I can’t go anywhere without seeing one, it seems. It doesn’t matter if I’m out running errands or on an evening walk in my neighborhood. Sooner or later I’ll catch a glimpse of a lolling tongue, a pair of floppy ears, a tail flying like a flag.
I’m between dogs at the moment. It’s been about a year and a half since my family said goodbye to Casey, the dog I grew up with. I was the one who picked her out when I was just 10 years old, a shivering puppy, black against the January snow. Over the years, I’ve learned the truth of the motto: “When all else fails, hug the dog.” But now she’s gone.
I just moved into a rental home, shared with a roommate. It’s cozy and filled with charming nooks and crannies, but it won’t be the place I adopt a new furry companion. People are welcome, but dogs are not.
When I thought about what I wanted my life to look like at this point, I pictured a dog. I pictured a significant other, as well. But dogs are easier to acquire, at least in theory.
As I approach my 30th birthday, many of my friends are in the thick of having children. They sigh and hold out their hands to receive other people’s new babies, welcoming the proximity to something they hope for, or something on the way. The road to parenthood, as with so many things about adulthood, is seldom linear or easy to traverse. They look at the babies in their strollers the way I look at puppies. They connect with those soulful eyes and are gripped with longing — just as I am when I see a Golden Retriever.
I’m convinced that we all want something just a little out of our reach. It adds insult to injury when I think that I should be able to reach it by now.
But more than that, my dog was a link to my childhood. She used to sleep on my bed when I was scared. When I was upset, she knew it, and would stick close to me while I cried. When I poured out my heart about middle school boy problems, I could swear she listened sympathetically. She is still the reason I can’t leave anything on the kitchen counter, even though she was too creaky in those last years to snatch sandwiches and steaks anymore.
Now I’m in an in-between place. I have many of the hallmarks of adulthood: bills, a job, a responsibility to feed myself regularly. In spite of this, most days I don’t feel like an adult. I often wonder when something will change.
But I’m not sure that it’s healthy to live without longing, even if it were possible. If I’m willing to let it, I think that my desires can tell me a lot about myself. The answers to those questions are going to be different depending on the person.
When I say that I want a dog, I mean that I want a home. I want someone to wait for me eagerly to walk through the door, someone who wants to hear the events of my day. I want to be seen, to be loved un-self-consciously.
I also want to be seen as responsible (and to actually be responsible). I want someone to depend on me. I want to have the option to take walks with someone. I want a snuggling partner.
There is much more here than just a desire for a past or future pet.
It may be a long time before I’ll be able to get a dog of my own. When it happens, I know it will bring its own challenges. A dog will not instantly give me a sense of home, quell my yearning for a partner or dispel my loneliness. Some days, owning a dog may heighten those longings.
Having a dog as an adult is sure to be different than it was when I as a kid. In those days, my parents were the adults. They took care of the dog, and they took care of me. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that.