The Lives of Dogs

I will admit it: I am not the world’s best dog owner. In an average week, Lucky probably goes on no more than four walks. Surely this record isn’t atrocious enough to merit calling the local humane society, but it’s not too good either.

And I get the impression from Lucky that it’s abysmal. When it’s been more than 24 hours, he starts to follow me around, getting in my way and generally doing all he can to make sure I notice him. When I walk around the house, he runs ahead of me rather than ambling after me.

Generally, Lucky’s a pretty mellow dog. He doesn’t hate lying around on his giant pillow. But when he knows he’s going for a walk, he is probably the single most excitable dog on earth. I’ve never considered this more than a funny problem, after all, Lucky doesn’t weight much more than 20 pounds fully grown.

Where a bigger dog could pull you down the street with his excitement, Lucky is only able to make it clear that he’d like to go a little faster, or that he’d like a little more time to investigate this smell. If I disagree with his request, we still do what I want.

But it’s his excitement about getting a walk that sometimes makes me wonder. After all, the only other high point in the day of an average dog is when he gets fed. I would guess that he enjoys it when people pet him, but I’ve never been able to shake the possibility that he allows that out some feeling of obligation.

Some would argue that he must enjoy it, after all, he often takes the opportunity to show his appreciation by licking any accessible human flesh. But I can’t shake the feeling that he just likes the taste. Maybe that’s why he lets me pet him, so he can lick my arm or face as I do it.

I find it moderately disturbing, this dependence. The dog’s whole life depends on me. He has few joys that I don’t bring him, few disappointments that I don’t cause–usually by accidentally saying the world “walk” when I don’t mean it.

This dependence is even stranger in its reflection not on the dogs, but on dog owners. After all, we owners of animals chose to get them, from the Humane Society or the pet store; these animals make no choice of us.

So what is it? Why do we own dogs? Have cats? I can’t avoid the feeling that we like to be depended upon. After all, even when no one seems to care where you are, your pet has to. His or her existence depends upon yours. And the contingent nature of his existence helps to make your life more important.

I suppose this is why we fear the “cat lady,” why we fear becoming her. She has to reassure herself of her worth because no other human would. No one called to check up on her. Wondered where she had gone.

Or maybe she just likes cats. Maybe I just like my dog.


3 responses to “The Lives of Dogs”

  1. it’s interesting that you come down on yourself for how you treat your dog but yet named him “lucky.”

    i do the same with my dog. i feel like the amount of unrestrained, undignifying love i receive is not remotely returned or deserved. one of my favorite bumper stickers is, “lord, please make me the person my dog thinks i am.”

    i once told my wife i thought our dog was miserable spending all her time in our little backyard. but she said that all our dog wants is to “be around her people.” it’s just the way dogs are made. to obey and have a leader. it makes them comfortable. you’re the leader of “the pack” as they see it. i think it’s true that a dog just loves you, and that’s why they’re so great.

    and honestly … while i have a cat … it’s that comparison that makes me not like cats that much.

  2. That’s a good point about his name. I would say in my defense that I didn’t name him, he came with that name from the Humane Society and we never changed it. But it is a little ironic.

  3. I like that a dog provides proximity to an animal, with a minimum of wild danger. My dog and I have an agreement of sorts…he doesn’t bite me, and I don’t bite him:)
    Like you, I just like my dog.
    If you want an example of frightening dependence, talk about aquariums.
    Our dog licks in an effort to soften us up, to make it easier to consume us later…