Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reflections on Owning a Dog

There are so many moments when I am so thankful for Captain, and so I wanted to do a little writing about it. Including the phrase "owning a dog" in the post title seems not quite right though- because of course I don't really "own" Captain. I'm his parent in every sense of the definition other than the biological one.

As you may know if you've been reading this blog from the start (anyone? anyone?), Captain is my first dog. Growing up, we had hamsters, maybe a fish or two, and finally (after much pleading on my part), a cat, Noel- who turned out to bite everyone in sight and hide under the bed the rest of the time; she basically became an obese hermit who inhabited our basement during the latter years of her life (a fact I feel guilty about, but would feel more so if she hadn't bit and scratched us all so much....still, I loved her).

Crazy cat-lady in the making?? Luckily saved by dogs.

(I will neither confirm nor deny that is me. 
I also could not stop laughing when I saw this picture. I mean, what is that hat????  
Also, all of a sudden I think I know why our cat may have bit people.)

My grandfather, cousins, and some of our close family friends all had black labs, so I spent a good deal of time with them. I loved these dogs. For a number of years growing up, we vacationed with family friends at a place called Doolittle Lake (yes, it's really called Doolittle). My brother and sister would play with the kids of our friends, but there wasn't anyone my age. Instead, I took up with Rosie:

Me and Rosie (killer towel-do, I know)
She kept me warm after swims in the lake, kept me from being bored while my brother and his friend were capturing eels (and feeding them weird bologna) or when I didn't have any barbies to play with because my brother had stolen them and they were hanging upside down from a hole in the ceiling. Ahhhh childhood :-) But you get my point- this dog Rosie is forever tied to my memories.

Thanks, Rosie ;-) (As a sidenote, I'm pretty sure this picture is from the year we were in the car half way to the lake when my mom realized we left my suitcase at home. While she was freaking out, I was completely excited to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe. :-) I mean, can ya see that shirt? It's stylin.)

But having your own dog- that's something even more special. It's different when it's your dog, and I guess maybe as an adult, too. This living creature looks to you for everything, and wants to give you so much back. Captain makes me laugh every day, makes me smile every time I see him. He lightens the mood and reminds me how important the little things are. Yes, he really can do all that. And I bet your dog can too.

This Subaru commercial pretty much explains it for me- it has that really cute chocolate lab puppy, with the guy, and then the next shot is the dog a little older and the guy with a girl, and then finally with their kid and the dog is older (awesome recap, I know)...and the tagline is, "It's not every day you find a companion as loyal as a Subaru." I mean, come on- it gets me every time. Just watch it and try not to get tears in your eyes.

Bringing baby Captain home.
 I am a little afraid this picture looks creepily like the one of me...errr, that weird kid... with Noel.

Being a parent
Being a doggie parent has changed me. Maybe I'm ready to have kids and I'm transferring some of that to taking care of Captain, but the term "fur baby" really isn't far off. I talk to him. I tell him he's the love of my life (shh, don't tell my husband ;) and that everybody loves him. I love him endlessly and maybe more than I have ever loved anyone or anything before, but it's more than just complete love for him, it's responsibility, it's caring for something else and wanting to make sure that something is the best it can be.

We went to a bunch of dog events the first few years we had Captain, when we were living in the city. I remember laughing in semi-horror at one of these events when a lady started baby-talking to Captain and then placed a dog treat in her mouth for Captain to pull out and eat. "Oh My God, this woman is completely nuts!" I thought to myself. And then there were all the people who dressed up their dogs. I smirked at them too - I'll never be one of those people. Oh no, I definitely wouldn't ever dress up my dog. Being a parent makes you do crazy things, I tell you. (That said, dog treats never have nor ever will make their way anywhere near my mouth.)

I was proud of Captain the first time I saw him raise his leg to pee. I know, that's completely ridiculous. I didn't teach him this, and it certainly didn't come from my side of the family ;). But there it is. I felt the same way when I first saw him carry his own leash, walking himself up the stairs to our apartment (a trick my husband taught him, which led to more than a few frayed leashes.... but it's just so darn cute). I'm also utterly proud when people tell me how good looking he is, how amazing it is he runs right by my side, how well behaved he is. I really didn't have very much to do with any of these things, but it inexplicably makes me feel good. I want everyone to love him, because I do, because he deserves a world of love; I think this feeling is at least part of what being a parent is.

