Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm Down With O.P.P.

And now, a rant about pets.

Let me tell you one thing about me – I am not a pet person. Now before all of you pet people write me off, understand this: I am down with O.P.P. (other people’s pets) but do not want one of my own.

Don’t get me wrong. Indeed pets can be adorable, loyal, warm, and fulfilling. But the way I see it, at this point in my life, if I going to put that much time, money, and care into something it might as well be another person. And besides, I’ve got a husband and that is enough for now.

My attitude towards pets does not go without years of experience. I’ve got a history with pets that started back in 1993. I was spending my first semester in college in Ohio. Sitting in my dorm room one night, I called home. Talking to my mom, I could hear a tiny yip and yap in the background.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Oh,” my mom said, “that’s our new dog.”

I couldn’t believe it. My parents house of orderly perfection with coordinating wallpaper, curtains, and plush carpeting now included a dog? Surely this cannot be my parent’s house that I have called.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

“No, really, it’s a dog. Your dad wanted to name it Elizabeth to replace you but instead we all settled on Cookie.” Not sure whether to be offended or highly complimented, I was at least pleased to hear that the dog’s moniker hailed from the name of my stuffed Pound Puppy – Cookie. Cookie who had traveled all over throughout my childhood – to California, Florida, Michigan, New York. Cookie who had once driven the car when my dad figured out a way to entwine her around the steering wheel that caused several hours of laughter to follow.

“Not only is it a dog, but it’s a Dalmatian,” she added.

I know what you’re thinking. How could a tiny, spotted cute pooch bring anything other than Disney-like happiness to any family that cares for it? Let Cruela tell you a story…

Cookie was cute. As a puppy, she was small, playful, perfectly spotted with two floppy black ears. Everyone wanted to hold her, play with her, everyone loved her. In her early years, my dad would take her to the fire department just to visit. She was so cute and cuddly that what normally would have seemed borderline abnormal and psychotic (which my dad was), seemed perfectly along normal lines because he had that puppy in hand.

The first year, Cookie’s most formative year, was doomed from the get-go. I was away at college, leaving Cookie prey to the oddities of my mother, brother, and dad. Now I love my family, but I wouldn’t leave a fish in their care for much longer than an hour. You see, my dad was too busy being psychotic and mowing the lawn (twice in two different directions, every Sunday), my brother was too busy hiding from my dad, and my mom was too busy scrubbing the floors. It’s no doubt that I was cut from the same cloth, but at least, at the very least, as a psychology major I could have offered the basics of behavior modification for training the dog.

Alas that would not be. And poor Cookie might as well have been raised in a barn by large wolves. At least she would have learned how to bale hay or something. At my parent’s house, there was no discipline, no system. Each time I came home from college, there was a new behavior that we were ignoring, tolerating, laughing, crying about, or cleaning up after.

Quite literally, Cookie was hell on wheels – the lightest, most aerodynamic wheels with no rolling resistance, deep rims, and 100 PSI’s pumping through each mighty paw. Fiercely loyal, high-strung, nippy, antsy, and with the speed of white lightening, she was bound to create some catastrophe on a daily basis. On her first birthday, Cookie celebrated by tearing the plastic layer off of the linoleum floor. Soon after, she ate an entire pair of sunglasses. She chewed, tore, and ripped through at least 5 stuffed Garfield’s (hey, he was big in the 80’s). One day, in a panic from a storm, she clawed her way through the wooden latticework on the windows. She got loose from the yard too many times to count. She created her own litter box in front of the basement door. She ate an entire box of tampons, turning the bathroom into a sea of cotton and strings, and leaving her with, pardon the pun, an inconsolable case of cottonmouth. She scratched the finish off of two doors. Mistaking a small red-headed child on a scooter for a large mobile carrot, she broke free from the tree, chased him down, and bit him in the hamstring (we later referred to the child as ‘Dog Chow’). She stole loaves of bread from the kitchen counter. She swallowed a sewing needle which got embedded in her trachea and required a trip to the emergency vet. I once watched her snag and scarf down an entire wheel of brie. This dog had the sheer determination, speed, and hunger to get anything at anytime from anyone.

