At the beginning of any relationship, there is often a carefully orchestrated release of information to make yourself seem more attractive to your potential partner.
In what would now be generously referred to as “alternative facts,” the majority of the embellishments I would share when I first met Jen regarded my relative interest/experience in doing anything remotely outdoorsy. For example, walking 8 miles after your car breaks down sounds an awful lot like hiking.
But the one trait I would have a hard time talking my way around was my love, or lack thereof, of dogs. For that, I would be put to the test when I met Jen’s overprotective, 160 lb roommate. A feisty gal with personal space issues who just happened to be a Great Dane named Tula.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate dogs. Or even dislike dogs. But I have just never had the bond with them that most people do. I don’t want to be kissed or licked by a dog. If anything, I would give them a firm, respectful handshake. Which would require me to take the time to train a dog how to shake. Which is a real Catch-22.
While Jen grew up as an erstwhile Dr. Dolittle, living in what sounds like it may have been a discount pet store, I grew up with a dog named Spanky who was treated more like an animal who happened to rent a room from my parents. My only other dog experience came when I lived with my brother, whose dog Rub was a laid-back Spuds Mackenzie lookalike who was fond of eating loafers. And nickels. And the occasional downspout.
As I got to know Jen’s dog Tula, I found out that she was a gentle giant. As if Godzilla decided that instead of smashing Tokyo, she would rather lay on a futon mattress and watch squirrels at the front window.
Over the next couple of years, I would become the step-father Tula never had. And possibly never wanted. We grew into a comfortable routine of her scaring the hell out of me when I would wake to find her an inch from my face and having to keep her distracted by throwing pepperoni across the room like tiny cured-meat rodeo clowns in order to eat some pizza in peace.
When we found out that Tula had cancer, I accompanied Jen across the state for chemo treatments at a hospital that also specialized in farm animals. Chances are pretty good that I will never again have to extend a trip due to an incident involving radioactive horse urine.
When the day came that Tula got so sick that Jen had to make the choice to put her down, I was genuinely sad. Not just because the person I loved had to say goodbye to someone that she loved, but maybe, just maybe, because I had grown to love her too.
For the next several years, as Jen and I started a family, the subject of a new dog would surface frequently. With Jen contemplating a puppy each time she was set to be on maternity leave since she would “be home anyway.” In hopes of delaying the addition of a dog to our household for as long as possible, I would dance around the subject by using every Mom’s passive-aggressive favorite: “I trust that you will make the right decision.” As steam would shoot from Jen’s ears, she would slowly realize that having a newborn would already take up roughly 25 hours of our day.
I held out as long as I could, but when you are pitted against someone who once threatened to get a hog because you told her that she couldn’t, you can only last so long.
Two years ago, we brought home a Chocolate Lab named Barry, so named by our son Matthew because he “loves to bury bones.” Little did we know how prophetic that would be as Barry (Bear for short) has now turned our backyard into a permanent trip hazard in an effort to hide rawhides from some phantom intruder. But who really needs rawhides when you can eat the screens out of basement windows and chew on the gas meter?
Luckily for Barry, he has a lot of fans in our house. Jen and Matthew both adore him, and Kate loves him the same way that she loves me. By that I mean that she tells him that she loves him one moment and then tells him to leave her alone and not touch her the next. It is really, really sweet.
So, in the cheesy 80’s family comedy that is our life, I have definitely been cast as the curmudgeonly father who gradually gains a begrudging admiration for the family dog. Only to have that dog knock over the Christmas tree as the credits roll.
So, maybe I still don’t love dogs. But I love people who love dogs. So I guess that makes me a “dog person.”