Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dogs and Kids

Today's entry was inspired by an article I found on
CNN entitled "I don't like your dog and you can't make me".

It struck a chord and I decided to express my thoughts in the comments section below it, but re-thought it when my "comment" became several paragraphs (no your blog isn't the only place I do this). I reminded myself that this is what personal blogs are for so I brought my opinion here instead (Yay me).

In case you're a newcomer to this blog let me tell you up front: we have several dogs. Five to be exact. Each of my sons has a dog of their own and I have a much beloved German Shepherd. Yes, that's more than most, but it's only too many if you don't know them or us. Our dogs share our home and our daily lives, which makes for a bit of extra cleaning, extra diligence, and a lot of training to make everyone pleasant to live with. We believe it's worth the work to have them near us. I've never understood why people get a dog and then relegate it to an empty back yard or chain for the rest of its life, or let it roam the neighborhood making the neighbors' lives difficult.

While I've never run across anyone who didn't like dogs who I particularly liked myself, I have never expected other people to automatically love mine. I tend to assume that others aren't as enamored of them we are at our house, and,unless I'm told differently, I typically take steps to avoid imposing them on others.

As per the article--The passing stranger who allowed her dog to nudge the writer's food was being quite rude. Well-trained, socialized dogs that have been treated like--well--dogs and not children respect a human's space when they are eating. The proper response should have been something to the effect of "Milo! Leave it" or a quick, quiet withdrawal by way of the lead and a request that the dog heel or sit. Instead she behaved like her dog was an over-indulged two year old who was--in her estimation--being mildly naughty but cute. Personally I would have felt comfortable telling the dog to back off or asking her to control him. Then again, if I'd been that woman, I would have very likely sensed that these weren't my kind of people and moved away. Who wants to hang out with a crowd of people who don't like dogs?

More than the article, the comments made by other readers, were the impetus for my current train of thought. It was an interesting conglomerate of opinions. There were dog haters, kid haters (and, yes, I find this to be a strange, somewhat sad group too), and people who (like myself) felt that the woman should have simply controlled her dog. However the crowd who brought me here this morning to write this entry were the ones who stated that they "loved their dogs as much as anyone could love a child".

You might want to look away while I use a borderline word: This is absolute crap.

This isn't about criticizing people who can't/don't have kids for various reasons. I have the deepest sympathy for the first group and understand why second group doesn't. I even get why people choose to keep dogs instead of having kids. Dogs are less expensive, less likely run up your phone bill, stay out all night and lie to you about where they've been, develop drug habits, move out, move back in, and move back out again--calling you names every time you question their decisions. They don't usually hit a crisis in their lives because they've made a lot of bad decisions and blame you for it. Dogs are (generally) faithful and their expressions of love are not contingent upon what you did or did not get them for Christmas.

But I am suggesting that those who don't want children and keep dogs instead not fool themselves into believing that their relationship with their dog is the same thing as loving a child. As someone who loves both, I can assure you that the difference is of mountainous, perhaps even planetary proportions. I would die for my sons in a New York second. Without pause for thought, I'd step between them and a freight train or bullet, give them my kidneys, all of my blood, and every single cell in my body. This is what motherhood is all about--pouring yourself out for another human being and the sacrifices you make being second nature. It's about taking your heart out and putting in their chest, and sending it off with them when they leave home, even if they for whatever reason never return. And if they cannot (God forbid) make the rest of the journey with you, letting them take to the grave as well. Living longer than any of my sons is too much for me to even think about, so I'm going to leave that thought unfinished as an illustration of my point.

As someone who has shared her life with one of the most devoted of dog breeds for better than ten years, I am here to tell you that my love for Solomon is pretty powerful. So powerful in fact that I have decided not to prolong his life when he finally succumbs to the degenerative disease he is currently suffering from. When he can not longer pick himself up and carry himself out the door, I will carry him to the vet and ask that they end his suffering. My chest gets tight even thinking about this moment and I tear up (even as I type). He has planted his feet in my soul and every picture of my life without him contains his shadow in the background. But I know something else too; I will eventually have another dog that I will love differently, but every bit as intensely. There were dogs before Solomon and there will be dogs after him. And the ability to type this is the difference between loving a dog and loving a child. The thought of one loss is an almost unimaginable, life altering event--the other is a fact that goes with keeping pets.

In my mind people don't do themselves or mankind any favors by using stand ins for the real thing and telling themselves that it's the same. If you don't want children, that's understandable. If you prefer dogs to children, then fine. But keep it real and learn to be comfortable with saying that you simply love your dog and leave the comparisons out. You will sound less defensive and like you're trying justify your decision and people will be less likely to feel sorry for you.
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