SO DOGS HAVE SOULS, apparently.
The week I’m writing this a professor at the University of Colorado announced that dogs have nuanced moral systems and can distinguish right from wrong. “It says here that dogs can laugh,” my daughter Samantha sighed, reading from the article. “Mom, don’t you find that delightful?”
My daughter is a red-blooded 11-year-old tomboy who has never uttered the word “delightful” in her life. She is now on about her ninth year of using every wile in her arsenal to get us a pet, and this day she launched into a wistful recap of the month’s animal headlines. The dog that was heroically finding its long way home from the car crash that killed its master! The puppies—_puppies!_—that kept the lost toddler alive overnight in the freezing Virginia wilderness!
A homework assignment in persuasive writing refined her case. “I have wanted a dog since…well, since I found out what a dog is!” it began, unfolding purply over a ranging landscape of arguments impressively honed to our opposition. She earned an A-plus.
It’s not that I dislike animals. I have always enjoyed my friends’ pets. (Shout-outs to Shea and Kona! Theo and Charlie! Shao Mai and Claude and Cow! Love you guys!) They are soft and affable and loyal to my friends, and all of this is good.
I just really don’t want one.
About 12 years ago I progressed overnight from serially killing houseplants to becoming primary life support for a gestating human, who, once born, proceeded to show us what dependence really meant. Now my wonderful mess of a life is no crazier than any other working mother’s, and arguably much easier than that of many. But pity the poor dog who tries to find a lousy ball to fetch in it. “I have far too much respect for dogs to inflict our family upon one,” my husband says.
Okay, so maybe his antidog stance is some perverse manifestation of deep dog love—but who am I kidding. I’m antidog because I don’t want to take care of one. And as much as I tell myself and anyone who will listen that a dog’s water dish is a dangerous, dangerous apparatus, capable of burning down a Bellevue house if left to its own devices in the sun, my hair-trigger unfit-mother nerve reminds me that this is a child we didn’t even give a sibling—and now are denying a pet.
How did I become so out of sync with the zeitgeist, so shockingly un-American? Here I am in a country gone collectively gaga over the adorable First Daughters’ adorable new dog, and I can’t even summon affection for Sam’s favorite movie about the lovably mischievous Labrador Marley. Boisterous dog waking napping baby?_ Craigslist the mutt!_ Dog leaping out of moving vehicle? Drive faster! Somehow I don’t think those were the responses Marley and Me was going for.
What’s the matter with me?
I mean, I had a dog growing up. I adored her. She slept in a doghouse without central heating or furniture, and we walked her, if we walked her, without a leash, plastic bag, or doggie raincoat. Those days are history, I gathered, browsing through a dog supply store on my way home from work one day. I didn’t know it was a dog store until I saw a display labeled “Sc-Arfs!” on a table next to a bin of doggie sweats; I was actually lured in by the smell of something baking. I made my way past the “Clear-Runts” table to find that that delectable smell was…dog biscuits.
Now that dogs have souls, they also have bakeries, analysts, and little drop-waist dresses with matching cloche hats. They’re on buses, in shops (the ones with the doggie dishes out front, anyway), in the office lunchroom. And they are amply represented in Seattle.
Once humans had dogs. Now dogs have humans: humans who walk them, take them to camp, and pouf their ’dos.
Once humans had dogs; now dogs have humans: humans to walk them, provide them with camp and day care, pouf their ’dos. Sitting on the bus the other day I eavesdropped as the woman sitting behind me began to talk to the man next to her about her dogs: the pain medication one needs for arthritis, the other’s kidney problem necessitating, in her words, lots of food and lots of elimination. “Would you like to see a picture?” she asked him—_of the elimination?—and she whipped out wallet-sized photos of her dogs. Which her seatmate then matched with wallet shots of _his dogs.
I don’t even have wallet shots of my daughter, and she’s an actual human. And if I don’t think my life includes time to throw a ball for a dog, how on earth would I manage its toilette to today’s specifications? The gruesome plastic bag business isn’t the half of it; I actually saw a guy at the Marymoor dog park wiping his hound’s derriere with toilet paper. Now this makes a certain kind of hugely important sense if the guy lets his dog, say, sleep in his bed, but wouldn’t the bed still collect with the dog’s hair and dander and paw dirt and what-have-you?
The point being: When did dogs start sleeping in our beds in the first place? And how did we come to define this as the norm?
Hand to God, I want to want a dog. I just wish I’d gotten one before dogs became human. I’m betting, however, that Samantha will break us down yet. Every time she sees a hairy little face hanging out of some college girl’s purse, her expression melts. The other night she named the fly she found buzzing around our bathroom. She called it Buzzer.
But if we do break down, you can bet this master will be a little more old-paradigm than her daughter might expect. Soul or no soul, our dog will be a dog. And just so we’re clear, that dog whose master died in the car accident? The one who was supposedly finding its heroic way back home across three states? That poor animal was found wandering aimlessly, nowhere near its home.
I’m just sayin’.