Having a dog is like having a child—except babies don’t eat cats.
When I tell people that my girlfriend and I have a dog, they often respond by saying how it’s such great practice for when we have kids one day. I know what they’re thinking: plopping down on the couch to watch Parks and Recreation, only to discover you’re seated in something that could be urine or possibly vomit but is hopefully just drool; having to pass on “just one more shot, dude!” to get home, missing the part of the night when memories, at least hazy ones, are made.
These well-intentioned folks are talking about the messy inconvenience that comes with being responsible for another life. I get it. And if that were all we had to deal with, that’d be great.
So while I usually chuckle and say something along the lines of “absolutely,” I’m thinking that if our future child ends up anything like our dog, we’re utterly screwed. See, I’m part of that pitiable parents club that includes Kathleen and William Manson, Joyce and Lionel Dahmer, and, uh, Sam.
I’m the proud father of a murderer.
Lauren, the girlfriend, rescued Sophie, the dog, from a shelter a couple years before we started dating, which was a pretty noble thing to do. Lauren does a lot of noble things. She works as an educational therapist at a “non-public” school, which is where they send the kids that are too bat-poop insane for regular public school. She provides comfort to the 9-year-old who watched her brother get beat up by a gang, and assures the 14-year-old that planting a pipe bomb in his classmate’s locker is not, in most cases, the best way to deal with getting rejected for a date to Cinnabon.
When it comes to getting a dog, clearly, the kind of person who chooses that as her profession isn’t going to prance over to a breeder’s and walk out with some asshole Pomeranian to lug around in her Louis Vuitton bag. No, Sophie’s a mutt. Among other things, she’s part whippet, which, according to the American Kennel Club, is the fastest domesticated animal in its class. And she’s part pit bull. This particular combination of speed, musculature, and jaw strength makes her, basically, the ultimate killing machine. But I should probably backtrack a little before I get into that.
Two Aprils ago, Lauren and I met in a Los Angeles bar. By the end of the night, we were making out while coeds four Midori Sours deep belted out Abba’s “Dancing Queen” on the karaoke stage behind us. We fell in love pretty much immediately because, with a night like that, wouldn’t you?
Lauren was living with her mother at the time, as she was trying to save money while finishing up a Master’s degree in social welfare. So when I came over to introduce myself to her mom a couple weeks later, I was greeted at the door by a 40-pound, yellow terrier mix named Sophie. Our meeting was a blueprint for all future interactions: I stepped into the house, she barked with a kind of bug-eyed joy, then sprinted off to another room, skittering across the wooden floor like a cheetah on ice. A few silent seconds passed, then, right on cue, she tore back into the foyer to shove a slobber-covered chew toy directly into my testicles.
I should mention that I am absolutely what you’d call a “dog person”—a predilection rooted, as I imagine is the case with most animal lovers, deeply in a childhood inability to form meaningful connections with my own species. Like many who’ve chosen to make a living in the creative professions, memories of my early years consist less of gettin’ inta mischief with Tom Sawyer and the gang, and more of reading Mark Twain alone in my room, wondering why nobody wanted to hang out with me.
So you can appreciate how amazing it was when I was 9 and we dogsat our vacationing family friends’ golden retriever, Katie, for a week. For seven beautiful days, I had a teammate with whom I could keep up in sports, an audience for my impromptu bouts of conducting Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony from atop the ottoman, and a best friend who never grew tired of watching me build Micro Machines empires. When Katie’s owners returned and drove off with her in the back seat, I sobbed on my hands and knees in a manner familiar to grieving Italian widows.
It then took me seven years to convince my parents to get us a dog of our own, by which time I had transferred schools, befriended some brilliant and hilarious fellows with whom I remain close to this day, and, thanks to them, actually started to believe those motivational posters hanging above the lockers about reaching for the stars. Penelope was, I’m convinced, the most loving Rottweiler in the world. She came with papers, an American Kennel Club champion’s lineage, and an inability to distinguish the concept of “poop-friendly patch of grass behind the wood pile” and “kitchen floor.” Still, she made up for her lack of decorum with a kind of love best encapsulated in the philosophical notion of agape—its highest and purest form, as God might have for creation, if you’re into that whole thing.
