Nowadays, maybe half of my family’s daily interactions revolve around my younger brother, Opie. One person will go pet his furry head, and suddenly one person will become two, and two will become three, and at some point, my entire family is surrounding him and cooing if he so much as looks at one of us. But as hard as it is for me to imagine life without him now, he wasn’t always here.
When I was 12, my family and I went to a shelter to adopt a pet. When we first saw Opie, it immediately hit us that he was different. In the midst of the chaos of all the other dogs barking and rattling their cages, he sat in the corner, barely even looking at us. His cage was clean — no sight of excrement — and marked with a little sticker that said “happy.”
Personally, I thought he looked like a very sad creature.
But my mom saw something in him and decided to interact with him in a visiting room. The dog that came swaggering happily into the room seemed so different than the one huddled in the corner. The volunteer took the leash off, and the first thing he did was run to the corner of the room and bless us with the sight and smell of his feces; after he relieved himself, he ran around the room like an energetic puppy.
Seeing the dog adjusted, the volunteer left the room, and Opie transformed once again, whining loudly and patiently waiting by the door for the volunteer to come back — like a lost child. And when she returned, Opie was delighted, licking her extensively before leaving to, of course, bless us with the sight of him peeing.
That’s when my impressed mom and stoic dad decided that he was the one — the dog that my family had been waiting for for the past five years. I wasn’t as convinced, but the prospect of owning a dog excited me nonetheless, and three days later, he was ours.
Our family changed after that. Despite my first impression, Opie’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen — he’s incredibly well-behaved (except for his habit of taking naps on fresh laundry), only ever expressing his displeasure through licking. When we come home exhausted, he’s blindingly happy, huffing and wagging his tail and demanding our full attention. And through it all, he’s effortlessly brought my family a lot closer together.
But as my affection for him grew, so did my affection for all dogs. Suddenly dogs on the street began capturing my attention, dog memes took over my Facebook and my Instagram was full of all kinds of dogs.
Sometimes, I spent more time with my friends’ dogs than I did with my friends, lavishing them with my love. Whenever I came home, my dog conducted a full-on sniffing investigation out of suspicion, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty; I was cheating on my dog.
I’m not blind. I know Opie cheats on me and my family too — he always gets so excited whenever he meets new people, and sometimes I even wonder if he likes the way my friend pets him more than he likes the way I pet him. But what made my betrayal worse was that, pretty soon, I would be leaving for college — leaving him alone. And instead of treasuring my remaining time with Opie, I had instead loved other dogs.
Feeling guilty, I spent my remaining days with him showering him with my attention. But when I moved to Berkeley, I wondered if he would even remember me when I came back.
As my first semester at UC Berkeley consumed my life, I spent a lot of time thinking of Opie — I showed him off to my friends and stared at his pictures to motivate myself. And I tried to fill the void in my heart by petting other dogs.
When I came back home a couple months into my first semester, my old fear resurfaced — did Opie still love me? I wasn’t his favorite owner, that’s for sure, and he never listened to me as much as he listened to my mom or dad or brother. I wondered if I was as important to him as he was to me.
Holding my breath, I opened the door to the car and was greeted with paws and a tongue all over me. Affection and appreciation consumed me once more, and as I sat during the hour-long ride home with Opie situated comfortably in my lap, I wondered why I had been so worried.
Even if I cheated on him with other dogs or left for college or neglected him for homework, at the end of the day, he loved me and I loved him, and that would never change because we were family. Opie isn’t a dog to me, but a brother who will always love me and my family unconditionally, and I couldn’t be more grateful that we decided to adopt him all those years ago.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.