In 2018, after two solid years of asking, I finally caved. There was no compromise. The compromise ended as soon as my wife said “I want a baby something” during one of our long conversations about why we shouldn’t get a dog…and that was the end of my protest. My wife and I have chosen to not have children and she knows that this is a particularly touchy subject (you know, the whole rearing of a small living person when I can’t even seem to get my own shit together) and so, from her quiver came that very specific, and very pointed arrow. Bullseye.
We went to the local no-kill shelter after my wife spent the next few days scrolling through social media and found a small puppy with piercing blue eyes, an entire litter in fact. We went inside and I pretended not to be interested, or excited, but I was. Animals are interesting. Puppies are cute. Kittens are cute. My wife picked up a chubby little thing and smiled. That smile. Some day that smile is going to be the end of me—there are worse ways to go. I live for that smile. For those moments, no matter the eventual cost, as a husband we feel an innate duty to keep our significant others happy. I made a promise at the altar and I intend on doing everything within my capacity to keep it; to ride the boat all the way to the shore, in storms and in calm seas.
In normal instances, or I should say, at any other shelter we would have filled out the paperwork, left without the dog, talked in more detail at the home about the dog, and then called to tell them that we didn’t think that it was the right time. But that isn’t what happened. Oh, you have a home? With a fenced-in backyard? No children? The puppy was in my wife’s hands and out the door in less than an hour…and that was that. We now had a dog. I had never had a puppy in my life and here she was, a little adorable, chunky fuzzball. We named her Pickle.
I still don’t know what breed she is. She’s a mutt that came from a farm and was exchanged for a bag of feed along with her siblings. She was adorable, and still is from certain angles, when she’s sleepy. We brought her home and let her roam around the backyard. Soon, Pickle hunched over and let loose what looked like the infinite tendrils of an Elder God. Worms. The fucking dog had worms. And not just worms, but we’re talking like an all you can eat buffet of spaghetti came flying out of this little beast’s asshole. It was unreal. Back on the phone with the vet. Medication. More money. Yada Yada.
We had and still have a cat named Louie. The cat lives somewhere inside the house at the moment, I assume. There was a time when he loved nothing more than to hang out with us, but now the love is on his terms when he appears at random. He never forgave us for the dog. We had tried getting a second cat before and Louie’s response to that was to piss all over my unbelievably beautiful antique Persian rug. Just destroyed the thing. We tried like hell to rinse the smell out, but Louie was serious. He didn’t want another animal in the house. That much was made clear. The other cat went to my sister’s. It was a wonderful cat, super friendly to us, but Louie and her could not get along. Louie is not interested in animals. Louie is only interested in my wife and I, food, and sleep. Anything outside of those three conditions warrants a negative response from the cat. So, needless to say, Louie was not and is not a fan of the dog. It’ll never happen. I’ve told my wife this a thousand times if I’ve told her once and she’s finally accepted defeat. Louie is a street cat from Rockford, Illinois. Half of his fucking tail was frozen off. He doesn’t take shit from anyone, and you could just feel the overwhelming disappointment on his little furry face when we brought the dog home and he saw it for the first time. “Really? Didn’t we already go over this? Where are those new rugs that you got?” Louie tolerates the dog and that's as far as the relationship will ever go.
After the spaghetti incident with Pickle, I made it absolutely clear that the dog would not sleep in the bed. We watched YouTube videos on crate training and videos on general puppy training. Then, it came time to go to sleep. I thought that it might be a bad idea to have a giant kennel in our bedroom, so I suggested that we put it and the dog downstairs. No. This was a no-go. The first night the dog started howling; it didn't cry, it fucking howled like a dying baby werewolf. The lights came on. My wife looked at the dog in distress. I schlepped the damn kennel up the stairs and set it next to the bed, and that was the end of the conversation.
Until, of course, the day finally came when I (being under the influence of alcohol) decided that we could try having the dog sleep in the bed with us. Yes, it was my fault. My wife has reminded me that it was in fact me who first let the dog sleep in our bed. It never went back to the kennel. Once it felt the warmth of our soft fleece blankets, it was over. Sleep was over, as well, which was great because I have a medical condition called Sleep Paralysis and Night Terrors so I was lucky to get four solid hours of sleep before we got the dog.