And then there are the other sides of being a parent. I am not at all proud to admit that I have behaved really horribly to a few complete strangers in defense of my dog. Luckily, there are less than a handful of these situations, because Captain is such a good dog and it's not often something comes up for anyone to have any reason to complain about anyway. But if you attack my dog or anything about him, my mama claws come out.

Case in point: One time while I was walking Captain around our neighborhood, he started barking at a dog on the sidewalk we'd been meeting & greeting, so I pulled him away. A lady sitting on a bench outside a coffee shop nearby started complaining about how I needed to keep my dog away, and how he was aggressive, etc, etc.... (anyone who knows Captain would laugh at this statement; sometimes dogs do bark, however, and it frustrates me when people don't understand typical animal behavior!). In any case, this led to me first saying, "He's not aggressive, he's fine." And then after she kept on, I spat out at her in complete frustration (and let's be honest here, aggression), "Why don't you just mind your own business!?" I basically yelled that part, and then walked away. And then immediately turned beet red and thought to myself, "Oh my God. What was that? I just made a scene in front of Starbucks."

There is also the puppy phase, which, though really really ridiculously adorable and fun, can also be frustrating in terms of: needing to pee every hour or two, even at night, leading to semi-sleep deprived parents; peeing on every inch of carpet (and never hardwood or tile) throughout your home; shredding, tearing, and chewing, including chewing up the corner of your brand new couch; the need for more hours of puppy play time in one day than allow for a person who works from home to get a decent amount of work done; and completely spastic leash-walking. All this combined might just lead a person to yell at her puppy chewing at her pants leg as she is trying to simply put on jeans to yell, "GET OFF!" and shake said puppy off so that he accidentally bumps his head on the nearby dresser. (OhmyGodIamanawfulperson.) Thinking about these complaints now, though, with an adult dog, they just seem really petty. Built-in-forgetfulness to keep people getting puppies, I tell you.

These are the dark sides of puppy parenting (or mine anyway); I can act like a regular b-i-t-c-h if you put down my dog, but I can also be grumpy and annoyed to my dog when sleep deprived or over-run. Luckily, the vast majority of being a dog-owner for me is the good stuff.

Those of you who are parents of real children are probably thinking at this point, man, this girl needs to have a kid, or that I have way too much time on my hands for thinking this much about my dog....
but... okay, I don't have a good comeback. I love my dog. (and yes, I do have a real job).

Responsibility & Work
Being responsible for a dog was something my uncle and mother both tried to warn me and my husband of before we got Captain- "Are you sure you really want a dog?"... and "It's a lot of money." "It's a lot of time." "It's a lot of work." These are all true statements. But none of them account for what you get back: love. Cheesy as it sounds, yes. My dog gives me the most unconditional, fun, sweet, boundless love.  

But yes, having a dog is a lot of work. Training, walks, dog parks and playtime, going on trips- these all factor into your life in big ways with a dog. For the most part, training & learning basic commands for us was the fun & easy part- we had a blast going to puppy classes. Finding other people to take care of Captain, though, has been trickier. I felt like a mom searching for daycare when I was....well, searching for daycare for Captain. I researched about 10 different places when we moved to the East Bay and needed to find a new dog walker/day care option for those days I didn't work from home. And for longer-term stays, we tried out about 5 different places before we were able to find a situation that worked. I thought we'd found Vizlsa heaven with a place in SF called O'Paws, but Captain lost nearly 10 lbs when he was there for a week as a puppy, so clearly that wasn't a good fit. Finally, we found a woman who dog sits only a few dogs at a time from her home, so Captain can get the attention and family time he needs when we go away now. But every time we want to go on a trip now, it's "Can we bring Captain?" (If so, a large search of dog-friendly places ensues)- and if not, it's "Ok, how much is this going to cost to board Captain?" (It's not cheap.) And don't think just because you see your dog as your child the rest of your family will, too, and that you can use that as an excuse for people to come to you come holiday time. I know my mom loves Captain, but I could tell there was that ever so tiny bit of resentment when I told her we weren't coming home for the holidays that first year we had Captain.

