Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend, from Old Dan and Little Ann in “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls to Marley in “Marley & Me” by John Grogan. Literary canine characters oft represent the power of love, unfailing companionship and blind loyalty. Some cultures worship their pooches; Ancient Egyptians mummified their dogs, and Hindus believe dogs guard the gates of heaven. Both history and literature agree: The relationship between man and his hound is sacred and unfailing.
Dogs may have been Rawls’ and Grogan’s best friends, but they are by no means my best friends. I would choose human company over the companionship of a four-legged fiend, intellectually stimulating conversation over slobbery kisses, any day. And no, I have no recollection of being mauled by a pit bull or bitten by a terrier, so I can’t blame my disaffection for dogs on any traumatizing childhood experience.
I did not always possess such contempt for canines; in fact, I have a dog, adopted at my insistence after my parents’ contestations. Starting at the age of 10, I pestered Mom and Dad incessantly to adopt a dog — not just a dog, but a physical materialization of friendship and faithfulness. I read every book I could find in my school library about dogs, from choosing the right breed to training and proper hygiene techniques to Norman Bridwells’ “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” I even wrote a four-paragraph essay outlining why I deserved to have a dog in my most concise third-grade prose.
I was hooked on the chase — the pursuit of the pet becoming my real passion. Motivational speakers love to wax lyrical with sayings like, “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.” But such colloquial wisdom proves to be flawed in these sorts of situations, when one consumes herself with the process, not considering the eventual outcome, which was owning responsibility for a needy creature. In my case, I cared less about having a dog and more about proving that I could successfully manipulate my parents. I found myself blossoming into a resourceful businesswoman, fully consumed by the chase and unconcerned about where it would eventually lead.
A year later, my parents adopted a mutt from the local shelter. He was small and black — think Toto — and we named him Cesar, a variation on the man and my favorite salad. I couldn’t stop cuddling the fuzzy, docile, helpless mutt — until I found a tick on his hide. Our friendship began to fray. In my mildly OCD eyes, he suddenly seemed dirty and contaminated, and I constantly feared I’d contract Lyme disease from him, an ailment I’d just read about in science class. From that point on, I left the feeding and washing and walking and poop-scooping to my parents. They were none too pleased.
I longed for the sterile pages of my “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds,” where I benefited from all the animals’ cuteness but didn’t have to do the dirty work. I liked dogs from a distance, where you couldn’t see their ticks and diseases lurking just on the surface. Once we brought Cesar home, not only was the chase over, the goal realized, but I learned that no descriptions in a book could prepare me for the responsibility, or the reality, of actually owning a living, breathing animal. I had cultivated my expectations of having a dog strictly from books and pop culture. Images of Lassie and Snoopy fogged my practical view of pet ownership; you never see Charlie Brown stooping with a bottle of bleach to dot Snoopy’s urine out of the carpet.
More trouble was brewing. We adopted Cesar on the day after his neutering operation, and within a week of bringing him home, the “fuzzy, docile, helpless mutt” began to resemble his namesake — the Roman general, not the delicious salad. Like Caesar, Cesar became the boss of the household, barking at guests he disapproved of and whining when he wanted to share in our steak dinner. He ruled with an iron fist — no, an iron bark — yipping and nipping at friends’ ankles so much that I eventually stopped inviting people over.
Nine years later, our relationship has evolved into one of indifference. He goes his way, and I go mine; it’s a mutual lack of interest, perhaps even a friendly environment of coexistence. As I head off to college this fall, I feel prepared to inhabit a dorm room with one or two people — whose company I may or may not enjoy — having already learned how to share my space with a primadonna. A roommate may scare away my friends with her antics or whine when I refuse to share food. Or maybe she’ll even lack basic hygiene skills. Cesar will never be my best friend, but I know whatever I encounter next year, my yappy little mutt has prepped me just a little bit.
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