My favorite – the ‘Cookie at the MS Walk’ story. My dad has MS so naturally he attended the MS walk. Well, my mom walked while he walked around, smoking cigarettes and parading Cookie around the Riverwalk. When my mom returned from the walk, Cookie was covered, head to tail, in coffee stains and pizza sauce. Seems that my dad, with his MS-induced shakiness, couldn’t balance Cookie on a leash in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other hand and when she slipped free, she jumped on to the pizza tables and helped herself. My dad found this hilarious. The walk organizers were not as amused.

My mom is convinced that Cookie is a perceptive genius. Gifted, if you will. You see, she can open drawers with her paws, knows my brother’s name, and can find a box of Mr. Barky’s buried in the laundry room. Oh sure, somebody call Mensa because they’ve missed one.

She’s so brilliant, or conniving (it’s your call), that my mom leaves her tethered to the pantry door while she’s not at home. But don’t call PETA yet – Cookie has her water, food, bone, a pillow, and mat all within reach. She just doesn’t have her freedom. We’ve tried giving her freedom, but read 2 paragraphs ago…..it didn’t go too well.

What surprises me the most, is that after 13 years, with 3 paws in the grave, she’s still kicking around. And it was last week that I had the pleasure of caring for her and her spotted poochiness while my mom was away.

We decided to bring Cookie to our house and hope for the best. After an exciting car ride, she walked into our house and spent the next hour walking laps around our first floor. After awhile, she just laid down and looked at us. We set up her mat by the front door, and just as security, hooked her leash up to the door knob. We left for awhile and came back. Nothing – no scratched doors, chewed up plants, water bowls flipped over, just a spotted dog sleeping on a mat. The most unusual thing she did was wake up once at 3:15 am, tap dance with her long toenails over to her food bowl, and eat her kibbles for a late night snack. Other than that, she was the perfect picture of a pet.

The week progressed and each day went by without drama. I don’t even think she barked. It may have taken 13 years, but she’s finally become the dog we’ve always dreamed of. Sure, she’s pretty much blind, deaf, and barely mobile but she is still as playful, cute, and driven by hunger as ever. She can still understand the shake of a box of Mr. Barky’s. She still loves to sniff every blade of grass in the backyard. And she still likes to be pet and scratched – just not on her ears.

When my mom took Cookie back, she called me the next day to report that Cookie had been on her worst behavior. She scratched her food bowl all day long, flipped her water bowl three times, stole some food from the table, and barked incessantly.

And as I listened, I thought up a question in the most psychology-majoresque style – is it nature or nurture? Is Cookie a victim of her biology or a victim of circumstance? If Cookie had been raised thousands of miles away by some rigid German family, would they have tolerated her incorrigibility and unruliness? It’s hard to say.

Rather than mentally wrestle with that and other existential questions, I choose not to have a pet. Instead, I will let myself be surrounded by other people’s pets and call that enough. When Chris’ parents travel, I take out I-Chi and Chewie. When Brenda works late, I play with Sugar and Hooch at lunchtime. I listen to Sarah’s stories about her cat, Dale. I love O.P.P., I just have no plans of turning OPP into MPP (my personal pet) any time soon.

And just to confirm this with Chris, we had a conversation back in February. Chris was talking about getting a dog. The camera was nearby and I asked him to take a picture of me. In that picture, my eyebrows are raised and my eyes look serious in their statement as I said to the camera “no dogs”. Afterwards, I told him that was my “no dogs” face and anytime he thought about getting a dog, he should take a look at that picture to get my answer.

So, I think we’ll be pet-free for awhile. And if you think my “no pets” face sounds scary, you should see “no kids*.”

(*for now)

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