Penelope thought nothing of plopping her 110-pound frame atop my 98-pound aunt in order to cover her face with happy licks. Nor was it unusual for her to curl up on the floor beside her flannel dog bed, so as not to disturb the cat napping in its center. Penelope loved bonking her face with her chew toys and panting and smiling at us as we watched The West Wing, seeming to agree with its cautious optimism or maybe just enjoying the stench of our feet. When we finally had to euthanize her due to cancer, I wept for the first and only time of my adult life.*
If those stories aren’t enough convince you about my borderline unhealthy passion for dogs, I’ll share this: when we go to the dog park, I’ll spend hours playing with other people’s dogs. Hours. Playtime usually comes to an end when I realize I’m starting to get the kind of looks from other dogs’ owners that pedophiles get at playgrounds.
So, by now I’m a more or less adjusted adult (if you count still being on my parents’ family cell phone plan as adjusted) with a group of creative and fun-loving friends, a passion for the outdoors, and a great new girlfriend. Lauren and I fell hard for each other, and six months later we decided to cohabitate. Despite Sophie’s obvious high energy, I was pretty psyched to be moving in with the girl of my dreams and to be getting a dog in the process. I fancied myself a Dog Whisperer type, believing that with enough time, I could turn Sophie’s volume down from an 11 to a comfortable 4 once we lived together.
Which is when Sophie massacred Lauren’s mom’s cat.
It was as awful as it sounds. We were packing up some old cookware in her mother’s garage to bring to the new apartment when we heard Maggie, Lauren’s mom’s Labrador retriever, barking like mad from inside the house. We ignored her.
The thing is, we’d seen Maggie bark at specks of dust floating in the corner. We’d watched Maggie bark at a footstool that’s been in the kitchen for 10 years. This was less “boy who cried wolf” and more “boy who cried weapons of mass destruction.” So we ignored her barks for a minute … two minutes … three minutes … until we finally decided to investigate, and walked into find Sophie attacking poor Libby, Maggie barking her head off nearby.
You see, Sophie always goes crazy when she sees squirrels, birds, rodents—basically anything smallish and furry that makes the mistake of being alive. Knowing this, Lauren and her mother had always kept Sophie and the cat separate, but that day we hadn’t realized Libby was inside the house when we headed out to the garage.
Once we saw what was going on, I bashed Sophie with a pillow, separating her from the convulsing Libby, whom we rushed to a nearby emergency veterinary clinic. To our relief, they were able to get her in stable condition that night. A couple of days later, however, she died from organ failure while still in their care.
I look at our plastic soup ladle sometimes, the one we were busy packing in the garage, and wonder, Was this worth a life?
That horrific night at the emergency clinic, we asked the vet if we ought to put Sophie down, Lauren tearfully prepared to do so. To our surprise, he told us that his own dog had done the same thing and he hadn’t euthanized it, that good dogs kill cats all the time. Coming from a guy who’s supposed to be, I don’t know, in charge of animals, this felt a bit like asking a priest if cheating on your spouse means you’re going to hell, and him inviting his mistress out from the under his desk, saying, “These things happen.”
As aghast as we were at Sophie’s actions, we decided that ending another life was not the answer. We moved into our new apartment a few days later, vowing never to let Sophie out of our sight and spending a lot of time apologizing to Lauren’s mom. The fact that she forgave not only us, but Sophie, should make the source of Lauren’s insane level of decency clear.
Lauren and I have lived in our apartment for over a year now, and it’s been amazing. We cook delicious dinners almost nightly, watched the entire British Seven Up! documentary series, wake up early to do yoga—in short, we’re living the Stuff White People Like dream. And I’m happy to say Sophie’s sociopathic behavior has returned to a tolerable level of mostly harmless insanity. I’ll share some highlights of the past 12 months below, in convenient bullet-point form.
