Dog person forever
Think of a dog as a person minus almost all the annoyances.
They do not pretend to be anyone they are not. They are clear about their wants and needs. They do not judge. They do not gossip. They eat what you put in front of them. They clean themselves, for the most part. They find joy in the simplest things - a game of chase, a ball, dirt, grass. They are pumped every time you come home (it is the greatest greeting imaginable). They'll watch whatever you want to watch. They don't give two shits what you look like; they just love you. They love you like a person who really loves you loves you, with no strings attached whatsoever. That's their entire agenda. That's huge. Oh, the breakups a dog could have gotten me through once upon a time.
People want to wait to get their dog. Wait until the kids are older. Wait for summer. Wait for the perfect set of dog parents to breed. There are so many reasons to wait. But there are several reasons not to wait as well.
My fellow dog-loving, dog-owning friend and I recently had a discussion about why we waited and how we would never wait again.
"I mean, it would have been really nice to have my dog by my side during all those lonely maternity leave days," she said.
I agreed. "What would I have done the day Grace went to Kindergarten and the house was entirely empty this past Fall?"
They aren't always the most convenient or clean or quiet little creatures, but they are joy and comfort and laughter. They are fulfilling. I wanted a third kid. It was not to be. I got this little boy in place of my third kid, and now all I can think is how I never want him to die. We're a family of five now. Grace plays with him the yard for hours at a time. Noah gets up with him on Saturdays and feeds him, let's him out. They take good care of their brother. He cries when they leave. He calls out after them.
I have only had this one dog, so I don't know if these are things all dogs do, but here are things that delight me.
He is afraid of earth worms. As in, he'll be digging and come upon a worm and freak the hell out. I decorated the sunroom this weekend for his birthday and he literally crawled into the room, tummy to floor, in fear that the decorations were going to attack him. He buries himself under a comforter on our bedroom floor every night and when you ask for him to get up, you can just see the slightest movements in the comforter as he makes his way out of his little tunnel. He emerges and it's the sweetest little face and it's all so darn innocent. If you so much as lean forward on the couch and he is sitting next to you, goodbye to your seat; he's squeezing in there.
He hardly ever barks. Really, he only barks when he sees kids playing in yards around us while he is inside. Or if he is excited. I mean, truly, if he's standing outside in the pouring, freezing rain and you have forgotten you let him out 20 minutes before, he'll just stand there, politely waiting for you to remember him.
Sometimes, he talks to us. I cannot possibly capture it, but it is somewhere between a howl, a yawn, a whine and a toddler voice, and it is used to convey his extreme desire for the thing he wants to happen to actually happen. He might talk to me while sitting next to the treat cabinet and then actually nod his little head to the cabinet. Treat, mama, please, a treat, please! Or walks. He'll talk for a walk.
This is a simple post about an uncomplicated notion. Freaking dogs, man. If you are single, I say marry one. They won't let you down. If you are grieving, get one. They will fill something inside you. If something feels like it's missing, consider rescuing a dog. It may be your answer. It was ours.
Happy First Birthday, little Duncan. You've made my life complete.
(But please, my friends - seriously. If I start to smell like a dog, tell me.)