The Beagle Has Landed
Singer-songwriter Graham Parker once wrote:
Children and dogs will always win
Everyone knows that
I won’t work with either one again
It’s not in our contract
These lyrics must have seeped into my subconscious, because for years my standard reply to my children’s request for a dog was a resounding “No.” Either that, or “Sure, we can get a dog, but you have to kill the cats first.”
Neither response was appreciated.
Some days, after denying my children their only opportunity for happiness, I’d watch the neighborhood dog owners walking their canine friends and think a bit about who I used to be and who I’d become: a man unwilling to get a dog for his children. What had happened to me? After all, I grew up with a dog, a hyper Maltese named Butch that peed on my record albums and frantically ran in circles when I came home. My friends and I chased him in the yard, we let him lick our ice cream on hot summer days (ew!) and we searched throughout the neighborhood when he got away (which was often, almost as if he didn't want to be our dog).
Even after Butch left us for that Great Big Dog Park in the Sky and I grew into a young adult, I considered myself a Dog Guy, the kind of guy you’d see at the park with his trusty golden retriever strutting by his side, its tongue dangling happily, pretty women smiling as a more handsome version of me walked by. What had happened to that guy, aside from the hair loss? Why such an aversion to dog ownership?
Part of the answer could be attributed to what can only be described as a double homicide. Six years ago, my sister’s dog, Murphy, killed both of my daughter’s hamsters, not by eating them exactly, but by using his teeth to play with them until they were dead. And though the event traumatized us (to this day my daughters block out Murphy’s photo on our refrigerator with a strategically placed magnet), the murders did provide us with an opportunity: a silver lining, if you will. We now had a clean pet-slate, the equivalent of using a small house fire as an excuse to update one’s living room furniture. We could now purchase whatever family pet we wanted without worry of compatibility for the rodents we’d been keeping in cages (and whose lids weren’t quite as secure as we’d thought).
Time to get a dog, right? Nope. On a whim, we chose a couple of cute, flea-ridden kittens to join our family, and though Murphy’s murders could have been blamed for my avoiding a canine companion, the truth is that in the back of my mind I kept hearing that Graham Parker tune:
Children and dogs will always win,
Everyone knows that
In a sense, I had internalized that lyric, the way one might internalize a parent’s suggestion not to eat yellow snow. It was just good advice, and instinctively I knew that I, as an at-home dad and writer, would be the dog’s keeper. I would walk it in the morning. I would walk it at lunch-time. I would walk it in the afternoon. I would feed it, play with it, train it, scold it. I would be the one left to schedule dog-sitting when we decided to head out of town for a few days. It was all on me, baby, and I wanted no part of it.
Children and dogs, my friends, will NOT always win. Or so I thought.
On a frigid Friday in January, I walked past a friend of mine bending over with a blue, plastic bag as she picked up a mammoth-size turd that her Alaskan Husky had happily laid.
“It’s come to this, has it?” I said to her. She laughed. I laughed. And I thought to myself, “What a silly, silly woman you are and what a smart, smart man am I.”
Twenty-four hours later, I was picking up poop.
Children and dogs
And wives. And cell-phones.
Not one full day after my little quip, my son and I were enjoying a warm winter’s day, unusual in Illinois, and I was experiencing what can be only described as a joyful mood, equally unusual. And then I received a text with a photo of a small brown and black beagle licking my daughter’s face and the accompanying message from my wife: “Can we take her home?” I, in my crazily joyful mood, unable to see anything but the best in everyone and everything at that particular moment, texted back, “Yep.”
And so what started out as a shoe-shopping trip for my wife and daughter, ended up with me picking up Toffee the beagle’s feces later that evening.
Toffee is perfect for us. Like the wands of Olivander’s Shop in Harry Potter, I feel like dogs choose the person. At the adoption center, Toffee, with her floppy ears and mournful eyes, chose us, and who were we, the chosen, to say no?
These days I walk Toffee in the morning, I walk her at lunch, and most days, I walk her in the afternoon while my children attend their after-school activities. I feed Toffee, play with her, train her (sort of), and scold her (lovingly). And soon, I will be the one left to schedule dog-sitting when we decide to head out of town for a few days.
And it’s all good. Sure, children and dogs will always win. Everyone knows that. But we adults are the benefactors.
Our cats? Not so much.