National Dog Day is celebrated each year on August 26. The buoyancy our furry friends provide is balm for our Covid-weary spirits. Pets made great companions during the throes of the pandemic. I experienced separation anxiety when we felt brave enough to take our first trip (as I’m sure they did, too. “Wait, I thought we were BFFs,” their imploring eyes and barks conveyed.)
Baby Boomers were the first generation to go all in on pet ownership. Prior to this generation, dogs and cats were found more often in rural America, where they had jobs and subsisted off table scraps and outdoor scrounging. Baby Boomers brought them inside and made them part of the family.
My husband and I started out with one dog, a Bichon Frise, weighing in at 13 pounds. Manageable, right? That is, until Chloe began biting people. I’m not talking about a little nip at the heel; I’m talking about ankle biting sharp enough to draw blood.
She bit our friends; she bit our family; she bit a trial lawyer! Who was really upset! That was it. We didn’t have the heart to put her down. She was a rescue dog purchase who came with ‘issues’, or as my friend Suzan suggested, she was a repo dog, returned, no reason given.
Our self-esteem could not handle having such an inhospitable dog. (My husband and I fancy ourselves to be hospitable people, wanting our guests to feel warm and welcome, not screaming and bleeding.)
So, we did the only logical thing; we bought a second dog. A labradoodle puppy.
We spent 10 years in the company of a 60-pound, sweet, charcoal gray, not too bright Labradoodle, and a 15-pound mean, white, wicked-smart Bichon Frise. Chloe was the brains, Jozy the brawn within this dynamic duo.
My grandma name became Jozy as a result of the dog’s persistent presence in FaceTime exchanges with my granddaughter. Maya associated the name with me and began calling me Jozy. (Our family has a history of naming people after pets. Maya’s brother was named Rusty in honor of their first Labradoodle.)
These two have taken up a good bit of psychic, physical, and financial real estate in our home and budget. Twice-a-day walks are a must to keep the dog poop from overwhelming our 2000-square-foot back yard.
Their organic, grain free, non-allergenic, senior dog food costs $70 a bag. And don’t get me started about the price of our Vet bills (x 2 where the tech never failed to up-charge at every visit). Then there is the $50 per day charge for a dog sitter to stay in our house (because we couldn’t risk boarding a biting Chloe) when we had the audacity to leave them for work or fun.
Dogs are hyper-aware of nuances – opening a certain dresser drawer cued them I was about to put on a bra, which inevitably meant I was leaving the house. Chloe took her job as chief of our security quite seriously. As deputy, Jozy’s job was to use her husky, deep voice to scare away possible intruders.
A squirrel passing gas three streets away still elicits a good 15 minutes of barking. Of course, if actual human strangers lurk in our yard, nary a yip can be heard. They reminded me of canine secret service agents. I really could picture them in sunglasses alerting each other of our movements by talking into the wires concealed in their fur.
God forbid we would make a move to go upstairs. The murmuring would commence: “They’re heading up,” Chloe would whisper into her paw. “Got ‘um,” would come the immediate reply. “You coming? Wait, she closed the door, LEAVING US OUT,” Jozy would wail.
Chloe would roll her eyes. “For heaven’s sakes, Jozy, it’s been 10 years. You know the drill by now. You know they can’t live without us at their side. Mom and Dad just think they need a little alone time. Watch and learn, again,” at which point she would start scratching and throwing herself against the door.
“They will relent, feel bad about us, and let us in sooner than later,” she explained patiently, if not a little patronizingly. Of course, she was always correct and within minutes, the door would open. Chloe, casting a self-satisfied glance back at Jozy, would swagger into the room, assuming her rightful place. “Sure, they get a little mad, but it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Don’t get me started about the grooming of these non-shedding hypoallergenic breeds. These engineered breeds have hair in lieu of fur. The upside is they don’t shed and leave vestiges of their coat all over the living room sofa. The downside is they must be groomed. And grooming is not cheap.
About six times a year, we would take our two for what we lovingly labeled a spa day. These spa days typically cost upwards of $170 once the tip has been included. Following one such visit, I asked Chloe if she enjoyed her experience.
“What the hell do you think?!” she demanded. “They put their fingers up my butt, water boarded me like I was a terrorist at Guantanamo, and for intellectual torture, threw me in a cell with a damned corgi, who, let’s say it together, is an idiot. They stuck me into one of those damn tutus for fufu dogs and put a bow in my hair like I’m some kind of fur-kid. I could not believe it!”
Jozy, rarely the complainer, always looks as sleek and beautiful as a runway model. But this still goes down as a “No good deed goes unpunished.”
My hair stylist told me her labradoodle ate a $100 bill. She spent the next couple of days following her dog around collecting poop to sift out the paper pieces. Her bank teller was less than thrilled when she presented her taped-together Benjamin Franklin.
We had to put Chloe down in the early months of the pandemic. I felt like an executioner as I was the one that brought her to the vet. The loss I felt that day hasn’t really gone away.
I overheard my oldest grandson telling our youngest grandson that Chloe was dead. Ru began to cry saying, “that’s not very nice.” I felt exactly the same way. Jozy is now 12 and plagued with arthritis and other ailments. I can’t bear the thought of losing her too.
It’s kind of amazing the spaces they fill in our lives after our nests empty. Caring for others, even those with fur, keeps us from slipping into self-absorption and takes our minds off the anxiety of a scary medical diagnosis or the political fractures in our world. Pets foster an environment of loving, a quality much in demand in our human world. (And best of all… they don’t ask for a car or college education!)
Pet ownership is an equation. On one hand, you have the expense and effort; on the other, the much-needed intimacy, love, and laugher. I plan to be a dog owner until such a time as I meet up with my dearly departed ones in pet paradise where they live in a leash-free world filled with unconditional love and lots of fire hydrants. That sounds like a great version of heaven.
Do you have a dog or pet who is a member of your family? Please share a story about your furry friend.