Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash: Ode to dogs, and does loving her (now a him) make me gay?

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

Editor’s Note: Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here

Matt, I want a puppy, but fear I can’t care for one. Whatever shall I do? — Megan M.

You sound like my newly married friends, fretting as to whether they’re ready to have children. So I’ll tell you what I tell them: stop worrying. It’s not as daunting as it looks. Just buy a decent cable package with lots of channels, and sit back and watch as the kids practically raise themselves.

I’m not actually convinced that children are for everybody, however, since kids do tend to be a little more high-maintenance, not to mention expensive. But it’s one of my staunchest beliefs that everyone should have a dog. If you don’t have a dog, chances are you have no moral center, fail to enjoy enjoyment, and likely hate yourself (and who could blame you, since you don’t have a dog).

I’m not saying that dogs make us more virtuous people. Wait, I am saying that. Dogs take us outside of our own heads. They force us to care about someone other than ourselves. They make almost no demands, while expressing unconditional love. (Or maybe they just want to be fed — it is a fine line between love and codependency).

Dog skeptics will say that I’m delusional. That dogs do not in fact make us more virtuous. After all, Hitler loved dogs. To which I say, yes, Hitler loved dogs, and had some issues. But as awful as he was, there’s no telling how much worse he would’ve been without the company of his German Shepherds, Blondi and Bella (not to mention Eva Braun’s Scottish Terriers, Negus and Stasi). What does Hitler loving dogs prove? About as much as Hitler hating smoking. (Does that mean you anti-dog types are going to start pro-smoking campaigns because Hitler would’ve hated them? Of course not, because you anti-dog ninnies are precisely the kind of people who think smoking is more unforgivable than the Holocaust.)

What kind of dog you should buy or rescue is entirely up to you. I suggest a big one, since it gives you more dog to love. I’ve had a lot of dogs — mostly mid-sized in the 60-80 lb. range. And while they’re all co-equals in the Book of Memory, I can honestly say I’ve never been happier than I am with my current overgrown behemoth, Moses, a Bernese Mountain dog. He tips the scales at 140 lbs. last we checked. (Though we’ve mostly stopped weighing him, because we don’t want him to develop a negative body-image, what with all the pictures of impossibly slimmer dogs in all the dog magazines). With Moses, in fact, it’s less like owning a dog, more like owing a black bear with white spats who sleeps a lot. Here’s the handsome bastard now:

And here he is fishing alongside a considerably uglier bastard, waiting for me to land a fish so he can practice his strict lick-and-release policy:

Was he always this companionable? No. When we brought him back from North Carolina as an eight-month old pup after locating him through a rescue service (his original family couldn’t handle his bear-like properties), he made himself at home by quickly leaving a pile on the floor, then jumping up on the couch and snarling menacingly when I tried to move him. The next morning, in the front yard, he ripped the shirt off of my then 4-year-old son, and treed him. (“Mom, Dad!” we heard our shirtless progeny crying while standing on a low branch of a magnolia while Moses sat beside it, looking on nonchalantly with the boy’s shirt hanging from his mouth, “Moses won’t let me down.”)

After proper training, of course, Moses is now the most affectionate animal I’ve ever had, and would much rather lay his oversized head in your lap than disrobe your children. We didn’t just change him, however. He changed us. Now when we send the kids outside with the dog, we pack them provisions, just in case they’re treed for a few hours. We learn from each other this way.

So if you want to be happy, centered, fulfilled — buy a dog, now. Or go pick one up from the pound. If you’re fine with your empty days bleeding into soulless nights as you lead a chilly, cheerless, and ultimately pointless existence, then go ahead and stay dogless. Or stick with cats. Either way.