I never wanted a dog. I agreed to getting one, but in much the same way one would agree that it's time to go to the dentist.
I'm not an avowed dog-hater. I quite like dogs, a fact I had to hide from my family. Growing up, I had dogs and loved them dearly. But these were small-town dogs living life "old-school." They ran around the neighbourhood at will. We called them to the basement door to eat their bulk kibble mixed with - horrors - table scraps. "Walking the dog" simply meant one was walking somewhere and decided to call the dog to come along. Grooming meant taking turns with the kitchen scissors clipping and sawing off wads of hair with the dog flopped out on the lawn.
Twenty years later, living in Vancouver, life with a dog was a much different animal. I had moved next to the dog-walking centre of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, where for years I watched post-walk dirty dogs being rubbed down with towels before being put into cars. Dog spas, grooming parlours, doggie bakeries, raw-food stores and veterinarian clinics sprouted up through the city. This city-dog lifestyle appeared both foreign and excessive, and was certainly more than I could handle.
Despite what is said in advance, women do the brunt of the work in caring for a dog acquired after children have been on the scene a while. The contributions of all other family members are basically symbolic of participation but not reliably so. Nurturing my own small human pack was challenge enough, let alone with the addition of the hefty obligations that came with a canine creature these days. There was enough to feel remiss about; I was not prepared to add a dog to that list.
And so The Resistance began, lasting a good 10 years, becoming a feat of determination in itself. I nodded thoughtfully at the comment that no childhood would be complete without a dog. I suggested that my husband must be dreaming if, while our family consisted of a newborn, a couple of toddlers and a kindergartener, he was hoping we could get a dog. I swallowed hard when told once that I was selfish to not even consider getting one. I indoctrinated our children in the party line that "we could not possibly look after a dog properly," a line they tried bravely to deliver with conviction. I smiled mechanically at the adorable new puppies my children's classmates displayed in the schoolyard.
The defence stayed strong until my then eight-year-old daughter, for fun, wrote and illustrated her own dog-care manual, fit for distribution by the SPCA. This thing was unbelievable. Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan could consult this kid. My conviction wavered. Maybe I could handle it now - our youngest child was in kindergarten. Maybe I was being selfish. Maybe we could get a dog. The kids would love one so much.
As in all battles, hesitation was death. I gave in.
Our boxer puppy arrived, was adorable and, as predicted, was a ton of work. Maybe he sensed my lack of complete acceptance of him, or maybe he couldn't have cared less. Regardless, he went on to become a strong-willed jumper, puller and ignorer extraordinaire. Training was a humiliating disaster: Our dog cared for neither treats nor approval. Here I was with six fairly co-operative children and one badly behaved dog. This struggle of the alpha female and her alpha dog seemed ridiculous.
Though I kept up the horrible sessions with a trainer and arranged for dog socialization with friends' dogs in backyards and in parks, I avoided "dog people" - the ones who share ice-cream cones with their pet, make their own dog food and tell you their canine's age in dog years. Dog people feel compelled to offer advice - long-winded, authoritative and conflicting advice.
So I took to walking my beast of burden in the dark of morning, before all the dog people were prowling about. These walks were a battle of him walking ahead or sitting and me stopping and waiting. There we were for months, angry woman cursing and sweating and strong-willed dog pulling and stopping, often in the pouring rain. We were not feeling the love.
But slowly something good started to happen. We gradually began to ignore each other. We relaxed in each other's company. We gave up the struggle or forgot we were having one. We became Woman and Beast travelling together, even if only through the neighbourhoods and behind the schools. We became friends who read the paper together without talking. I walk, think, pray, make lists in my head; he trots alongside, pees, sniffs and snuffles. He doesn't pull and I don't stop.
A truce has developed between us and it's a blessed relief. He's still a nightmare when he sees a squirrel. I still holler ill-advised commands such as, "Cut it out, you idiot!" But mostly we walk along, almost contentedly.
He glances at me and I actually smile at him. He checks on me around the house. I pass him with a pat and a kindly "bad dog." On occasion, he comes to sit on my foot, his acquiescence to being affectionate. He doesn't look at me but rather stares in the direction I'm looking.
The other day, he stood beside me and leaned his head heavily against my leg. It was nice. I even talk to him now, almost like a dog person would.
I still curse the amount of work he is, although I expected that part. I just never expected to like him.
But I do.
He's my dog.
Sue Dvorak lives in Vancouver.