My puppy turned a year old yesterday. Please indulge me while I take this one post to talk about my dog and how he has changed my life. Not dramatically. Not ideologically. I have not found religion or quit my job to dedicate my life to PETA (though I am fully in favour of the ethical treatment of animals). But the subtle undercurrents of my life have shifted, become less…torrential.
I have never owned a dog or a cat. The closest I’ve come to owning pets is a budgie that used to sit on my head when I was little and a cantankerous turtle that was my daughter’s 8th birthday present. Growing up, my mom, my sister and I were allergic to most animals (only my vet sister didn’t have allergies and she loved animals. The moment she turned 18 she got a dog.) Oh, and I suspect being a single working mother with three daughters had something to do with my mother refusing to take on a pet.
I get it. Though Clea always wanted a dog, living in an apartment in Montreal with everyone gone all day seemed like not the ideal conditions for owning a pet. Also, I was a working mom with two daughters and other ambitions. I was good at the care and feeding of children but I did not do plants or animals.
Sometime about a year ago, my daughter Clea asked me for the millionth time in her life if we could get a dog. Before my thinking brain could kick in, I responded ok, let’s start looking. After the shock of that yes wore off, we scoured the animal rescue sites, went to adoption weekends at pet shops, searched the online classified sites to find our first ever dog.
No luck. It turns out the market for rescue dogs in Victoria is pretty competitive and we had absolutely no experience with animals. During this time, I went on my annual writer’s retreat with a couple of my friends. I told them we were looking for a dog and my friend Erin said that she too was looking—they had recently lost both their dogs to illnesses due to old age and wanted a puppy. She knew of a family that recently had a litter and were looking for people to adopt them.
Long story short (because it is an epic story of yes! You can have the puppy to NO- sorry it is taken—to a surprise yes! Your puppy is available again!) in mid-November we took home an 8-week, white puppy with brown spots that we named Major Tom Bowie, Bowie for short. (My friend Erin also got a puppy from that litter and now Bowie can have playdates with his sister).
Here is what I learned.
I am a neurotic mother
I honestly didn’t know that about myself until I was faced with this tiny creature that I had no idea what to do with. The first night I hardly slept I was so worried—listening for any sound of distress. I worried about him eating, not eating, getting dehydrated, not peeing, peeing too much. Did he poo yet today?
And I was brought right back to when my kids were small and the constant, low level worry that something might be wrong and that it is probably my fault because I didn’t take good enough care to prevent it.
Sigh. I have calmed down quite a bit, thank god. But I still worry. What if I’m doing this all wrong? What if I’m a bad pet owner? Do I brush him enough? Work on his training enough? (the answer is no). What if I am going to puppy mommy hell because I neglected to do this one crucial thing that nobody ever told me about and I had no idea I was supposed to do yet is still my fault for not just knowing that I should do it like a real pet owner?
Ok. Stepping away for a moment to take some deep breaths.
So yeah. The first lesson I learned is that caring for someone or something sends me into a spiral of self-doubt, hypervigilance and imposter syndrome.
I can’t help it. That’s how I love.
I am working on chilling out on this one before I end up devouring myself like the snake eating its tail.
Play is Back in my Life
From the moment that he got used to our house, little Bowie started playing. And very soon after he started grabbing the chew toys with his teeth and trying to rip them apart as if they were prey, he demanded we play with him. He likes to bring us one of his toys—his floppy duck or his squeaky unicorn— and put his paws up on us until he gets our attention and we try to grab the toy.
Then the tug of war begins. For a little dog, he is surprisingly strong. Once we finally manage to get the toy, we throw it and he goes leaping like a furry rocket to retrieve it. And then we keep doing this for a long time until he walks away to take a nap.
I can’t express how therapeutic this has been, to have this little furry epitome of love demand that you stop what you are doing and be fully present with him in that moment. Especially during the pandemic and working from home, where I am looking at a screen for most of the day. To have these short bursts of unthinking, simply, present moments of play has helped my stress level immeasurably.
Which brings me to my next point.
The Joy Quotient Has Increased Exponentially
Having a bad day? Was there no coffee cream left when you woke up? Did you have a fight with your boyfriend? Rough day at work where people yelled at you a lot in there Covid-19 induced anxiety? Did you just get t-boned by a German asshole in a SUV who said it was your fault and totalled your mom’s car? (that was yesterday- everyone is all right.)
There is only one thing to do: Cuddle Bowie. Just sit with him on the big extravagant cushion I purchased for him after his neutering. Rub his belly and scratch his chin when he lifts his face up to you and watch him smile in total bliss. Let him curl up between your legs and shower your feet and legs (literally) with Bowie kisses. I guarantee you the world will stop sucking so bad.
Since we got Bowie in November, the joy quotient has risen exponentially in my house. I know I have harped on it a lot, but just in case you’ve never read this blog before, it’s been a rough few years. Though the girls and I were coming out of it on our own, learning to put ourselves back in the world and daring to open up to new things, having Bowie has made us remember on a visceral level, one that I equate with babyhood, what it is to feel pure, unadulterated, simple joy and love.
So even if he sometimes gets into my bathroom and uses the floor as his own commode, or gets a hold of Daniel’s pen and chews it until all the ink drips out on the couch (which both happened the day before his birthday) and even though the corners of my mantlepiece and a few select kitchen chairs looked like they have been gnawed on by beavers, he brings me so much joy I don’t care.
I love taking him for a walk after work and watching his jaunty little derriere scamper on ahead of me. I love when he is in play mode and pretends like he is hunting. I love the weird little thing he does when he doesn’t want to walk—it is hard to describe but it is sort of like a sideways-downward dog-butt in the air-civil disobedience tactic.
Okay. One more thing I learned.
I was Right to Not Get a Dog Before Now.
Though Clea was the one begging for the dog all these years, she is the one that is hardly ever at home right now. She loves Bowie, but rarely takes him for walks, or feeds him or is even home to cuddle him. This is not an accusation or a judgement. She is nineteen after all and on her own journey.
But my suspicion that I would be the one taking care of the dog was right. Bowie is my dog. Sylvie is around more and helps more, but I am the one that wakes him up in the morning, feeds him, takes him for walks and puts him to bed most nights. I could not have had this added pressure on me when the kids were little and I was juggling work and kids and the lopsided mental load traditional to the wife and mother.
I Was Also Right to Get a Dog Now.
But now, when the kids are adults and gone more often than not, Bowie is a real comfort. When the girls are gone as they will be sooner than I want to think about, I will have my Bowie to comfort me, to keep me company. The nest is emptying slowly. It is a trickle now, but soon it will be a torrent. There are more nights in the week where I am alone for dinner than there are with my girls.
That’s okay. I have been starved for solitude for the last twenty years and welcome it. At least part of me does. The other part of me feels lost in it, not knowing what to do with so much time. I have been a mother for so long it is hard to turn it off.
Luckily I have Bowie who needs a walk, or a play or a cuddle. As the girls need me less and less, it is nice to have someone who still needs me at least a little bit.