I have disliked dogs, quite intensely, for most of my life. They smell. They have no sense of personal space. Their movements are startling, confusing and sometimes scary. They feel no shame about their bodily functions.
While I don’t really feel any compulsion to have a cat in my space either, I can at least respect cats’ pre-programmed horror of faeces. They go out of their way to shield you from that horror.
My boyfriend has always told me that the reason dogs make me uncomfortable is that I can’t accept unconditional love. He may have had a point because my immediate reaction when he first put forward this theory was to argue that you can’t trust unconditional love. If the giver of love can’t tell whether you’re worthy of it or not, how can it mean anything? How can you possibly feel any kind of affirmation from knowing you’re loved by something so undiscerning that it would love whomever was closest to it at the time?
So the decision to get a puppy was a surprise. It was a surprise gift for my boyfriend, but it was probably even more surprising for me. It was like I had become possessed by some other person; a well-adjusted, balanced stranger who felt so excited by the idea of giving his boyfriend something he knew he would adore that he didn’t even scream at the prospect of a dog’s neediness. Even though this magnanimous spirit possessing my body as I searched Gumtree for puppies was clearly someone else, I allowed myself to feel proud that I had made emotional progress. All my years of therapy had paid off! And I could confidently report that I was ready to accept unconditional love in my next Monday evening therapy session.
The changes that took place in me in the weeks leading up to the arrival of the pup were nothing compared to the complete transformation that occurred once he had arrived. Reginald the Pug was so cute it defied science (so much cuteness in so little space? Impossible). I became besotted with him to the extent that I found myself missing his little squashed face and sad expression the moment I got to work. I had to be told by a number of friends to go easy on the picture postings to Facebook. I had become one of those obnoxious parents who spam the world with their doting. I hate those people. And I had become one.
It must be infuriating to parents of real human babies to hear that pets are just like children. I mean, it’s not like the parents of puppies have to save up for university or try and instil a sense of generous, non-judgemental morality and good manners. But the thing is, a puppy really IS like having a child. It’s Parenthood-Lite.
When Reggie came along it was the end of a good night’s sleep. We were woken multiple times every night for toilet breaks and, in the beginning, the whole house was a toilet. It may not have been squelched up in a nappy, but wiping the floor clean of poop is almost as revolting. There were chew-toys all over the house as if we were the kind of disgusting people who don’t even care if they’ll ever be featured in Visi. My boyfriend and I had arguments over who was going to be the disciplinarian and who got to be “good cop” and how to balance it out so that the pup still loved both of us but knew what he could and could not do. Sex became awkward when he was making eye contact from his bed and we were worried he was going to be bullied at daycare. He is a very trusting, friendly pup, and we all know where nice guys finish at school.
Can we take a moment to appreciate just how ridiculous the concept of doggie daycare is in the first place? Who knew that dogs needed daycare? It helps to socialise them, I’ve now discovered, and is important for their development. But the process of finding a suitable daycare was so suburban I felt like I’d aged ten years and should be driving a Range Rover.
There was a waiting list that you needed to get your puppy onto long before he was ready. There are classes (small, medium and big dogs) and even, at the first place we applied, an interview! Your dog attends daycare for a morning and is evaluated before being told whether or not he can join full time. At that particular daycare they also have classical musical hour, scheduled nap-time and one-on-one playtime with the faculty. In the end we went for a more low-key, less private-school option in Sea Point and I think he’s much better off for it.
After six months of this new life I finally get what all the fuss is about. Despite all the admin and duties, despite the smells and the worries, having a little furry friend in the house is undeniably good for the soul. It’s enlivening to be surrounded by something with so much excitement for life. It gets you out of the house more – on walks, into the park or mountains or beach.
My little pug adores me so much that he follows me around wherever I go, even if it’s just going upstairs to find a book or taking out the trash. He is happy just hanging out with me on the couch, or napping next to me while I work. What I never understood before is that it’s a companionship without any expectations. That’s a new experience for an introvert like me, and the reason his demands on my time don’t make me feel claustrophobic. You don’t need to talk. You don’t need to do anything at all. He’s just happy knowing you’re there.
But the real reason getting a puppy is like having children, I think, is that it makes you feel like a family. And not in the crazy Christian Republican way, but in the way where you look at the person that you love and see him nurturing, loving and getting joy from a little creature that is completely dependent on the two of you, and it makes you love that person a little more.