This will come as no surprise to my friends but in a frenzy about the coronavirus early on, when I rushed to the store to stock up, I bought dog food, poo bags and treats. That’s it. No toilet paper, no hand sanitizer, no canned beans. If the apocalypse arrived, I felt, we would be completely prepared.
Because I love my dog. Of course, I love my dog. It’s an old story, old as domesticated grey wolves brightening the lives of nomadic hunter-gatherers 15,000 years ago. Though I doubt paleo dog-love looked anything like the current canophilia happening in my house. Those wolves probably didn’t have a personal doctor, daybeds in every room, a morning snack of almonds munched in happy unison with their owner.
My dog is a small, hairy Cavalier King Charles—of course he is–who sheds so much his fur floats like hay bales through our house. But my god he is cute. Archie is the pineapple of my eye. He is the spoiled youngest sibling of my two older children and is indulged in a way they have never been. He gets fed when he bangs on his bowl imperiously; his stack of treats is bigger and more expensive; he features more prominently on my Facebook page.
The irony is that I bought Archie for my children. I found him second-hand from an online ad. His owner, the mother of a teenage boy who had bought Archie for his girlfriend at a pet shop in a grand romantic gesture, had to sell. The girlfriend was no longer, the boy had moved out and the mother already had a dog and a full-time job and was not prepared for a puppy.
The reason he’s become ‘my’ dog is that he refused to imprint on my children. It is a common problem among mothers I am told. These dogs are not dumb, they know who is in control of the pantry. Archie ignores my children and follows me from room to room, his chestnut eyes intent, questioning, adoring. As a mother of older children, I am naturally flattered.
On the night Archie arrived, he walked into our kitchen and immediately set up the habit of getting away with things my children never could by lifting his leg to the wall and giving it a good squirt. He never did that again, so I’d like to think it was his way of saying hello. He was only seven months at the time. He soon learned to sleep on a new bed, not make messes, accept everyone’s cuddles, eat a new brand of food, come when he was called. In short, be a good boy. Which he is. Usually.
We got lucky. But he got lucky too. An estimated 1.2 million unwanted dogs are euthanized in the States each year. Millions are abandoned at holiday time by owners too cheap to pay for pet sitting. How vulnerable these little beings are. They pass through our lives, slaves to our whims and natures, leaving only memories of worn collars and love. So I try my best to deserve his love. And of course, he is cute.
The joy and fascination with which I interact daily with my dog is undercut by the worry that such kindness and patience should probably be shared with other humans, say other people’s children. After all, in the US, more than 1 in 6 children experience food insecurity while in 2019, the pet industry was worth more than $75 billion. Though I am not a huge participant in this new economy—Archie’s bowls are cast off plastic childrensware and his balls are tennis rejects—I do feel guilty about owning a pet because I know it takes a certain type of freedom, income and time.
But I could never give up this love. Raising children is too often about the future, about all the things I or they must do to be better, brighter, more successful. But life with a pet is a series of contained moments. Like the one I’m having right now. Archie and I are both wet from running around the block in the rain before coming back, happily panting at the exertion and shaking our coats in the hallway.
Now a computer rests on my lap, a cup of tea steaming on one side of me, Archie on the other, snoring like a sputtering propeller. It is so satisfying, so uncomplicated, so filled with love. Archie is a gift for which I am completely responsible. Which is why when I glance over at my stockpile of Gourmet Beef and Vegetable Nuggets and the Turkey Fillet Prime Treats, I know that we are prepared.