hen I was about six years old, I wanted a dog. I wanted a dog so badly, but my parents said “no.”
So, I did what any first-grader would do: I walked down to the library, checked out a stack of books about dogs that was practically taller than I was, and started reading.
My research focused on what types of breeds were the easiest to care for, which were the smartest, which were best around kids, and I presented my findings to my parents.
They still said “no.”
“A dog is a big responsibility,” they said. “We know we’d end up taking care of it.”
Ah, I thought, if that’s the only problem…!
Soon I presented my parents with The Puppy Contract, which detailed the responsibilities of party A (me) and party B (my parents) regarding the acquisition, ownership and care of a dog. In it, I promised that I, the undersigned, would walk the dog, feed it, groom it, walk it and clean up after it, if party B were to agree to get one and provide basic supplies. At the bottom, I had drawn lines with my name printed under one and my parents’ under another.
I even had another line drawn up for the signature of the witness, my two-year-old brother.
For some reason they didn’t sign it. A few years later, however, a dog adopted us, and they chided me for not following the terms of the agreement, even though it had never been signed and, thus, was not legally binding. To this day I still have to remind them of that fact.
A full 20 years later, I finally got my puppy — sort of. I find myself petsitting a wriggly little ball of fluff that is as cute as he is bitey. And, as I have chased him from chewing inappropriate things (and people), and tried to housebreak him over the last couple of weeks, I have realized that all of the longing I had for a dog of my own years ago could have been nipped in the bud if my parents had only borrowed a puppy for a few days and had me care for it under the terms of the contract.
I would have quickly become a cat person, or more likely a pet rock person, and that would be that. Turns out there’s a lot you can’t learn from a book.
Puppies are cute and all, but they kind of have to be, because they’re too much work to bother with otherwise. You’re essentially inviting something with a baby-like curiosity, a need to stick everything in the whole entire world in its mouth, and a wild animal’s inability to communicate or care for human life, into your home. You’re saying, “Hey, thing with millions of sharp, pointy teeth, please come to where I live, because I don’t feel my ankles get aerated enough, and I also don’t like this carpet so much, so destroy it in as many ways as you see fit.”
They also seem to be as inventive as babies at getting into trouble. When I haven’t heard any skattling on the hardwood for a while, I get nervous. And he’s not yet big enough to get into the garbage can or toilet, but he’s growing — fast. Also, with babies, you can stick a diaper or pull-up on them, and that should keep you from discovering any surprises with your bare feet in the middle of the night. It’s not that easy with dogs. And I don’t care what new parents say — newborns have got to sleep more than puppies do. They’ve just got to.
I should note that I’m making these comparisons between babies and puppies from the position of oldest sister and ex-babysitter. I do not actually have children of my own. And, frankly, it might stay that way, after this experience. I was talking to my mother as I pulled the puppy out of yet another mess one afternoon, making my case about why puppies are the hardest things in the world to care for.
“Babies have got to be SO much easier,” I said.
“Oh, oh, no,” she said. “Babies are much, much harder.”
Great, Mom. You want grandchildren or what?
But it’s not all so bad. When he looks up with those big cliche puppy eyes at the base of some stairs, which his short legs and big feet can’t manage yet, or when he finally masters “sit,” or when he gets sleepy in the middle of playing and cuddles up for a nap…well, those times help make up for him trying to teeth on my limbs, or whining in the middle of the night that he needs to go out (again??), or worse — not whining in the middle of the night that he has to go out.
Those quiet, cuddly times are, undoubtedly, what keep puppy owners from stuffing it in somebody’s mailbox somewhere or leaving it on the front stoop of a house across town, allowing the puppy to grow up to at least a slightly more well-behaved dog.
Which, come to think of it, is probably the only way some children, particularly children who present bewildered parents with a hand-scrawled contract, and tells them to sign on the line, make it to adulthood, too.