Full disclosure: This not an impartial post. On the topic of dogs, I am decidedly over the top. Perhaps, no, for certain, abnormally partial. I know the name of every dog in my building, but scant few names of the owners. At my son’s school I know a few more first names, and all of the dog’s names. I am friendly with every dog walker in the vicinity and if you have a dog within a 15 block radius of 85th and 2nd Avenue it is quite likely that I have intercepted and pet your dog with enthusiasm.
Perhaps some part of my brain has an overly developed dog dopamine gene floating around in it. I don’t know. I do know I am not alone. My people are out there in force and on the internet… #dogspotting, #thedodo, #thedogist, and yeah you too #dougthepug. So take these words with this knowledge….
We have, to the outside world, two poorly behaved dogs. We rescued them over 3 years ago when they were three years old and fairly fully cooked from a developmental perspective. Both dogs are leash reactive to other dogs, which means if we are not careful they will create a scene if they spot another dog while on a leash. First by lunging at the dog that has been spotted, then by attacking one another. It is like a swat mission to walk our dogs in NYC and the guys that work in my building are on the SWAT team. They are my front men before we head out, looking up and down the sidewalk to announce CLEAR so we can MOVE IT OUT.
This is the opposite of relaxing. This is moderately stressful. We hide behind cars to avoid any unnecessary doggie drama and can be stranded outside our building if a dog and it’s owner decide to park it out front for a spell.
One of the dogs (the smaller male one, Po) is reactive to certain humans and triggers as well. Our little 17 pound fellow was a victim of some serious abuse in the first 3 years of his life and he, I’m afraid, will have a life long struggle with PTSD. It is incomprehensible and painful to observe. If a human is carrying something – like a cane or a broom – that might appear to him as a weapon, look out! Sheriff Po is on the scene and if you come too close there could be consequences. Some people, people that restore my faith in humanity, act with good humor and I enjoy our exchanges. Others react in horror. I am sure they have their reasons, but I could live without their judgmental stares and snarky and sometimes downright mean commentary.
Mr. Po is not particularly fond of any strangers that come to our door and his angry self needs to be picked up like a football to calm him down. Because of all these less than ideal qualities my life with these dogs, as a dog owner who loves all things about owning a dog (long dog walks in Central Park or on the beach in Montauk, taking my dogs everywhere, interacting with other dogs, hikes, and even inviting other dogs over), is severely compromised.
All the things I see other dog owners doing without thought – we can’t do. But they are our dogs, our responsibility and part of our pack, so I’ve adjusted my reality. We love our less than well behaved dogs because even dogs with some downsides add immeasurable value to our lives. It all comes back to the value add.
Our dogs have a whole of host of debits, but with every exuberant greeting, every head tilt and knowing and (I like to think) loving gaze, they win us over. They have quirky, but amusing habits that make us laugh out loud on a regular basis. Every moment they exhibit that unquenchable need to be with you they – without even trying, but just by being – wash away their debits by the boatload. And sometimes when you live with dogs you wake up to this… an immediate dopamine brain rush. Who would’t want to wake up to this? This is a rhetorical question.
Even our less than angelic dogs add so, so much value to our lives. Think about it. Are you thinking? Can you produce in your brain a single other carbon based life form that will greet you every time like your return is the absolute greatest part of their day? Can you conjure up a soul in your life that no matter what time of day or what they are in the middle of doing will drop everything and RUN to be as close to you as possible as fast as their four little legs will get them there? As it would be rude to not return their enthusiasm with enthusiasm, this reciprocated response automatically gives you a good mood jolt no matter what kind of mood you were in just seconds before!!
It is like living with a built in fan base and anti depressant! Do you have any humans over the age of eight that do this for you? Think about your kids when you have to go somewhere. When you say “Let’s go kids,” do they fall all over themselves to be the first in line to go? Do they look up at you with eager eyes all set and ready for an adventure with their favorite person even if this adventure is a meager walk around the block?
It’s priceless really and worth every penny of the price we pay to house our somewhat “challenging” dogs. As I write this I wonder if I am giving back to them as much as they are giving to us?
There are other less dopamine driven reasons to have dogs, but they are not as fun to write about. Dog ownership offers built in physical fitness breaks. With our dogs the we get the added bonus of learning to nimbly navigate parked cars and being on high alert from the moment we leave the apartment trying to avoid a dog encounter. This gives the children pretty priceless lessons in self awareness, street smart navigation, and how to be hyper aware of their surroundings.
Canine companions also create built in chores for the children – including, but not limited to – daily walks, dog feeding, and helping at the vet. Another bonus is found time with the children over the course of these walks – 90% of the time I will accompany the children on their daily “walk at least one dog” walk. I take one dog, usually Po, and they escort Squirt, his female companion. Early morning walks, mid day walks, or evening walks always result in fun and/or illuminating conversations and are a treasured part of my day (even with the SWAT mission feel to the procession).
I think I’ve made my case. The plan for my next dog post (you didn’t think this was gonna be a one off did you?) is to offer up some observations from friends who have recently become dog parents. Focus will be on new parents that were not, prior to this experience, “dog people.” The dog converts! Bring on the converts. If this is you, let me know! We’ll talk. Life and families are better with dogs! So… Grab Yourself a DOG and Give Them a HOME.
For a list of 10 rescues in NYC click here. For a super comprehensive list of rescues by breed click here. And while I would encourage you to strongly consider adopting first our last dog was from a breeder and she was perfection. So not judging (unless you decide not to get a dog….then I get a little judgey). 🙂