I sat, for the second time in a week, at the vet's -- waiting. On my right a Great Dane with a runny nose listlessly chewed on my foot. "Pschosomatic sniffles," confided his owner. On my left, a great hairy blob seemed intent upon scratching his way to Nirvana. "Allergies," said the woman on the other end of the leash.
My own story wasn't much better. Max, our two-year-old Golden Retriever, was a nail-bitter and a bedwetter. Which, after a variety of shots, unguents and pills the vet thought could be cured if I quit my job and stayed at home. "Just watch him turn a new leaf," he said, while Max nodded vigorously.
"I am not quitting my job for a dog." I said, pulling Max out of the office.
"Think it over," he yelled. "Dogs whose mothers work have a 90 percent better chance of turning to drugs than dogs whose mothers don't.
"Mothers who stay at home because of dogs have a 100 percent chance of turning to nothing -- and I am not his mother!"
At home I tried to explain, reading the words of Thorstein Velben from the back of the box of herb tea: "The dog . . . commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well-assured place in men's regard as a thing of good repute."
"Reasonable expense, Max, reasonable expense. My epitaph will be, 'She is so poor she could not keep a dog.' Then what will you do?"
Max rolled over and shot all four legs skyward.
"Real cute. Did the sitter teach you that?" He blinked twice for yes. "You were supposed to be working on 'sit' and 'stay.'
"You know, I had a dog once. A real dog, a New York dog. This dog ate his food -- table scraps, whatever -- and went out with his friends: freezing weather, hot weather. Wasn't sick a day in his life and never saw a vet. Didn't have any of the advantages you have: toys, books, big yard. Moishe was a wonderful dog -- no tics, traumas, phobias. Worked had chasing cats and killing rats and mice."
Max stuck his tongue out, dove under the table and put his paws over his ears.
"You're going to listen to this," I barked. "You're only bored and filled with angst because you're not a dog anymore. You're an ersatz toddler."
I handed him his beansprout-and-tufu vegiburger (Max is allergic to meat). He pushed the sandwich to one side.
"Look, make allowances, I'm out of sea salt. Just this once eat it plain. And then pick up your toys; your room looks like a dog house."
From under the table a paw extended with an old copy of Harvard Magazine. I read:
"Dual-career parents -- shouldn't overburden their children with responsibility for running the household; that only cheats them out of their childhood and confuses them about parental roles."
"Max, how can I say this? Children are not usually furry; ergo, you're not a child. And you want to talk 'confusion,' I'll give you confusion: Who drives you and your paws to the vet twice a week? To obedience school -- where you're failing 'sitting,' not to mention 'heeling'? To puppy soccer every weekend? I'm the one who's confused: I'm chauffeur to a furry child."
From under the table came a querulous whine.
"Sure, now you say that your puppyhood is gone -- but who begged you to join puppy soccer?"
I cut up and orange and joined Max under the table.
"This is going to be tough but you'll just have to learn to be a real do again. To experience your dogness, as they'd say in California." He shoved his paw in his mouth and began chewing furiously.
"Dog," I said, retrieving his pay, "d-o-g. You know, like those pictures on the canned food you won't eat. It really won't be so bad. You'll get to play with a rubber ball, learn to fetch things, only see the vet maybe once, twice a year, tops. You may even get to chase an occasional cat or two. How does that sound?" He began biting his feet.
"Really, it's the best way. Fish got to swim, birds got to fly -- that sort of thing."
I wiped the orange rind from his mouth and pulled him into a "sit" position. "I promise," I said, stuffing him into his jammies and slippers, "I'll help you. Every day when I come home from work, we'll chase cats together. Just 'til you get the hang of it."