Reflections on the Emotional Complexity of Getting a Dog

by ParentCo. November 02, 2021

puppy looking up

A puppy just came into my life. This was not expected, not planned for. I have a lot on my plate already. I’m not sure I have room in my life for the added complexity of caretaking another being. He’s a loaner, though. My friend manages a foster dog program called Passion 4 Paws that helps rescue dogs and find them homes. He said I could borrow the dog for the weekend and take a trial run.

My family just bought our first house, which, for the first time since my kids were born, makes having a dog even a consideration. But the house is expensive. Dogs are expensive. Kids are expensive. I can’t afford all this. The puppy is currently selecting various inconvenient things to chew – my son’s shoe, a candy wrapper, the vacuum nozzle. I have to stop writing to avert disaster. Still, every kid should have the opportunity to form a relationship with a dog sometime in their childhood, shouldn’t they? I don’t know, maybe I’m projecting.

Meanwhile, my kids are growing up. My oldest son will be 16 this month. I can already feel him spreading his wings, testing the air currents. It won’t be long before he flies. But right now, the puppy is curled up on the couch behind me in a cute little furry loaf, nose on tail, eyes closed. My boys are all ensconced in their rooms, watching their digital rectangles. My wife is out, braving a snow storm, doing her thing. There is a space between us as we age. It is a healthy space. She and I have good communication. We’re a good team. We love each other, and we care for each other. Yet, space is space. Sometimes it’s lonely. Relationships change. Of course. Everything changes.

As I was bringing the puppy home, I pictured how my family might react. I imagined my three sons playing with him, feeding him, taking him for walks. I envisioned them leaving their screens and frolicking with him. What kid doesn’t want a puppy? When we got there, I was surprised by how little attention they actually paid him. My youngest son was actually distraught. He doesn’t like dogs, he says. I can see the fear and hesitancy in the way he interacts. He stands on his tippy toes and holds his hands up, elbows high, backing away as the puppy comes to sniff, to play. I think it will be good for him to learn to like dogs. This, again, is my projection. Why do I think my kids need a dog?

Maybe I’m trying to justify my own desire for this creature, this relationship. My youngest, though, was more worried about the cats. He thinks it’s not fair for me to do this to the cats. I’m certain they agree. My cats are pissed. Of course, cats always look as if they’re mildly peeved. That’s part of their charm. They have let this new interloper know, in no uncertain terms, that he is most definitely not welcome. I think, though, given time, they’ll get used to him. Maybe I’m just projecting again. He is a very sweet dog, playful, but not rambunctious, small enough to sit on your lap, but not a yippy little lap dog. He hasn’t barked even once since he came home. He is really quite charming and well behaved. I mean, for a dog. I had my heart broken as a teenager when my childhood dog, Godot, was hit by a car. It was my fault. I had left the car door open while we parked on a busy road. Godot was riding in the back. He got out and was killed pretty much instantly. For years, I blamed my dad for leaving the door open. I was so traumatized my mind blocked out the possibility that I could have been at fault.

A few years back, I realized I had been suppressing this memory and had a reckoning with myself. I think I have, subconsciously, been making room in my life for another dog since then. I have been manifesting this moment, waiting for the universe to bring the right one to me. After 30 years, I think I’m ready. There are always plenty of reasons not to do something – the cost, the time, the commitment. But what about the reasons to do it? The opportunity for love and companionship are sure to manifest. The joy of having this creature, even for the single day we’ve had him, frolicking around, being curious and playful, has been worth the risk of knowing that he will break my heart again eventually. Inevitably.

You can’t live your life in fear of having your heart broken. You just have to know that it’s a guaranteed part of life and fill it up with as much love as you can so that maybe, just maybe, your heart will be big enough, strong enough, deep enough to endure the ache of loving. The cats finally emerged from hiding after 24 hours. The kids are now unplugged, and the dog has become a part of whatever they’re doing in the other room. What kid doesn’t want a dog? It’s only been a day, and I can’t imagine our family without him. Hooboy. Here we go.



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