Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Family Ties That Bind

Q: The holidays are upon us, and I must go face my family. Don't get me wrong; I love my family, but I am the lone single person, and I have dogs instead of a spouse and children. I spend the whole time listening to parents, aunts, grandparents, cousins, and siblings discussing the joys and tribulations of poopy diapers, potty training, pre-school applications, day care costs, and runny noses. My family members who are parents of small children and I actually have a lot in common. I think young kids and dogs are similar in a lot of ways, but no one else sees the situation that way. They think my animals are a poor substitution for real offspring. They don't always say so, but I can read the thought bubbles above their heads. What can I do? --Mother of Dogs, Not Kids

A: First, my dear, let me congratulate you for taking the saner, greener, morally responsible way. As a dog owner without children, you have spared the local landfill a mountain of dirty diapers and broken Star Wars toys. You have chosen a quieter, more Zen-like path. You love silently and are loved unconditionally in return. You have saved a life from the streets and are rewarded every day with tail wags and sloppy kisses. What's more, you don't have to participate in the rat-race of school selection and the crap shoot of potentially rearing a pot-smoking ax murderer despite all of the Baby Genius CDs and Wii skill-development games you invested in. Dogs will never drink underage, take drugs, wreck the car, date unsavory boys. They will always forget your birthday, true. It seems a small price to pay. always remembers, as does your insurance company, especially after you hit 40, so who cares?

Now, to your family. Please allow me to remind you that few truly sentient and sensitive individuals actually believe that they were born into the correct family. Most of us look around at our derelict cousins, our over-indulged siblings, and our frazzled parental units and wonder, can these truly be my people? Well, my dear, they are, genetically speaking. But you have looked deep inside yourself and understood that your true people are the canines you live with. They are the ones that look sad when you've had a bad day and offer pink tummies as a solace. They are the ones that know when you are feeling puny with a cold or a migraine and pull a little less forcefully on the leash as a courtesy. They love you so much that they must stand in the same room to watch you pee. They adore you so much that they don't want you to sleep in and miss out on the squirrel races outside your window. Who in your family would do the same?

To be fair, unlike your family members, your dogs never have to worry about losing their jobs or their houses, going grocery shopping, or paying cable bills and car payments, so they can afford to be focused on you exclusively. So, do yourself a favor, my dear. Stop making comparisons. Indulge your family members on the holidays just as you would your dogs. Let them talk over you and down to you. Let them think they have got you all figured out—that you'd be happier if you lost weight or had an extra piece of pie; that you'd have found yourself a husband if you hadn't gone to graduate school; that you have no idea of the bliss borne of the pain of childbirth. They are entitled to their opinions. Just smile and think of your dogs. They are waiting for you at home, waiting so patiently for that little bit of turkey and stuffing you promised them. Ooh, and a smidge of mashed potatoes--with gravy, if it's not too much to ask. Also, pie would be nice. Thanks for writing!

Dear Readers: The Dog Parkist knows that the holidays are a stressful time for everyone, especially dog owners. So do please remember that the D-Pist is here for you. Send her your questions and concerns, and she will do her level best to set you straight. Ta!

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