Sleep was now a taken in opportunities. As were days of sleeping in. Scientific Fact: Puppies do not have large bladders, and as such, they require multiple bathroom breaks throughout the night. We knew this from watching all of those YouTube puppy videos, and while we thought we were prepared, the problem with my sleeping condition is that I can't just fall back to sleep after I stand up. I was trained in the Army to stay awake. So, when I have to get up in the middle of the night for any reason at all, I can't fall back asleep. It was decided that my wife would be the person who took over as night watchman for the dog's bathroom breaks. This doesn't mean that she would roust out of bed at the first whimper. No, sir. Multiple whimpers. Whimpering. Usually, until I said something like, "Can you please let the dog out," to which she would then get up and complain about how she was always the one who had to let the dog out. I would mutter something along the lines of "you wanted a baby something" as I fell back to sleep, only to repeat the endless night crying that now controlled my sleep cycle. This is real talk, folks. Do you want a puppy or do you want to sleep? You can't have both.
Careers do not end when you get a puppy. You don't get maternity or paternity leave when you get a dog. Luckily, my wife had saved up some leave from her job—I hadn't because I absolutely loathed my position and I used up any benefit time as soon as I earned it. We hadn't really thought through the details of how we would both be able to work eight hour days without letting the dog out. Doggie Daycare was, of course, the answer, but we are very cheap people. Some couples refer to themselves as thrifty or frugal or resourceful. We are cheap. We had just paid for the dog, the kennel, the toys, the water & food bowls, the food, the de-worming shit, the vet bills, the leash and accessories...all from PetSmart, which is the most expensive place that you can purchase pet items, because even though we are cheap, that doesn't stop us from also being idiots.
We searched the internet and found a local guy who would watch the dog all day for $25.00. In the morning, I would drive over and hand the dog off to the guy for the day. There were other dogs there from other cheap couples, in addition to garbage and boxes all over the house. He'd take the dog, open the sliding-glass door to the backyard, and she would be plopped in with the others. I always felt guilty when I drove off to work. That guilt then turned to worry about a week in. The food bag never seemed to empty. I asked the man if Pickle had been eating her food and he assured me that he had been giving her food from the container every day. Hmmm. I wasn't so sure, so I inconspicuously marked the food level on her container to see if this man was telling the truth.
The first day that I picked the dog up after marking the food it was evident that my dog wasn't being fed. I played it cool; Columbo style. We went home and I fed the dog two portions, but made sure to not use any food from the Doggie Daycare container. On the second day, I knocked on the door to pick the dog up...and there was no answer. This was odd. The man had never not been there when I showed up to pick up the dog. I could hear the dogs barking and howling in the backyard, but I couldn't get to them because the fence was locked. I thought about jumping the fence, but the bag with the food was inside of the house. So, I waited, and I waited, and then I called his phone and there was no answer, and then I waited some more, and then I called again, and there was still no answer, so then I called my wife and started complaining, and then FINALLY I saw the man's son pull up into the driveway and I jumped out. "Where is your Dad?!" The son looked stunned and opened the door. "I've been knocking on the door and calling for almost an hour!" He didn't know. He opened the door and I straight up just walked into the house and grabbed the bag. The kid went into the backyard to pick up Pickle. I looked at the food container...it hadn't moved an inch. I went ballistic. I explained that I had marked the food and that the jig was up. His father hadn't been feeding my dog. I told this to a teenager, who in all honesty, probably just wanted me to leave the house because I was foaming at the mouth. I told him that we were done using his service and that I would do everything within my power to let other people know that their dogs were being neglected and unfed. And that was that. But what did I really expect for $25 a day? These are the things you don't think about when you get a puppy.
Luckily, my wife was able to find a place near her workplace that was reputable. The cost for boarding was around $35.00 a day, but they took pictures of the dogs playing every day and posted them on Facebook. It was a professional setup...and it only cost us $700 a month if we used them five days a week. That's more than I paid for my first two bedroom apartment in Rockford. We assured ourselves that the dog would only need the service while she was a puppy, because when she got a little bigger and older, she'd be able to hold it in for eight hours. Additionally, I would bring the dog to work with me on Fridays, when allowed by my supervisor, which would cut down on the cost of boarding. In addition to Doggie Daycare, my wife also thought that Pickle could benefit from Doggie Training at a local Puppy Academy, which was around $50.00 a session for four to six weeks.
Pickle was and is smart, but that doesn't mean that she is obedient. Authority figures offer opinions or suggestions; they do not offer commands. She knows that she'll get a treat regardless of the whether she completes the task or not. The tricks are at her will. She did okay at dog school. On the last day, it was 50/50 that she would get her certificate and in the end, I think the lady just said screw it and handed it over, not that it means anything. We didn't frame it. Once Pickle graduated, we put the certificate in my glovebox, and that's where it remains to this day. The truth of the matter is that we were too busy to follow up with the training. Pickle's behavior is our doing. As I stated in the beginning, I don't know how to take care of a living, breathing, eating, creature...so I wing it. If I'm tired and I don't feel like taking the dog for a walk, then that is on me. That's not the dog's fault. I understand that.
