Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why I don't have a pet

Pets are therapeutic, or so they say. Allegedly, pets bring cheer to the depressed, get sedentary people off their butts, lower blood pressure and add meaning to their owners' lives.


I had a dog for fourteen years. I'll admit he wasn't a good dog, so perhaps this is why I'm biased. What I remember is that it did not lower my blood pressure when Jake tried to lunge at the UPS man, (which was every single time we saw him), or when I found a favorite pair of shoes chewed to tiny bits. I did not find calming any time when Jake was ill. Walking Jake was tricky since he was liable at a moment's notice to decide that the dogs passing on the sidewalk should be destroyed.

We had plenty of good walks, and many wonderful, soulful, loving moments, I should say. I loved Jake without limit or condition through all the years of his life, from the time he came into my life until the day he died. He was one of the greatest teachers I have ever had. I loved him so dearly that after he passed away, I cried every day for a month.

Mourning for Jake was not healing, therapeutic, soothing or good for me in any way whatsoever.

When people adopt pets, they take on a huge responsibility. Keeping a pet healthy is time consuming and very expensive. And, too, there's something wrong with every one of them; it's the nature of embodiment. Some will shed freakish amounts of fur, some can't help but slobber, or hump your friends' legs. Some have allergies or chronic skin or stomach problems, and then there is the huge realm of problems with socialization. Dogs are territorial animals and though they have adapted to living with us and sharing turf with many other dogs, there are moments in every dog's life when they can't quite cope on our terms. That's when they start fights, become aggressive in other ways, or run away with their tails between their legs. All of this is normal behavior for dogs but can cause uncomfortable, non-therapeutic issues for their human owners.

I can't get behind the theory that owning animals is a happy, fuzzy, carefree experience that will bring nothing but good vibes into your life. There are good times and not so good times. It's not without its rewards, but it's a lot of work!

In truth, I would like to have another dog, but I live alone, there is no outdoor space where a dog could hang out and catch some rays or root around. I don't have a car so if the dog should have to be taken to the vet, the logistics involved could be ridiculously complex. When I had Jake, I shared a house with other dogs owners, so if I was sick or running late, they could get him out for a walk and a pee, feed him and care for him when I was out of town.

I don't have that kind of back up now, and though I love dogs, I know that bringing a dog into my life, all on my own, would be anything but therapeutic. It makes me wonder why people write articles that make it sound as if being a pet owner is like a nice drive through the country on a Sunday afternoon, or a relaxing walk on the beach. It really isn't!

Nevertheless, when I see a dog who seems friendly, I always stop and say hello. As I walk away from the encounter, it's inevitable I will be smiling. If only it were that easy, hey?



Kerry said...

I have never, in my whole life, been dogless. My dogs' unconditional devotion, their need to get me out on a walk at least twice daily, their (usual)good humor, and their soft coats keep me coming back for more. We have a co-dependence thing going on I guess. Even Reub, a shelter dog loaded with terrible baggage from his background of abuse, has been worth it.

You are definitely not in an ideal situation for getting a dog right now, and it's a good thing that you know this. The access to medical care, space to play, and plenty of socialization are each reason enough; best to enjoy other peoples' dogs these days!

It must be true that some dogs cause more stress than they relieve; somebody should study this. But it's quite interesting to read the studies that indicate the positive effects of pets for the elderly: giving a lonely senior a reason to get up in the morning turns out to be a good job for Fido.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yeah, but that lonely senior must have back up - they can't do it all themselves, right?

I had one dog in all my life: Jake. I realize this colors my filters about pets in a very particular way! Good lord.

Kerry said...

Back-up is always a good idea when you have an animal. But there are a lot of seniors who don't have this, no back-up at all. It works for them, sort of, mostly for cats, who rarely need vet care if they're kept indoors (not even vaccinations).

Jake was a challenging dog. That's why you know what it's like for me to have Reuben. I feel sad that Reub has kept me from wanting another shelter dog. There are tens of thousands of dogs who aren't like that.

Reya Mellicker said...

Jake was a rescue dog. I don't know what happened to him before he was rescued, but it was really bad.

I am so not a cat person that a friend (who is a serious cat lover) calls me the "Anti-Cat."

I don't begrudge anyone who keeps pets - my goodness, no! What inspired me to write the post was the sight yesterday of people walking their dogs. A couple of people were being so mean to the animals. One guy kept hitting his dog on the head with a shopping bag. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the dog had done wrong. The dog looked miserable, the guy looked angry. I wondered why the hell he has a dog.

Some people get dogs because they think it will be like a drive on a Sunday, then neglect the animal in horrible ways.

Thinking about this makes me sick. I'm going to stop now.