- On a recent hike, Sophie scurried up, then leapt off, a 12-foot boulder, plunging face-first into the dirt, leaving an indentation in the ground. She then bounced back up and sprinted seven obsessive-compulsive circles before squatting to pee on a fallen tree and returning to our hike in progress.
- Sophie routinely growled at and tried to attack our neighbor’s old dog as he was in his final months among the living. This ended when he did, in fact, die.
- On another hike, she bit the head off a snake. Which, after killing a cat, is NBD.
- Her anal glands get backed up, then need to be “expressed” by the vet every couple months. Sophie lets us know it’s time by scooting her anus along the floor—a move I’ve named, in honor of the King of Pop, “the forward moonwalk.”
- Sophie recently did the forward moonwalk on Lauren’s pillow.
- As we crossed paths along Wilshire, Sophie managed to get a blind woman’s seeing-eye dog so riled up that I had to point the woman back in the correct direction (i.e., not directly into an oncoming bus).
Literary convention requires me to transition now to the Marley & Me ending, where I realize just how endearing Sophie’s craziness has grown. Ideally, she’d contract some rare form of cancer or get mowed over by an Escalade while chasing after her favorite toy, and we’d have a nice, weepy ending.
The reality is a bit more prosaic than that. As far as I can tell, she’s going to live forever. And the truth is that having your dog drag particles of fecal matter where you and your partner lay your faces at night is never going to get endearing. That said, among all the insanity, there are enough things about Sophie that I very much enjoy that I tolerate her crap. And I do mean that literally.
- How when you put a blanket over her head, she calms down and eventually falls asleep. Like a parrot, or a simple child.
- How pathetically miserable she is during baths.
- How, when we’re about to go for a walk, she gets so happy she’ll spring from the ground with all four feet up in the air, over and over again until we’re out the door.
- How she gleefully eats bugs out of the air.
- How much she loves freshly grated parmesan cheese.
- How she has a ridiculous underbite.
- How, when Lauren and I watch TV, Sophie plops herself between us with a sigh, like she’ll reluctantly agree to be normal, just for a little bit.
So while Sophie & Me won’t be coming to a theater near you any time soon, the fact of the matter is I love Sophie—at least as much as any man can love a creature that would eat him if he were made of parmesan cheese. Scroll through my phone and you’ll find it filled with photos of the beast. And, at any given moment, if I’m not writing or looking at photos of people I don’t know on Facebook, I’m probably chasing Sophie around our one-bedroom apartment, stomping on the hardwood floors, knocking paintings from the walls, and annoying the hell out of our neighbors.
And I think that love I have for her is important, for a couple reasons. One has to do with the fact that I can identify with Sophie’s weirdness, her occasional inability to connect with other dogs, even her cold-blooded murder (in my case, involving a BB gun when I was 12, a rabbit, and a one-in-a-million shot that ended, once again, in pre-adolescent tears). So in a bizarro way, being able to love Sophie has a lot to do with my being able to love …
Rabbit … porn? No, myself! That’s it! Being able to love Sophie is like being able to love my own weird self!**
And the other, less child-of-the-’80s part of it is that, if I can love Sophie despite her many, many, many flaws, it’s probably good practice for being able to do so when it comes time to bring an actual human into this world. A human that will, at times, disappoint, disgust, surprise, horrify, shock, humiliate, surprise, enamor, entertain, and, every once in a while, bring pride, contentment, and a tremendous amount of joy to Lauren and me. That, more than the ability to tolerate an onslaught of feces and bile, is probably what matters most.
So I guess the take-away from this little self-help session is, when Lauren and I do someday have a baby: stay far, far away.
* The tears I shed during the opening sequence of Up don’t count. I had popcorn salt in my eye and will punch you in the neck if you try to say otherwise.
** That sound you hear? That’s the sound of psychiatrists across the country sighing at the loss of several hundred billable hours.
—Photo Michelle Tribe/Flickr