I used to be a dog owner. I like to say that my first children were of the four-legged variety, before I became a mom. I had a black lab for almost 15 years…I take great pride that he lived for so long (most labs live 10-12 years). He eventually got so old that he couldn’t control his back hips or his bowels (common for larger dogs like labs) and after a year of cleaning up poop in my house, I finally called a special vet who makes the dreaded final house calls and she put him to sleep in our living room. It was one of the most painful days of my life.
My kids are of the age where many of their friends’ families are getting puppies. My daughter has been begging me to get a puppy, but fortunately, I’ve been able to avoid dog ownership, as our landlord doesn’t allow pets (she made a special exception for the tortoise). Plus, when they’re at their dad’s I don’t want to be stuck with taking care of a dog on my own, and they wouldn’t be able to bring the dog to his apartment because his landlord doesn’t allow pets either (although they made a special exception for their cat). For the past 6 months, I don’t think a day has gone by when my daughter hasn’t sweetly mentioned what wonderful pets dogs are or said “Mom, tell me more about what you like about puppies” (she’s an amazing negotiator for her 8 years).
This past weekend, I agreed to help watch my friend’s 6-month old lab puppy (we’ll call him Rusty, to protect his identity. In case, you know, he reads this). I thought it would be a great opportunity to test the kids out with a dog, and I only had to walk him twice, so I happily agreed to be part of Team Rusty (my friend smartly divided up the 2 days of dog-watching among 4 different friends to lessen the impact). I helped out on Saturday evening with the dinnertime walk/wear-out-the-puppy meetup at a local park. It brought back memories of taking my lab to a park to get him the exercise labs so desperately need so they don’t turn into house-destroying tornadoes.
We got to the park and the kids immediately ran to the playground. I was left holding the ChuckIt while Rusty barked and pleaded with me to please throw the goddamn ball already! So, I heaved the ball into the air and enjoyed watching him fetch. He hurled himself at it and proudly ran back, chomping on the tennis ball and salivating all over it. He came over and dropped the ball (good boy!) but when I reached over to pick it up he bit at the ChuckIt (bad dog!). Ooh! My dog-training instincts re-awakened as I recognized an opportunity to do some canine development. “WAIT!” I said sharply to Rusty and started leaning down to pick up the ball. He charged the ball again, so I grabbed his collar and jerked him back, saying “WAIT!” His eyes never left the ball. We tried it again. He charged it again. I yanked him back and yelled “BAH!” We tried it again. This time he watched. I slowly reached down and scooped up the ball and then yelled “Good Wait, Rusty!” and hurled the ball for him to chase. We worked on this for about 30 minutes. I was thrilled that toward the end, he seemed to be getting it (he’s a pure-bred lab, so I’m counting on some intelligence there). By this time, my children were climbing the backstop of the baseball field at the park and Rusty was seeking out shade and lying down whenever he brought the ball back, so we called it a day and walked Rusty home. I lucked out in that he never pooped the whole time, so I didn’t have to break out the pastic baggie for clean-up duty (I always really hated that part about dogs).
It was a good reminder that puppies are a buttload of work. On the walk back to Rusty’s house, my daughter talked about all the reasons we should get a dog (they’re comforting, they protect the house, they encourage us to get exercise when we walk them, etc.) until I pointed out that she and her brother had not helped at all with Rusty at the park. She looked at me funny and then gently explained that she didn’t want a lab because they are too much work and too physical. She wants us to get a cute little terrier puppy, which she assured me would be much, much easier than taking care of Rusty.
Ah, yeah right. 😉