Dog Days of Summer
Ellen Jo Roberts
Dogs are loud. They're stinky. They roll in filth. They destroy your favorite possessions and frequently get into mischief. Dogs require lots of our time, attention and energy. In many ways they're just like children except they'll never need help with their algebra homework or ask to borrow the car. We love dogs, but perhaps not nearly as much as they love us.
"I really try, like the old quote goes, to live to be the person my dogs think I am. I fail, daily, but they do inspire me."
Now that we have three dogs at our house we are officially "Crazy Dog People". (The three of them are so small, however, that combined they only add up to one average-sized dog.)
The self-sufficient cat can be left home alone for days. The dogs cannot. Daily I am up at dawn to let them out for their morning constitutional, standing in the yard in my pajamas in all kinds of weather. When I come home for lunch they eat theirs before I do. They're a lot of work, these stinky, slobbery little critters, always needing food, water, exercise, health care. And treats.
Don't forget the treats. In exchange, the rewards are great. They charm us with their grace, affection, devotion and enthusiasm. I interviewed folks about their relationships with their canine companions and the ways they enrich our lives.
"Dogs teach us about unconditional love and make our lives better and more fun. They love just being with us and we love being with them. The sheer joy they exude reminds us every day to cherish the little things in life."
"They make me laugh. They keep me warm. They're very cuddly and sweet company."
"I can't imagine life without my dog. He's seen me through some sad times and never left my side. When I'm sick he races to me with, what I swear, is a look of concern. We sometimes call him Dr. Dog."
"Gosh, people have written books, screenplays, songs and poetry answering this question. In too many ways to count. They renew my faith in the universe several times a day. They give me more endorphins than I deserve. They entertain and amuse me -- and they give me someone to take care of, something I wasn't able to name or recognize until a pet saved and changed my life once when I desperately needed it."
"I look forward to seeing them everyday. I can't imagine my life without them. I am recently divorced. I would have given away anything just as long as I got to keep them."
"Dogs enrich my life by offering comic relief, enthusiasm for my existence and an easy route to happiness via tricks for treats. Simple."
"I have an early memory of being asked to leave a movie theatre with my mom as a toddler because I became hysterical watching 'Benji Come Home' -- at the point I realized Benji was lost from his family and being pursued by some 'bad men.' It's a oft-repeated family anecdote that sums up my lifelong bleeding-heart-for-animals personality."
I have a similar story of overwhelming grief watching a Peanuts cartoon as a child. Snoopy lost in wintery woods, being chased by wolves. I was inconsolable. Dogs tug on our heart strings.
I cannot ever watch the pitiful pleading-eyed pooches on those ASPCA commercials without getting choked up.
My father was a dog trainer in the U.S. Army, stationed in Korea in the 1960s. My first dog was a handsome German Shepherd named Goru, though we frequently called him "The Gripper" or "The Grip" for reasons unknown. He was born a year before me and famous in our neighborhood. Goru was a dog that commanded respect. Intelligent, regal and obedient, he guarded my young life until he expired at the ripe old age of 12. He had been assisted in his endeavors for a number of years by the Scottish Terrier, MacDuff (aka Duffy, Boo, and an assortment of other bizarre nicknames). Duffy died when I was in college and it wasn't until I was 31 that a dog lived in my home again, bred on a Cottonwood ranch and purchased on a whim at a local feed store after driving past a hand-painted sign advertising "Chihuahua Puppies 4 Sale". A tiny animal with an outsized personality, his acquisition was inspired by an admirable dog within our circle of friends. We named him Floyd, and in addition to encouraging art, photos and adventures our success with Floyd inspired bravery to add more to our pack. What I learned from Floyd is that wherever we go, he is at home as long as he is with us. Whether we are touring some strange city or camped in a tent in some far away wilderness, if we are with him he is home. We are his home.
"The dogs inspire me creatively and artistically, and I feel blessed to have such devoted little friends and companions."
I sometimes look around at all of the pets scurrying around our house, usually bunched up in a traffic jam happening in the same room as us, and ask, "Why do we have these little animals living in our house with us?" Sometimes it seems so weird!
"Man's Best Friend" may have very well domesticated itself, opportunistically lingering along the edges of prehistoric camps, trading scraps for affection or alerts. Many breeds of dogs were cultivated as favorites of royalty and signs of wealth. In some cultures dogs considered unclean and contact with them is taboo. In France, dogs allowed inside restaurants and aboard public transportation. By nature they are eager to work hard for a small rewards and provide endless service to mankind, working on ranches, chasing off bears, pulling sleds, assisting the physically impaired, working under the harshest conditions and during dangerous times of war. In more commonplace situations, it's a proven fact that pet ownership improves a human's health, soothing our anxiety, and encouraging us to exercise.
