I’m amazed by people who know how old they were for major life events. As a journalist, I end up asking a lot of people to tell me stories about their childhood. Somewhat regularly, they’ll say something like, “I remember when I was 7, my brother and I were wrestling when…”
My brain doesn’t work like that. I couldn’t name a single thing that happened when I was 7. Or 8. Or 9. I can tell you stories from when I was a kid—like the time I wandered away from a house party in Philadelphia and almost cost my parents their only child—but I have no idea how old I was at the time.
Which is all to say that I can’t tell you how old I was when we adopted my childhood pet, a beagle puppy from the pound that however-many-year-old me inventively named Pound Puppy. I’d guess that I was 3. Or 4 or 5 or 6.
Pound Puppy was a great dog. My dad took him hunting, and all these years later, he still talks about what a great rabbit dog Pound Puppy was. He’d scamper off through the woods, spot a bunny, howl, then chase Bugs back to dad’s waiting gun. Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t cook, but one of my few culinary experiments as a youth was coming up with sauces for rabbit—the combination of yellow mustard and chili powder is less terrible than you might expect. I also have a scarred finger from a time I got too curious about a pot of boiling rabbit on the stove. All thanks to Pound Puppy.
There are aspects of life growing up on the farm that, as a city-dwelling adult, seem almost preposterous in hindsight. Occasionally, I would take Pound Puppy for a walk, which meant unhooking his chain from his dog house and letting him drag me down the dirt lane. In memory, the chain was about 10 feet long, and the dog followed his nose, not his child companion. Luckily, Valley Road didn’t see much traffic.
More often, Pound Puppy was simply allowed to roam the farm, wandering freely over the family’s hundred-odd acres. Now and then, he’d go “missing,” not coming back to his dog house by dark, but he always returned eventually, looking for a meal or missing his feline and bovine companions in the barn. He was part pet, part farm animal. He loved to get scratched behind the ears, and he’d flip onto his back so I could rub his belly, but my hand would always come away black, proof of the dog’s never-ending outdoor adventures.
My father believes that there is one thing separating people from animals: People live in the home, and animals don’t. He believes that letting a dog in the house means that it’s no house it all—people with indoor pets are living in a barn, they just don’t know it. Dogs shed all over your clothes, piss on your carpet, and ruin your furniture. Conservatives like to complain about welfare recipients who have cellphones, drive nice cars, or worst of all, smoke pot. My dad, a Democrat, finds it objectionable only when people of little means waste their money on pets. And don’t even get him started on cancer treatments for animals, an incomprehensible waste of money and brain power. Luckily, Pound Puppy passed peacefully one New Year’s Eve, after only a short period of failing health.
I inherited more than a little of Dad’s world view. In college, when I met my future wife, Rachael, and we began to discuss our future lives together, I explained that I had only one nonnegotiable policy—no dogs in the house. If she wanted a pet, it would need to live under the stars, as God intended. In addition to my dad’s feelings about fur and furniture, I also tend to tense up around dogs. I’m not sure why, but they just make me feel uncomfortable. Being licked by a dog would rank up there with getting poked in the eye and being kneed in the groin on my list of least favorite touches.
I held firm in my anti-dog position for 8 years. But Rachael tends to get what she wants eventually. (When she read that sentence over my shoulder, she suggested I change it to, “Rachael is a loving person, and I like to make her happy.” My point exactly.) This summer, she started pushing hard on me to reconsider my stance on potential pets.
In the end, I caved (more on that in future posts). Despite weeks of seemingly endless discussions, I’m still far from sure it was the right decision.
My plan is to use this blog, which I haven’t posted on in years, to chronicle my experience as a reluctant dog owner. Bring on the barking. (Not really; our dog will keep quiet.)