Longing for a Dog
A non-owner muses on the pros and cons of having a canine of one's own
The cats and I have been snuggling a lot lately. I don’t think they love me any more than usual: It’s just the only way we can keep warm. Even my confirmed non-lap-cat, Rocky, did something he has never done in our 11-plus years together: He came over and plopped down on my lap and refused to budge.
That’s why I feel like a cold-blooded traitor making this confession: What I really want is a dog.
I’ve loved dogs always, but I’ve never had one of my own. When I was growing up, we had one — Daniel the highly neurotic cocker spaniel — but he was really my sister’s dog. He was adorable and often sweet, but we got him in that era (1970s) when they were so popular (partly because of the enduring appeal of Lady and the Tramp) that many unscrupulous breeders overbred cocker spaniels and turned out a whole generation of high-strung, aggressive dogs. Not what my heart desired.
Over the years my doggie love has only gotten worse. A couple of months ago I forwent a much-anticipated human engagement in Central Park to spend a couple of hours with basset hounds (and their owners) in a park closer to home. I met two-dozen hounds and petted and played and rolled around on the grass with them, giggling like a 2-year-old. It was one of the highlights of my fall.
More recently I made the mistake of rewatching Quentin Tarantino’s torture-flick Reservoir Dogs. I’d forgotten how deeply disturbing that movie is. Walking home, I knew the only antidote for me would be some time with an actual dog, and luck was with me. I met Winston, a youthfully exuberant basset, on his last walk of the evening. His owner generously indulged me for a quarter-hour, and images of Michael Madsen’s ear and Tim Roth’s bloody vest were instantly erased.
(MORE: New Dog, Old Tricks)
Scientific Proof That Dogs Are Man’s Best Friend
I read about a study in HowStuffWorks.com that found when subjects were asked to perform tasks under four different circumstances (alone, with their partner, with their pet, or with their partner and their pet), those who did it with just the pet experienced the lowest stress response.
On that same site, I learned that pre-operative patients who spent even a short amount of time with a dog before surgery experienced a 37 percent reduction in anxiety levels. Studies show that people produce more endorphins and dopamines (feel-good brain chemicals) after spending just five minutes with an animal.
And we know from stacks of studies that pets can lower blood pressure and stress hormones while raising levels of "good" hormones like oxytocin, which relaxes us and makes us happier.
The second-best thing to having a dog is reading quotes about dogs. The 20th-century American wildlife photographer and preservationist Roger Caras said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
I love the advice Nora Ephron gave in her book I Feel Bad About My Neck: “When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” (It’s also true if you live with a moody partner or unhappy parent.)
And I recently stumbled upon this anonymous quote that I just adore: “To err is human; to forgive, canine.”
(MORE: 6 Best Small Dogs for Your Empty Nest)
The Down Side to Dogs
With the wind chill factor at 6º F today, I guess I should count my blessings that I don’t have to take a dog out for a walk — several times, including the coldest parts of the day. I don’t have to bundle myself up, an activity that adds about five minutes in both directions, and accompany a finicky animal around the block.
(Or, if that animal were Barkley K. Basset, who lived here for a few months once, carry him around the block. About two-thirds of the way into our walks, that most stubborn of God’s creatures would plant himself on the sidewalk and look up at me with those bloodshot hound eyes and silently implore, Make me.)
A few years back, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the heart-stopping howls of an ex’s new pup who discovered herself locked in a comfortable crate. Once awoken like that, it’s hard to fall back asleep. And I do so love my sleep.
Yeah, dogs are more trouble than they’re worth, and I’m glad I don’t have one. And I’ll keep telling myself that until the happy day comes when my life circumstances are such that I can actually have my very own dear, dear dog.
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