“I walk more, which is good... I never really knew my neighbors until I had a dog. Going outside twice a day for walks totally changed my connection to my neighborhood. My dogs calm me. How can you watch a sleeping dog and not feel more relaxed?"
We are constantly making accommodations to have dogs participate in our lives but we don't ever seem to notice it anymore. It's become second nature.
"I don’t really remember what it was like before dogs. They are part of our lifestyle and always will be."
Planning ahead, searching for dog-friendly activities, hotels, hiking trails and restaurants with outdoor seating so we can take them along on adventures with us. Extra expenses, surcharges, fees, detours, supplies. Traveling great distances with our dogs tucked under our seats in the airplane cabin creates an added layer of anxiety to an already stressful mode of transport, but we've done it many times. The extra fun of having them along cancels out all of the hassles. We tailor the house to better suit them. We share our space. We know not to leave food unattended.
"I sleep at the edge of the bed. I've learned not to fall off during the night. Amazing how two small dogs can take up an entire queen-size bed."
"I've learned to turn over in bed without launching them across the room."
"They are always able to surprise me in how they find new and exciting ways to gross me out, get into stuff they shouldn't and tear up things you'd never think they could."
"I've learned to put away -- REALLY put away -- things that are precious or delicate, I've learned to roll with the punches of life from my dogs. I've learned to care more and less about things than I did before when it was appropriate, and I've purchased a whole lot of junk to make my car, home and stuff dog/cat-proof: water/stain-proof car seat covers, portable fold-up water bowls, baggies of dog treats ever-present in my purse, only staying at dog-friendly hotels."
"We won't leave them at home in their kennel for an extended amount of time. We take our responsibility very seriously, so we never leave them in the yard while we're gone. So we will leave a party early to get home to let the dogs out or make sure they get their dinner. So they definitely come first. We take it very seriously...Leaving a party to let your dogs out? People think it's a convenient excuse, but it's for real!"
"The biggest accommodation is finding good sitters when we want to leave town together. Sometimes we just don't go somewhere as a result."
Our pets become a part of our families, always there wagging when the key turns in the lock.
And their lives are always far too brief. When a beloved pet dies its dozen years with us are taken away with it, ending an era and leaving us forever changed. That's why I treasure every little moment, squeezing in as much quality time as possible. When the dogs have taken their final breath, there will be no regrets because we operated at maximum capacity. Avid participants in nearly everything we do, they've been extensively catalogued in paintings, photos and words, forever immortalized in the art they inspired.
"I have lost three of my dogs in the past seven years, and to me it is like the loss of a child. They have such big, dramatic personalities, and love with such ferocity, that the void left by their passing is immense and devastating. People with kids are often insulted by this, but I don't have children and pour all of my maternal love and energy into my dogs."
"The little dogs, they're so fragile. I just want to wrap them in armor. It may be the closest I ever come to feeling what parents feel."
There is something about the geographical location of our home that seems to be a magnet for stray dogs. I've found far more than my share, and helped most of them find their ways back home. The intuitive creatures must sense an inherent friendliness emanating from our vicinity. Many homeless dogs need to find proper owners; unwanted animals left to run loose, left behind in foreclosures, unexpected puppies with no place to go. The local shelters are consistently full.
Do you have a place for a canine companion in your life?
"I lived in an apartment that didn't allow dogs. Although the place was nice, I couldn't wait to move so I could have a dog. I even had a name picked out for future dog, just in case..."
Perhaps you don't have a place for a dog in your home, but still have a place for one in your heart? Humane Societies welcome donations of supplies, but also welcome donation of your time. You can volunteer to spend time with the animals.
"I would love for folks to do more research before they bring home a dog and be 1,000% sure you can commit the time, love, and money to keep your dogs healthy and happy. It's time well invested."
Ellen Jo Roberts lives in Clarkdale, Arizona, with Floyd, a 9 year old Chihuahua, Ivan, an 8 year old Boston Terrier, Hazel, a 9 month old Chihuahua mix, Ned, a one year old cat, and Chad, a 39 year old mongrel of mixed heritage. They all know how to give "high fives" and roll over.
Read all about it at ellenjo.com