Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Married to the Dog

There has been a spate of new books out recently about dogs, their place in the world, and their relationships with people. I have not read them, but I have perused some of the reviews, which distill all of the interesting bits for those of us who don't have the attention span for full-length nonfiction books. One interesting tidbit that I recall from one review is that relationships with dogs contain many of the thrilling elements of early courtship--plenty of eye contact, barely contained excitement at each meeting, endless enthusiasm for whatever boring activity is suggested. In other words, having a dog means that date night never ends. Or does it?

For many years, I have characterized my relationship with my Roma as a marriage. It is a secure and comfortable but occasionally contentious partnership that will last until one of us lies down for the last time. When I adopted her from the Austin Humane Society in 1996, I had to sign a document attesting to my awareness of the many responsibilities of owning a dog--financial, ethical, and so on. I rolled my eyes. She's just a dog. I'm not marrying her. Except I kind of did. And I feel that our relationship is far more solid than my actual marriage ever was in great part because Roma and I have paid attention to each other and learned how the other one thinks and feels and reacts. What's more, we have accepted each other as we are. I understand that Roma is never going to be a snuggle bunny or a comforter. She will show me the paw and head to the other end of the house if I start to cry or yell. And I know that every single time I let her off the leash at Dog Park that she will find some disgusting thing to eat. She knows that we will never get out of the house on the first try because I always forget something--bags or keys or leashes. And I know that she really does want to chase a ball if only that Muzzy would stop showboating and hogging all the attention. We can't change who we are, but we love each other despite how annoying we can be. That's family, right?

This morning on my way home from the eye doctor, I drove past a convenience store on Shoal Creek Boulevard. I remember many, many years ago riding my bike to that shop. I stopped to buy some water, and in the parking lot was a man sitting sideways in the driver's seat of his car with the door open. He was an old guy, with a grey comb-over and a gut hanging over his belt, perched in a Caddie or Buick gulping down a pint of ice cream with a plastic spoon. Even to a naive, young, single woman such as myself, it was obvious what he was doing. He had clearly snuck out of the house and away from the wife to indulge a forbidden fatty and sugary treat. Somewhere a woman was slaving away, making him a healthful meal of salad and baked potato to help keep his weight down or his heart working, and here he was snarfing a pint of Blue Bell in a Quickie Mart parking lot. And later, when he had the diabetic coma or the heart attack, his wife would exclaim, "But I took such good care of him! I watched his every move, his every bite." Oh, my dear woman, I realize now, that is impossible. So, twenty years later, I am like that wife, and Roma is the sneaky old coot who eats things she shouldn't and ignore my feelings while I do everything in my power to keep the old girl up and running. Somehow it works for us.

I suppose I would have liked that early courtship feeling from Roma, but it was never her deal. Take her or leave her; she'd find her own way with or without me, thank you very much. (She survived ten days on her own while lost in Bull Creek Park, with hardly a scratch or much weight loss when we found her.) We share a deep, affectionate respect for one another, but passion it is not. It wasn't until I met Muzzy that I realized what doggie love was really all about. More about that another time.

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