As the dog got older, we were finally able to let her stay at home. We put up gates to block her from eating the cat shit in the basement, and from ruining our rugs in the parlor, but it seemed like she would always find something to destroy prior to my coming home from work. And yes, I was the lucky household member who got home first, which is an important factor in any marital relationship that includes a dog. The person who gets home first is on cleanup duty, and dear God I cannot tell you how many times I would come home to find the living room and kitchen completely engulfed in stuffing from Pickle's disemboweled toys. The dog had somehow even managed to get a steak knife out of the sink at one point. That, combined with piss or turds, and working eight hours a day on interrupted sleep would usually lead to me frantically texting my wife about the dog, even though there was nothing she could do about it. We couldn't get rid of Pickle. You don't get rid of family. We had adopted the dog and the dog was going to remain a part of our family until it died, and to say that I didn't google "how long do dogs live" at least once would be a lie.
Furthermore, I was placed in a position that no husband would envy. The no-kill shelter had a policy that it would take back any dogs that they sold. I couldn't do it, not because I'm a good person. I was attached to the dog, even if I bitched and moaned about it. I also understood that if I were to give the dog back to the shelter, I would be placing myself in a position of never being able to win any argument with my wife in the future. All arguments would cease with "you forced me to get rid of the dog". This was the ride. There were no stops. I was a dog-owner. I had to find the positive moments in dog ownership. Eating chips and chilling on the couch. Playing tag. Snuggling in the winter time.
But these moments were always overshadowed by the worry on the drive home from work. What awaited me? Did I leave anything out that she could have gotten to? I hope she didn't eat my shoes. And then I would pull in, enter the house, only to find the trash can in the middle of the kitchen while a little tiny monster jumped and smiled. She was glad to see me. Outside!
We worked too much. The dog was lonely. My wife and I had another conversation about Pickle and she even installed a doggie door with a special collar that would magically open and close when Pickle went near it. We, of course, never factored in rain and mud, which again would become the responsibility of the first person who got home, and I wasn't about to start doing overtime. If we could just get her behavior under control. Maybe we could hire a dog walking service? No. I don't want people I don't know to have access to my house when I'm not there. So, as with most things in marriage, we proposed a compromise. We wouldn't get rid of the dog. I would try again to focus on the positive aspects of dog ownership. Dogs weren't that bad, were they? I mean, she's only acting out because she's alone...what if she had company? What if...we got another dog? I mean, the other dog could wear Pickle out during the day. They could run around together, which would mean less damage to the interior of the house. We already had the doggie door and I was already cleaning up the mud, but rain was seasonal. Yeah, this could work. So...we got a second dog...Marty.
They ate the fucking Chesterfield couch the first month. They ruined one of my favorite rugs. They've gone through two spatulas, oven mitts, multiple silverware, my wife's underwear, a coffee table, micro-sd cards, and one mission-style television stand.
Living with dogs is a love and hate relationship. You can say that about dogs; you can't say that about children. It isn't that I just put up with the dogs, it's that they have become a large part of my life. I would be lying if I said that there aren't days that I wish we wouldn't have gotten the dogs. If I said that, it would be a lie. But there are also days that make up for it. These two monkeys are surprised to see me every time I come home. They just can't believe it. They watch over our house and protect my wife. They keep the burglars away. They keep my feet warm in the winter. Dogs understand emotion. I'm not a granola-eating, crystal-wearing, all you need is love guy, but my dogs know when I need a little extra attention and they are happy to provide it. So, the title to this entry may be a bit misleading. The dog(s) haven't necessarily ruined my life, but they have definitely influenced and changed it. For better or worse, I can never say, because I am now a dog owner. I know that they make my wife happy. I know that they can make my cat miserable. I know that they honestly love my wife and I. I also know that they can eat the cat shit if you leave the gate to the basement open. It is what is it. I would caution anyone, if you are not a dog owner and you are thinking of getting a dog, get an older dog. There are plenty of them at the shelter and most require little to no training. Getting Marty (who was not a puppy) was an entirely different experience than getting a puppy. Sure, Marty is deaf and that variable encompasses its own issues, but training Marty didn't take a 10th of the energy that was required to train Pickle.
Be cautioned. Beware. But most of all, be good to your dogs. Understand that they are animals. Understand that if you do not have the time to invest energy in your dogs, then you are probably going to have some issues with behavior. I have learned to become more involved and to let them into my life, though I still reserve the right to complain. And if you're on the fence about getting a dog, then get a three-year-old cat and go live your life.