NOTE: This sweet girl unexpectedly passed away on Christmas night a few weeks ago. Her loss has hit us very hard and I’m reminded of how much we shared during our 9 years together.
I don’t know the exact moment when I became a dog person. It certainly didn’t happen right away when we got our Golden Retriever. She was a very cute puppy and much adored, but since she was also a lot of work her cuteness was overlooked sometimes from sheer exhaustion or simply because it was camouflaged by her own poop. One night she just seemed to go from a round sharp-toothed ball of 20 pounds to an angular shaggy beast of 80 with chronic gas.
Two and a half years later it still surprises me that we have a dog, and I was one of the main forces that pushed to get one, my dog crazy then five year old being the driving force. I have always considered myself more of a cat person even though I grew up having both. I think feline narcissism and independence make them easier pets to deal with from an adult perspective. It really is all about them. Cats do their own thing, make their own way in the world, and generally figure things out on their own. And while cats like people, they can certainly do without them for extended periods of time.
Dogs on the other hand are needy and insecure creatures with little to no sense. They need a great deal of instruction and intervention. I had to teach the dog how to get up and down stairs. She needed lessons for jumping on couches and beds. We’re still working on getting the Retriever to actually retrieve. An untold number of rocks have been pulled from her mouth. Add to that broken bits of plastic, glass, metal, clumps of sod, packets of silica, cardboard, and countless toys. I’ve never owned a cat or seen a cat – even the most feral of cats – try to eat something with absolutely no nutritional value while our dog would happily eat her weight in My Little Pony, Playmobil, and paper if left to her own devices.
Shall we discuss the endless wonderment that is dog poo? Prairie looks at it as though it was the finest hors d’oeuvre she could imagine. She sniffs it and circles it eagerly before gingerly pushing her front teeth forward to try a polite nibble as I calculate mentally the money we have spent on high quality dog food given her obviously questionable palette. I can’t imagine a cat trying to eat another cat’s feces. I can’t imagine a cat even entertaining the thought. A cat would find it abhorrent and rightly so. Yet, this behavior is apparently so pervasive in dogs that there are a number of commercial products available to make feces unappealing enough that a dog will stop eating them. Again, something a dog has to be tricked into believing, but a cat just seems to know.
There is also the issue of anxiety. The dog is afraid of most outside noises; men in hoods or hats; swaying trees; shadows; rakes leaning against fences; anything covered with a tarp; the vacuum; the vet; the dark; and wind. Taking her for a walk deep in the woods is to discover that in the face of real or perceived danger, she will retreat behind my legs or try to make a solo run for it. I don’t remember having or seeing a cat behave in this way and it makes her strangely human to me.
I think that must be when the connection was made – the first time she looked to me for reassurance or help in a way no other animal had before. The same neediness quality that had always turned me off from dogs was the very thing that endeared her to me and it only gets stronger with each new phobia. We have a bond that I have never had with any cat, even my childhood Sissy Boo. Sure, he could always sense when I was sad or had a bad day and would find my lap to knead and nest, but he never wanted or needed me to approve of him and he never really needed me for anything. It was a loving, but one-dimensional relationship.
Prairie will seek me out in the house if she hears my voice. She’ll lay with me for hours when I’m sick. But she’ll also interact with me in a way that I still don’t quite understand as being possible. Our walk often takes us by the house of a very obnoxious herding dog that practices the same stalking and barking behavior each time we pass. Knowing that we’re nearing the house, Prairie will look at me and almost roll her eyes and shrug as if to say, “Okay. Here we go. Pretend to be surprised.” We walk past and the dog hides, then chases and barks as if on cue. Prairie looks back at me and seems to shake her head as if bored by the utter predictability of it all. “That poor fool. He’s surprising no one.”
Prairie will never be a guard dog. She’ll never rescue one of the kids from a well. Her food choices both intrigue and disgust me, and the constant need to put everything she sees in her mouth proves to be incredibly frustrating. Her obsession with stealing food is disturbing, second only to her muffin lust. But the dog has a great sense of humor. She is funny in a way that I didn’t think an animal could be, at least a non-primate. The dog can play a mean game of hide and seek and her love of smuggling objects in her mouth never ceases to amuse. Even her neuroses – from anxiety to OCD – make her lovably quirky and give her a real and definable personality.
I’m also acutely aware that the dog has turned the tables on me. I’ve become the needy one in this relationship and she holds all the cards.
While I still have a fondness for cats I wonder if I haven’t gone too far to the other side to own one again.