For us, having a dog has also been about sharing responsibility. They say having a dog is good training for having a child, and while I don't have experience with the latter yet, I can definitely say sharing responsibility and coordinating schedules became a part of my life with my husband in a way it wasn't ever before we got Captain. "What time are you getting home? Can you take him to the park?" "I already walked him twice today! It's your turn" "Did you feed him?" "How much did you run him this morning?" "If you hadn't left him home for 4 hours in the middle of the day when he was a puppy he never would have torn up the couch!" Ahem. And so on.... It has also led us to referring to one another as "Mommy" and "Daddy" ... which I will not comment further on. ;-)

Demanding attention.

While Vizslas and other high-energy breeds need a lot of exercise and attention, ALL dogs really need exercise and attention. That's one of my favorite parts of having a dog, though. I love that Captain wants to be near me, that I have a running buddy that's always up for exploring. I love an excuse to get outside and just go for a walk. What a nice reason to get outside and enjoy it all! (Ok, this is coming from someone who now lives in California- my husband always reminds me how much it would suck to walk Captain on cold rainy windy nights in the winter whenever I mention Boston....but still.) Getting fresh air, moving, exercising- dogs remind us how basic a need for happy living this is. 

I've come to believe that "owning a dog" should never just be "owning a dog" - it should mean being a parent. Having a dog does mean attention, responsibility, exercise, time, and yes, money. But I think it's worth it.

Luck & Thankfulness
Every now and then I think about one of the scariest moments in my life. Captain was only a few months old, and he pulled off his leash to go play with another dog, and ran directly into a busy, 4 lane street right at morning rush hour. I remember it kind of like a fog-covered dream: screaming for him, chasing after him as his little red body and blue collar run out into the street, one car and then another slamming on their brakes, the first coming literally inches from him. Within a split second, he'd run back onto the sidewalk, and I grabbed him, completely engulfing him in my arms. I was shaking. All I could do was run back into our apartment, where my husband was still sleeping, and sit by the bed on the floor, hugging Captain. I couldn't even talk about it for a few minutes. It was awful, but now I just think how very incredibly lucky we were. I'm not really a religious person, but I do thank God that car stopped in time. I didn't get a chance to thank or even look at the driver, but I hope they know how grateful I am. I cannot even begin to imagine the past 4 years without Captain.


Joy & Love
How many people do you know that can make you laugh uncontrollably every day, make you smile every time you see them? I can count a few, maybe, and they are rare, unique people. And no person gives a greeting when you come home like a dog. It is pure and utter JOY.

One of the things that I didn't necessarily expect when we got a dog was that it would lead to making friends. We met other couples through puppy classes and dog parks, people who have become some of our closest friends. I never knew that having a dog would make me more social, but it has. There's something pretty cool about hanging out outside in your neighborhood, getting to know people, and it's surprisingly relaxing and entertaining to just watch dogs play. I laugh more at the dog park than I do watching most sitcoms.

Having Captain has also taught me to loosen up about things. I used to be one of those people that would enter a house with a dog and hold my hands up and kind of scrunch my body away so the dog wouldn't touch me. (Well, mainly I acted like this just if it was a big hairy slobbery dog). While I still don't like slobbery dogs, I mean, lighten up. You're not going to shrivel up like the Wicked Witch of the West when water's thrown on her. It's just a dog, and they aren't that dirty...Especially not Vizslas ;-) I'm pretty sure toddlers carry more germs than dogs do. I'm glad I'm not that person anymore. Life's a lot easier when you're not worried about getting a little dirty. ;-)

Captain's gift- and most dogs, I think- it that they can come into so many situations with just plain happiness. You can tell as they are walking down the street. Captain thinks everyone wants to meet him (frankly, I don't really understand the people that don't :) ) He'll pull me up to almost anyone, tail wagging, doggy smile on his face, excited to meet whoever he can.

Dogs often remind me that you don't really need much to be happy. Being outside, sun, a good blanket to cuddle under- and having someone to share it all with. I'm pretty sure dogs always remember that, whereas people... well, that's a different story.

