New parents neglect the dog to messy consequences .
Cruising down the home stretch of a six-hour drive from Dallas to Emporia, Kansas, we exited the turnpike and pulled into Applebee’s.
I don’t make a habit of waking up before sunrise on Saturday and driving my family six hours to lunch at a franchise restaurant. The Emporia Applebee’s simply marks the halfway point between our home in Texas and my parents’ in Iowa, a fair meeting place. The health of my marriage hinged on my parents accepting our family boxer, Elvis.
Throughout nineteen months of wedded bliss there had been few contentious arguments. This is to say that I fold like a lawn chair on every issue where unpleasantness might brew beneath the surface.
It’s as though my wife is a great runner in baseball who can steal a base at any time, and my defensive approach is to let her go and casually toss the ball back to the pitcher, believing that we’re better off dealing with the next batter. Our marriage is a constant stream of aggressive base running and defensive indifference.
As her desire to live in a dog-free house intensified, however, I continued to step off the mound and look her back to the bag. Knowing my success rate, it was critical I never let getting rid of Elvis escalate beyond a hypothetical case.
We bought Elvis as a puppy at a flea market shortly after our wedding. My wife spotted him, I talked her out of the purchase, then talked her into going back the next day for reasons still unknown. It sounded like the beginning of an All-American love story if I’d ever heard one.
But after our son was born, a battle began raging inside our home between my wife and Elvis.
I wanted our son to grow up with a dog. I didn’t want to budge on this. Unfortunately, we were failing as dog owners. Maybe because we were overly protective of our infant son. Maybe because parenthood exposed us as dog-likers when we’d once thought of ourselves dog-lovers. Either way, Elvis became the unintended victim of our time constraints.
Lacking attention, Elvis protested by destroying everything in his path. I tried to take him for more walks, but my efforts proved futile. My wife kept expressing her impatience.
It was only a matter of time until she broke for second base. I tried to throw her out this time, but Elvis intercepted the ball and chewed it to shit, just like every other goddamn thing in the house.
My wife continuously voiced her increased stress over Elvis’s outbursts. Elvis was an unintended victim of our constrained time; the consequence of his angst was general disorder in the house. While I was at work, my wife was now tasked with taking care of the baby, taking online nursing courses, and cleaning up Elvis’ mess. As much as I wanted to succeed as a dog owner, it broke my heart to se her so frustrated. It wasn’t fair. I agreed to accept my parents’ offer to take Elvis.
When we handed Elvis over, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d let him down and deprived my son of the opportunity to grow up with the unique bond a boy shares with his first dog. I was nearly halfway through the potato skins on the appetizer sampler before I was able to shake the guilt.
My wife’s happiness is more important than my pride as a pet-owner. She is home with the baby while I work a full-time job. I owed it to her to do everything in my power to make that job easier and more enjoyable.
In the weeks since Elvis moved to the farm—a real one, not the “farm” where many children are told their castoff pets run happy and free—our life has been exponentially better. We never come home to a disaster in the kitchen; our patio doesn’t smell like a boarding kennel, and most importantly, my wife smiles more.
Thank goodness I never get to make the big decisions. It turns out man’s best friend is actually a happy wife.
This essay originally appeared, in slightly different form, in Pureed Green Beans and Whiskey
Photo by MythicSeabass