What makes some families, including our little branch of the Raihala family, Dog People, as opposed to Cat People, Bird People, or Pet-free People? I’m sure if I googled this topic, I’d find lots written on it, but it’s more fun just to free-associate and figure it out for myself. Here goes.
When I was little, we always had dogs. Sometimes we had cats, too, but only when I begged and pleaded and cried. Dogs were the constant, though. George had no pets at all, not even a goldfish. That’s because his parents were Pet-free People. George’s father is allergic to cats and has asthma—a very scary combination that sort of necessitates pet-free living.
When George and I got married, I knew that I didn’t want to have children with a man who’d never even had to care for a fish, so I campaigned hard for a pet. In college, we were too broke for a dog, but I convinced George we could afford a bunny. The very inappropriately named Snuggles entered our lives.
I came to hate this rabbit. He was evil, an unsocialized full-grown pygmy rabbit, not the sweet little baby bunny I thought I’d bought. As soon as I realized this, I had a serious case of buyer’s remorse but wasn’t sure what to do about it. After all, I’d begged and pleaded for the bunny, and now all I wanted to do was drop-kick him across the room. Generally, I’m very humane and loving toward animals, especially cute furry ones. But this rabbit wasn’t an animal. He was a long-toothed, sharp-clawed, hard-hearted Satan.
George tried to make sure I treated Satan well, let him out of the cage to play, and interacted with him. It’s the only time in our 22-year marriage I lied to him. I felt really bad about the lie, but not at all bad that I hadn’t let Satan out of his cage. I was protecting the universe.
Satan eventually went back to the pet shop, we graduated from college to real jobs, and I set my sights on a proper pet. I wanted a dog, and since George had always wanted a dog, like any red-blooded American boy, this was an easy sell. When George was assigned to an Air Force base in Michigan, it was the perfect time to get a Samoyed puppy.
Before the dog purchase, George talked tough: our dog would live outside like a “real” dog and never, ever go near our bed. People who let their dogs sleep in their beds were pansies. I didn’t argue because I knew better. We picked up Shemya from a breeder in Lansing in February, 1989, when she was a three-month-old puffball and there was a foot of snow on the ground. On the long drive back to Oscoda, George said, “It’s too cold for her to sleep outside. She can sleep in the empty bedroom next to ours.” “Okay,” I said.
When it was time for bed, we put Shemya in her new room with a little bed and closed the door. She promptly tried to scratch her way out, whining and yipping the whole time. When we tried to go into the room to “make” her be quiet, she slipped between our legs and made a beeline for our bed, which she scrambled under, breathing hard and ready to defend her position if necessary.
That’s where she slept for the next year or so, even when she grew too big to fit comfortably. One day, I found George lying on the bed reading, with Shemya tucked comfortably under his arm. I said, “So, the dog is never getting on the bed, is she?” “Awww. Why not?” he responded, and scratched her behind the ears. After that, she slept on the bed with us.
If living with a dog does not have this softening effect on you, there’s something really wrong with you, and you should seek professional help. I’m serious.
Samoyeds were originally bred to pull sleds, herd reindeer, and act like big, furry hot-water bottles. Shemya lived true to her genetic imperative by taking us for “drags” (what normal people call walks), herding us to her food dish, and keeping our feet warm at night. She was the best dog I ever had, and she was mine, all mine. She tolerated George but made it very clear if she did what he asked, it was only because she wanted to, not because he told her to. She followed me around and curled up at my feet wherever I was. I loved her completely.
George eventually wanted a dog who would worship him as Shemya worshipped me so we bought Hoover, an adorable golden retriever pup with a very waggy tail. George was completely ga-ga over this dog, but Hoover was a slow learner, and this did not endear him to me in the beginning. He had two bad habits which rubbed my fur the wrong way.
First, he ate carpet. It cost several hundred dollars to repair the two places he dug up, and since he didn’t worship me, I wasn’t inclined to forgive easily. When he disemboweled a pillow while we were outside doing yard-work, George finally conceded that Hoover needed to be crated when we weren’t with him.
Second, he pee-walked. If he needed to go, he would just walk around the house leaving a twenty-foot long trail of pee drops on the carpet. We tried the “humane” way of house-breaking, but Hoover wasn’t getting it. By the time he was six months old, I had had it with pee-walking. The last time he did it, I had George grab him, beat his behind, and throw him outside. Far from being traumatized, Hoover just looked at George as if to say, “Well, go figure. I guess you don’t like my doing that. Who would have thought?” He never pee-walked again.
When Hoover developed kennel cough, I finally softened toward him. Staying up all night to make sure your dog doesn’t die bonds you, somehow. Hoover, however, didn’t respect me until long after Shemya died. George deployed to Florida in 2005 for more than four months, and to Hoover’s way of thinking, this constituted abandonment. He transferred his adoration to me for no other reason than I was there. Now I love the dog dearly and am quite as goofy over him as I ever was over Shemya.
Dog ownership has brought out behaviors in us that Pet-free People might find bizarre. For example, George and I have conversations where one of us pretends to be the dog. If Hoover is quivering with riveted attention on my spoon as I eat ice cream, George might say in a goofy voice, “Uh, Mom, are you going to give me some of that? Please, please, pretty please!” And I might reply, “I'll let you lick the bowl, Hoover-McDoover.” Sometimes, however, the dog is rude. George might tell Hoover to jump up on the bed, and I might reply for Hoover, in a very grouchy voice, “Screw you, dude. I’m not jumping on that bed. I’m old and have arthritis. Piss off.” Hoover has quite the potty mouth at bedtime.
Then there’s the baby talk. George and I prided ourselves on not using baby talk with our children, who both have excellent vocabularies for their ages. But the dogs…let’s just say our Shemmer-wemmers and Mr. McFuzzykins reacted positively to silly baby talk and leave it at that.
Reading back over this very unscientific essay, I conclude that Dog People just want to be worshipped. Fish, satanic bunnies, and cats don’t “do” worship, so perhaps people who prefer them as pets just don’t need to be considered gods. Ultimately, I think dogs give us unconditional love we can’t get anywhere else, and as long as we can put up with the poop, fur, and general inconvenience, we revel in their adoration.
On the other hand, being worshipped by a dog transforms humans into fairly ridiculous, sappy, love-struck fools who worship their worshippers in return. These canine fur-balls worm their way into our hearts and teach us to appreciate the simple joys in life, such as just being in the presence of our loved ones, getting a belly rub, or barking at the UPS man, who, as every dog knows, has come to kill us all.
Love makes fools of everyone eventually, and at the end of the day, we Raihalas are goofy fools with a fuzzy friend who thinks we’re gods. That’s certainly better than being scratched-up, bitten fools with Satan the pygmy bunny for a pet.
That may be why we’re Dog People.