My dog does silly things that make me laugh, like carrying his blanket in his mouth around our house like Linus, shaking his big floppy ears when he has a toy in his mouth, incessantly squeaking a squeaky toy, running to my side whenever I dry my hair. He does adorable things that make me want to kiss him, like making funny noises in his sleep, rolling over to expose his tummy and stretching his long legs out and then sneezing, using his paw to rub his ear, or nudging my arm while I'm working on the computer so I'll pet him. He is filled with pure sweetness and it's incredible.

We get dogs for companionship, for love, and sometimes for a job or to rescue them. What I didn't expect when I got a dog was that he'd teach me so many things, too. How important laughing is, how to approach life and new people with a friendly attitude, taking time to enjoy life and appreciate the little things (like being outside) as well as the big (like love and friends).

If I could, I would thank Captain completely for bringing so much happiness into my life. Do dogs ever know this? I hope so.

Captain, my Captain.


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  2. Your blog and your journey with Captain has entertained me and brought me joy - so Captain's circle of joy keeps expanding. As a fellow V-Girl I know exactly what you mean about all of it - as I read this post I just kept nodding my head and smiling. Thank you for being such an extraordinary dog parent and for sharing it with all of us!

    1. Thank you so much! My goal exactly, so it's so nice to hear when people enjoy the blog!

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed this read....and, couldn't agree more. As an added perspective from someone who has raised both human kids and fur babies, I personally feel (and I know I am a horrible person for saying this, but it is truly how I feel) that in many ways, dog parenting has been more rewarding. A dog doesn't care what brand of dog collar you buy for him, nor does he question your judgement and he is always grateful just to be with you. It matters not to a dog if you've gained weight and he isnt embarrassed if you choose to stay in your sweatpants all day....he just wants to be near you. I never got that level of appreciation or acceptance from any of my kids while they were young and even into their early wasnt until they had kids of their own, that they actually began to relate to me on that level. I strongly encourage anyone who feels lonely, unappreciated or just needs a little recognition, to try the companionship of a dog. There is just nothing comparable and as long as you have a dog, it's like the old Carole King song that goes, "you've got a friend."

    1. So beautiful and so true- they are just so accepting and loving! Thanks for adding this, and thanks for reading!

  4. We loved the stories and the pictures!! So wonderful and what a joy Captain is! He certainly know how much he is loved! Xoxo

  5. I have just started reading your blog, but I feel like I know Captain personally. Your love of him comes through your words in a beautiful way. This posting has made me cry, since it has not been a month that I have to let go my best friend/companion Willow. She was only half Vizsla, half black lab, but in her personality a true Vizsla. She gave me 14 and a half years of wonderful memories. Sometimes it's so very hard without her, that it feels like my heart is going to explode from the sadness. She was my first dog and I never knew how awful it will be to say good bye to her. My home has lost it's soul. But I will be a dog parent in the late fall hopefully; I will be getting a Vizsla puppy from a breeder in my home town. I am looking forward to all the crazy times of bringing home and training a new puppy, but until then I will keep reading your adventure with Captain and remembering my beloved friend. Thank you for sharing your Captain with us.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment- I am so sorry to hear your Willow is gone- I know it must be so difficult. It sounds like she had a long, very well-loved life. Captain sends hugs & wiggles ;)

  6. I so enjoyed reading about your journey with your handsome Captain and being owned by Vizslas myself I could relate to all your experiences and write a book on all the wonderful, magical moments I have had with my boys. My dear, sweet first boy Bruce is no longer with us and I miss him everyday but all the happy memories I have of him will live on forever and his son and great nephew keep me busy and entertained.

    Here's to many more happy years with your beloved Captain.

    Jan. UK

  7. Hey, I had trouble finding an email address. Can you email me back so I can ask you a question?

    1. Hi Shayne- On the Vizsla Spotting tab above, under the list of Vizslas we've met, there's a link ("Send me a message") - click on that and it will open to send me an email!

  8. I don't know if you get updates of comments on photos and blogs that you have posted some years ago, but your photo of Captain above on his back, looking up at you, legs dangling above himself reminds me so much of what my V would do and of how she looked. I called her "E.T." at those upside down moments.