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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.