Getting a dog is a decision not taken lightly. My girlfriend and I toyed with the idea for months on end; constantly torn about the financial and—more importantly—time suck they are to properly care for. All it took was me being away for nine months and, well, as you can see we finally caved. Bumbumbum! I give you Duncan.
Being a kid who was raised with a jack russell terrier, Duncan came as quite a shock. Not just in size, but mainly because of his personality. Poodles are highly intelligent creatures. Unlike the terrier who keeps busy by staring at a wall, poodles require constant intellectual stimulation. If not, they are apt to become temperamental. Luckily, Kelly and I are in a transitional period, having just moved to Los Angeles from Oklahoma. Since we are both currently job hunting we’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have ample free time. Therefore, lots of dog park days!
I wish someone would have told me how difficult raising a dog can be. Maybe they did. At least I wish I would have listened when this tidbit of knowledge was shared. It’s not easy. My mom constantly says how she never wants to get another animal and I’m beginning to understand why. Animals are exhausting. When you’re a kid you never worry about the responsibilities that come with owning a pet. They’re merely a play thing at your disposal.
Flash forward ten years; you’re in your twenties and, yes, they are still play things (quite fun ones at that), but now you worry about basic necessities such as keeping them alive. The mental checklist begins: daily feedings, trips to the bathroom, trips to the dog park if, like us, you don’t have a yard for them. You pay hundreds of dollars in bills for immunization shots, neutering, and when you’re dog has a spot of giardia (no more drinks from the pond!). You also start taking into account things you didn’t realize would be pertinent like rescue shaming. Never in my life has such a seemingly unrelated event put my entire character into question. Let’s face it, Californians take that stuff seriously. There’s an utterly horrifying dread you get when meeting other dog owners for the first time. At some point—no matter how jovial your conversation has been—this happens.
Stranger: “So you’re from Oklahoma? How cool! I have an uncle from there.”
Me: “Small world! Yeah, my girlfriend and I just moved to California.”
Stranger: “I hope you enjoy it here!” *Looks to Duncan approvingly* “So, where did you rescue this cutie?”
Me: “Oh, well he isn’t a rescue.”
Stranger: *Long pause* “Oh.”
Me: “But, he really is a grea—”
Stranger: “Sorry, we have to go. Bye”
And if by chance they survive the initial shock, deciding you’re not Lucifer but only one of his demonic spawns, the rest of the conversation turns to making sure the next animal you acquire will be a rescue. Yet, even through all this we’ve managed to survive thus far. From the potty training to the subsequent ‘diarrhea on the bed while sleeping’ incident; to 4:00 am wakeup calls to pee; to the most recent ‘diarrhea on the carpet’ incident (he at least woke us up for this one). All of this and somehow our love for Duncan has only grown. This must be what a parent feels like.
The funniest part about Duncan, which I’ve never experienced with other dogs, is his aloofness. He acts like a cat. We’ll return home after a few hours of being gone and instead of the friendly “YOU’RE BACK!” greeting, complete with wagging tail and incessant jumping on me, he just stares at us, tail motionless, with an expression that portrays, “Oh, it’s you again. My bowl is empty. Fill that up for me. Now.” He also doesn’t like to come when called, which alas, may say more about my training than about him. Half the time he just pretends he doesn’t hear me (but I know better!) and goes on smelling things. He’s made it clear that he’ll come when he so chooses. And petting? A few good pats on the back, no more, no less. The trick is getting him when he’s sleepy. He’s too tired to fight off the love we smother upon him so for those few, brilliant minutes we get unencumbered snuggle time.
If it seems I’m being a downer let me make amends. Duncan really is a sweet dog. I love watching him interact with other dogs at the dog park. He’ll politely ask each new friend if they would like to play. First comes the colloquial butt sniffing. If the dog has also taken to Duncan—which comes in the form of play bow (front down, butt up)—Duncan will immediately become the submissive, rolling on his back as if to say do with me what you will. He also acquired an odd love for children. I think it’s because they are equal in size to him. The problem is he still hasn’t figured out he’s not a small dog anymore. Therefore, he ends up scaring the living hell out of kids. He wants to play. They think he wants to eat them. And since we neutered him a couple weeks ago, his overall aloofness has diminished (we can pet him for a whole two minutes now). It’s the small victories.
Sometimes we are vessels for him, our only purpose to provide walks and food. That’s okay. I know deep down he loves us even if he’ll never admit it. Because for a dog so independent, when he does decide to give us the moments of resting his head on my lap or when he comes when called, they are moments of genuine love. Not because he feels obligated, but because he chooses to share that love. He doesn’t phone it in. Duncan’s been with us for five months and since then we’ve watched him grow from a small, awkward, gangly puppy to a larger, albeit, still awkward, gangly dog. He’s a nerd—like us—and we wouldn’t have it any other way.