Confessions of a Late-Life Dog Owner

 

Charlie - 80 lbs of Lab/Border Collie ball obsessed fun.

Charlie – 80 lbs of Lab/Border Collie ball obsessed fun.

I love my dog.

Anyone who has a dog would probably say much the same thing, so it’s not such a surprising statement. But it surprised the hell out of me when I discovered it.

I’d always been a cat person. My Mom was completely immune to my boyhood pleas for a canine companion. Despite my protestations, she knew the truth was that she would end up bearing most of the dog care responsibilities. I got over it and even as an adult I kept on with the cats because… well it was easy.

Having a cat is basically a transactional relationship. There’s nothing really wrong with that as long as both parties agree on the price and the expectations. I clean the litter box, keep the food and water dishes full, and the cat will purr on my lap from time to time and go spazzo over the laser pointer when we’re both in the mood. Beyond that there are no obligations. The cat doesn’t care if I don’t come home that night and I decide I can put up with the general attitude of condescension.

Liz had always been a cat person too, so my two cats Skittles and Sarah fit right in when we got married. And everything was fine. Then one day we went to one of those giant pet superstores to buy cat food.

The Humane Society had set up a mobile adoption clinic in the store. There were about a dozen barking, freaked out, hopeful hounds in wire cages. And there was one fuzzy black fellow lying there quietly, looking around, unsure what to make it all. His name was Midnight. I looked at him. He looked at me. I’d never had a dog, I hadn’t wanted a dog since I was ten, but somehow I knew, I KNEW he was my dog.

Liz and I got about two blocks from the pet store when I pulled the car over. I gave her pretty much the same speech and promises I had given to my Mom over thirty years before. Being relatively inexperienced with men, Liz must have figured I’d matured a little bit since then, because she said, OK.

There were few things Midnight liked better than launching himself off the dock after a stick.

There were few things Midnight liked better than launching himself off the dock after a stick.

Things didn’t start well, at all. I decided it would be a good idea to put the dog dishes in the basement with the cat dishes and litter box – keep all the pet stuff together.

Midnight started peeing on the basement carpet. It wasn’t a fine Persian rug or anything but I lost it. “That’s it,” I declared. “He’s going back to the Humane Society. I will not put up with a dog peeing in the house!”

Liz suggested putting his food dish upstairs in the kitchen away from the cats’ litter box. The problem ended. Midnight no longer felt the need to mark out his own territory.

A few days later, we came home to find the corner chewed off the cushion of a chair we’d just spent a lot of money to have reupholstered. “That’s it,” I declared. “He’s going back to the Humane Society. I will not put up with a dog destroying the furniture!”

Liz suggested we get a couple of chew toys. The problem ended. Who knew?

Midnight and I went to obedience school. He got the certificate, but I was the one who had the most to learn. In the end we both came to understand each other a lot better.

Midnight was five when we got him and he joyously and generously shared the next nine years of his life with us. I know that dogs can’t really understand what you’re thinking beyond sensing a general mood, but they try really, really hard to fake it like they do understand. And after all, what more can expect from a good friend.

Skittles, Sarah and Midnight move to the country with us when we sold our house in Toronto. All three of them were quite old by then and one by one they left us during that first year. Midnight was the last. That’s the price of unconditional love…

Liz and I found ourselves staring at each other with an empty house. She said she wasn’t ready yet. It had only been a couple of months. I convinced her we should get a cat, reverting to my old patterns. Just a cat. We’d go to the local animal shelter and get one of those older cats that never get adopted. It would be a noble thing to do.

Kasey & Pawvel, "It's nap time. Unless you have treats, go away!"

Kasey & Pawvel, “It’s nap time. Unless you have treats, go away!”

A few hours later we returned with two kittens, Kasey and Pawvel, and an eighty pound lab – border collie cross named Charlie. So much for family planning.

I know there will come a time of loss again, hopefully many years away. In the meantime, there are wonderful things to sniff in the woods behind our house. And the crisp fall air means it’s time once again to curl up in front of the fire place with a good book, a purring cat and a dog twitching at my feet as he dreams of squirrels and chipmunks.

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