unleashed

A friend was out of town for a few days this week, so I did some pet sitting. She has two dogs and two cats in a one-bedroom apartment, so every time I'd unlock the front door there would be a mini-menagerie crowded into the entryway. Unlike my own shy kitty, these were some very friendly animals. The dogs would jump up at me with great enthusiasm, the cats would stay back just enough to keep from getting trampled, and I would have a hard time opening the door wide enough to squeeze through the gap.

I haven't had a dog since I was a kid. I like them a lot, though, and have often wished my living circumstances would allow one. I seem to have taken those entries down as well, but back when I was finishing my master's degree one of our plans was to adopt a dog as my achievement reward. The fact that I decided instead to skip town (and country) and head off to earn yet another degree kinda put the kibosh on that one. At the time I was obsessed with Keeshonds, who are very smart and therefore pretty high maintenance. These days, I'm more likely to fantasize about adopting a corgi or pug. But the point is, I'm not one of those who engage in that ridiculous cats-vs-dogs nonsense. Why pick one when you can have both? In my perfect world, I'd have a mixed pet household.

Based on my pet sitting experience, though, I suspect that's not going to happen, at least for the foreseeable future. Not that it was negative, at all. My friend's dogs (who are, uh, the little white fluffy kind--a few people I ran into asked if they were Bichon Frise, so... maybe?) are adorable and sweet. One was a little... overenthusiastic, but in some ways that's part of the appeal of dogs, right? No, it's just that my suspicions were confirmed. Having a dog, as a single apartment-dwelling person with an irregular schedule who travels frequently, is a pretty serious undertaking. Dogs can't be left to fend for themselves for a few days, like cats. I can leave Fred unsupervised for up to a maximum of four days (although I hate doing that), with a feeder full of dry food and a few water bowls. With a dog, such a thing would be unwise at best, and potentially disastrous. They need to be walked, fed, watered, cleaned up after, to a much greater extent than cats. Especially an extra-low-maintenance cat like mine, who in the almost seven years we've lived together has thrown up exactly twice, and only once done anything outside her litter box. (It was in the first few days after I adopted her, and she mustered the courage during the night to venture downstairs, but then I guess was too scared to make her way back up to her litter box. So she peed on the couch. Hallelujah for Scotchgarding!) Dogs have needs that can't be put on hold.

I also learned that my leash skills are seriously lacking. The more rambunctious pup, in particular, had a tendency to get tangled up like a trussed turkey. I'm not quite sure how it happened; we'd be trotting along, the smaller, more restrained doggy happily clicking down the sidewalk with just the right amount of slack in the leash, while the other would be half-choking himself with the strain of trying to explore every square inch of the neighborhood... then suddenly the leash would be wound around three of his legs, and I'd be met with a baleful puppy stare. It didn't help that he couldn't quite bring himself to stay still while I unwound him, either.

The other dog, as I mentioned, was much easier to handle. Even though he's a tiny thing, however--probably about half Fred's weight--he could still seize control of the situation when he chose. A few times during our walks, he would stop short, squeeze his eyes shut, and stretch his neck while emitting the most pathetic noise you've ever heard. The first time this happened, I thought he'd been hurt: maybe I'd accidentally stepped on him, or he'd had an unpleasantly close encounter with a cactus. He kept up the keening as I knelt down, looking for damage... then stopped as soon as I started stroking his head reassuringly. So that was it. Yes, he couldn't bring himself to take another step without first getting some personal petting and cuddling attention. I had no choice but to obey his command, much to the consternation of his peer, who (of course) is the kind of dog who is terrified of missing out on anything. Hurling himself at me in an attempt to get in on some of the petting action would naturally lead to yet another leash entanglement--which in this case was a benefit, since it kept him out of the way for a few moments while I focused on his affection-starved companion. One dog's cuddle urges sated, the other extricated from his self-inflicted bondage, we continued on our way.

It was kind of exhausting. Fun, but exhausting. Fred's peppiest moments usually involve frantically pawing at one of those iPad apps for cats.

On the other hand, the stereotype is totally true: you meet tons of people (and cute pups) when you're out walking dogs. My friend's dogs are very outgoing and pretty well socialized, so they saw every individual human or dog and its owner as an opportunity for new friends, yay! I had at least one conversation per walk, most with other people out walking their pets, but also the occasional random dog-loving stranger. It really does make you feel connected to the neighborhood. I can see how, if you had a routine, you could make some fellow dog-walking friends. I imagine dog parks have the same kind of atmosphere.

I still fantasize about adding a dog to the family (and not just because I think it might enhance my social life). It's going to have to wait, though, possibly indefinitely. As much as I enjoyed my days of pretending to be a dog owner, the reality is that it's tough for me to organize my schedule into a routine suited to canine rhythms. And unless I win some kind of lottery, I can't afford to pay someone else to handle the daily grind. When my friend told me how much she typically has had to spend to have a professional come in for three days, I nearly fell over. I know from experience that when you adopt a pet, you do what you have to to keep them healthy and safe and happy. It's part of the contract. But for the moment, I'm not in a place where I feel able to make that kind of sacrifice, even given the major benefits that come along with it.

Meanwhile, Fred and I can continue our lives together as a couple of happily leash-free, iPad-loving bachelorettes. It works for us.