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Tank, the Pet Accompli

Could you say
Could you say "no" to this 12-pound white-and-black ball of fluff? (Ruth Marcus)

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By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The puppy ate my column.

Not literally, although heaven knows he'd have done that, too. His tastes aren't terribly discriminating, but he does have a fondness for newsprint.

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No, the puppy ate my column metaphorically. He has cut into my sleep, curtailed my newspaper reading, demanded pretty much nonstop attention since he arrived two weeks ago.

I love him. So do my children. So -- or at least I heard him crooning the other day -- does my husband, which is pretty amazing under the circumstances of the puppy's arrival, about which more later.

I should be writing a column about those creepily manipulative "Onward, Christian Soldiers" Rumsfeld memos. Talk about an alpha dog! Or the paradox of Nancy Pelosi. How can the most powerful speaker in decades have stumbled so badly on waterboarding? Does she play a masterful inside game but a terrible outside one? Don't know -- too busy worrying about whether our four-legged addition has to go outside.

This adventure began, as so much does these days, on the Internet. I was a happily married middle-aged mother of two when I ventured into Internet dating . . . for dogs. I was idly surfing through a Web site listing dogs available at local shelters when I happened on Tank, a 12-pound black-and-white ball of fluff who is half miniature poodle and half something else much larger. (Ask me after we do the doggy DNA.)

I made the two-hour round trip to see him, then picked up my daughters from school to visit again. It was love at first bite -- first nip, actually.

There was one major obstacle: my husband, who had previously decreed that absolutely, positively, under no circumstances could we possibly accommodate a dog. My job is busy; his is busier. The kids promised that they would do all the work. Right. They're going to pick up dog poop if we can't even get them to pick up their clothes?

I broached the dog question after my brother acquired Pepper the beagle, and the Obamas acquired Bo the Portie. I was beginning to get the message: My husband's position on a dog wasn't not now; it was not ever.

Neither of us grew up with dogs, but I knew we needed one. We had too much of everything in our lives -- except for the kind of unconditional love that a dog can provide.

I'm not going into the details, but let's just say Tank arrived as sort of a pet accompli. When an irresistible puppy meets an immovable father, you know who budges. Also who picks up the poop.

By the morning after the puppy arrived, Jon was saying he couldn't believe I was so hardhearted that I wouldn't let him -- the dog, not Jon -- onto our bed. I'm not. That edict lasted about 36 hours. (You've heard of the Dog Whisperer? I'm the Dog Whimperer -- whenever the dog whimpers, I cave. I know, I know. I'm supposed to be the pack leader.)

Tank -- we kept the shelter's name, even though, as my mother pointed out, it sounds like one of Sarah Palin's children -- has transformed our lives, and not just because our new interior decorating style includes putting all the wastebaskets on tables or countertops.

We are on the computer -- on our four separate computers -- less. We are rolling around on the family room floor more. We are talking to our neighbors, not just waving at them en route from car to front door. We are in the back yard, throwing the Frisbee for Tank to fetch or, in Jon's case, running alongside him; Tank, having had the pleasure of accompanying him on this mission, now refuses to budge until Jon gets moving, too. Smart dog, he has clearly distinguished between "Stationary Lady Who Feeds Me" and "Fun Running Guy."

And we are happier. More tired -- Jon reported finding me passed out on the bedroom floor next to Tank's crate, lights blazing -- but happier. Every morning, we carry Tank into Julia's room to wake her up, and it is a different experience from the usual hostile grunt. If I had known that face-licking was such an effective get-out-of-bed technique, I would have done it myself all these years.

Two weeks into dog ownership, I have to say, Jon was right: Our lives are way too stressed and crazy to have a dog. Then again, they are way too stressed and crazy not to.

marcusr@washpost.com


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