Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Dog Energy and Taking A Plunge

In a couple of hours, our family of three will become four. In a couple of hours we will pick up our new dog, Fergie, a five-year-old Doberman, who by all accounts is sweet and gentle, and not at all aggressive. Good with kids and good with cats, she has mellow energy though will need her exercise for sure. She was raised by a distant friend of mine who is sad to give her up, but who doesn’t have the time to care for her properly due to a new job and grad school. So she posted a note on Facebook two weeks ago, and something inside me payed attention. Matthew and I have wanted a dog. We haven’t talked about it much since we had a baby; there was no huge rush to introduce another being into our lives who would need our attention and care. And yet, we still wanted one, someday, maybe in a year or two.

Enter the Facebook post. Matthew was putting Cedar down one night when I saw it. “What do you think?” I showed it to him later. “Should I write her? At least find out more?” He smiled a conspiratorial grin. “Sure.” And before we knew it, we came to meet her in Olympia last weekend on Easter Day, and here we are now to pick her up and drive her home on May Day.

In recent years, Matthew has been a bit more eager to take the plunge and get a dog than I have been, but mostly this is because I know that I am the one who will be the primary caregiver for the dog since I am home all the time. We had talked about getting a puppy, because we wanted to make sure our dog was good with kids-- but puppies require a lot of energy. I didn’t think I’d have the energy for a puppy while I was pregnant or raising a newborn, and now, with a one-year-old, I still don’t feel like I do. Yet with rescue dogs, there’s always the wild card factor; you can never be sure of their habits and past. But an older dog who we know is gentle and well-behaved, who doesn’t bark or get on furniture, who has been raised since she was a puppy by a friend who I trust and respect, this sounded too enticing to pass up.

We didn’t see this coming. If I wanted to, I could come up with lots of convincing arguments for why the timing isn’t ideal. But I can also come up with lots of reasons why the timing right now might be perfect. Right now, I am home all day. I go on walks every day. It is springtime, and I would love to go on even more walks than I do. Right now, it’s true that I am tired from lack of proper sleep every day and that I have little time or mental energy to write or pursue many of the intellectual activities that I want to do. But what I do have is a lot of time to be physically and emotionally present. To go to the park, to sit in the yard and play, to sing songs, prepare meals, and run a few errands along the way. I can easily imagine how me and Cedar’s daily rhythm will be enriched by the presence of a gentle, loving dog. She will be a companion and source of added joy and delight for both of us.

But there is no “rational” reason for us to get a dog. We are not looking for a guard dog, a therapy dog, a distraction from loneliness, or a symbol of our status. Why do most people get dogs, after all? Because we know from past experience that we love them-- we love the energy they bring to our lives, we love the warmth of snuggling with them, we love their unconditional love and excitement for living—simply put, we enjoy the energy of dogs, and we want them to be a part of our family.

That does not mean that I am looking at this coming change in our lives without a hefty dose of realism. I know there will be days when it is pouring rain and I really don’t feel like getting me and Cedar bundled up in raingear for a quick walk around the block, not once much less three times a day, and yet, I will because I have to (well, maybe not three times on days like that). I also know that most of the time, my body and psyche will feel better after we do.

I know that there will be times when we want to get away on a trip where we can’t bring Fergie along, and when there will be no smiling relatives or friends available to pet sit (my mother has already made that very clear; let’s just say my parents are amongst the few who absolutely do not think it’s a good idea that we get a dog right now). In these instances, we will have to fork over some big chunks of money for dog care, or simply not go on our trip. But, that said, unlike most periods in my adult life, we are not planning any big trips right now, or in the foreseeable near future. A lack of money and a lack of desire to travel too far with a young child is keeping our wanderlust in check for now, and instead our sights are set on short, local camping trips where a dog would be a welcome addition (even if we’ll have to get more creative with our packing—we are quite accomplished car campers, bringing along no shortage of wood, wine, tarps, fishing gear, baby gear, and books on each trip).

In some ways, this blog post is an attempt to explain to my parents the rationale (and lack of rationale) that is going into this decision. It’s one of those things, much like the decision to have a child, in which there may never be a “perfect,” complication-free time to do it. Yes, dogs (and children) are big responsibilities. And yet, I may very well have more time and energy right now than I do in a year or two to take on this initial challenge of getting Fergie adjusted to her new home and family and integrated into our new routine. For all I know, in a year or two, Cedar may take even more energy to raise (I’m sure he will and he won’t, in differing ways), and I also hope to have more chunks of time to write and teach by then. Hopefully, in a couple years I will be launching into a phase of my life that integrates my identities as writer, mother and teacher more evenly, and this shifting will be my focus, my main “project” if you will.

But right now, I am pretty much just here to raise Cedar. My energy is devoted to him, with whatever chores and bills I can get done on the side. I write a little when I can, and I read (voraciously) during his naps, but I feel like I am capable and, now, with this deliberation about whether to adopt a dog, I am realizing that I am even eager to take on more. True, I would love even more to take on more writing or teaching (in that order) if I could, but since I can’t right now (we can’t afford childcare and I have also mostly accepted this period as being devoted to Cedar since he won’t ever be this young again), then why not get a dog now? She will be my new “project” if you will—and I hope that doesn’t come across the wrong way.

Of course, Matthew will share in the responsibility. We’ve talked about him taking her out for her first short walk first thing in the morning and last short walk at night, whereas me and Cedar will take her out for her long walk or run during the day. And we look forward to weekends where all four of us can journey to the dog park or the woods and make these kinds of outings the norm, whereas right now long family walks often get squeezed out in favor of house projects or individual errands or goals while the other parent watches Cedar. Soon, a good chunk of exercise each day will be the priority and not just one goal of many-- and this can only be good for us.

I know this sounds like a whole lot of rationalizing for what, when it came down to it, was a spur of the moment, gut-level decision. We didn’t have a long period of deliberation over what breed to get, or multiple trips to the pound. Instead, we saw an opportunity present itself, and decided (with a decent dose of nervousness and butterflies for sure), to say yes.


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