My neighbor Nancy is the pet parent of an aristocratic standard poodle, Maggie, who, I am not embarrassed to admit, loves me. I go after her with all the affection I can muster, and, in appreciation, she leans on me with her full weight of 39 pounds. Given her size (and mine, barely three times hers), she nearly topples me over, but no matter. I’ll take the love any way I can get it.
Nancy occasionally invites my husband and me to dinner, and after a recent repast, I sank down and reclined on her sofa, only to be joined by Maggie, who snuggled in my armpit and plunked a paw on my leg. Not to disrupt the moment, Nancy served dessert on my chest.
This puppy love of mine is new. I’ve always been a cat person, eschewing canines for lacking the dignity, elegance, and artful composure of their feline counterparts.
My Chicago granddog is a rescued Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix named Ellie. I call her Ellsworth Van Ellington for no reason other than her elevated status in my eyes. When I visit, I begin my soliloquy: Nice little girl you are, yes you are, yes you are … My 23-month-old granddaughter, Hattie, playfully pokes Ellie’s eyeball, throws her entire body weight on the dog as if she were riding a pony on the trail, and pulls her ears up like a rabbit. Ellie tolerates this unbridled affection without a whimper, but secretly, I know she likes my brand of fondness better.
This puppy love of mine is new. I’ve always been a cat person, eschewing canines for lacking the dignity, elegance, and artful composure of their feline counterparts. My lifelong string of cats have lived pampered lives, if you don’t count a 6-year-old white Persian named Magnolia Blossom, who represented my last foray into cat ownership. Blossom, as she was called, was a retired show cat that I believed I was rescuing from her breeder’s cage. Who wouldn’t rather live in my house, with its carpeted kitty condo, variety of felt mice and jingling balls, and food to please the most finicky of eaters?
Blossom, it turned out, is who. She spent six days with me and never ate a single bite. I stroked her sumptuous fur and lavished praise on her in my irresistible Minnie voice, hoping against hope she would swallow the water I offered from an eyedropper and lick the delicious wet food from the end of a spoon I presented. My vet warned that if Blossom kept up her hunger strike, she would die, and so, defeated and brokenhearted, I called her suicide attempt to a halt and returned her to the breeder. No matter how much you like someone, sometimes they just don’t like you back.
Since then, I have switched sides. Dogs are now my thing, although the objects of my attention always belong to somebody else. As much as I’m tempted—and believe me, I am tempted—I can’t bring myself to acquire my own. There is the matter of poop-scooping to consider, as well as shoe-chewing, rug-soiling, travel complications, and winter walks in the dark of night. Still, I peruse the pedigreed pooches listed in the newspaper’s classified ads the way my grandkids go after a Toys “R” Us circular. I admire the Maltese puppies with their flat faces and happy marble eyes, the little Yorkies with their energy and wiry fur, the Goldendoodles with their movie-star eyelashes and velvety curls. I don’t know what a Papipoo is, although it looks adorable in its photo, and a non-shedding Havanese sounds tidy.
But size matters. As much as I like small dogs, I would never carry one around in my purse, and, at only a few months of age, an English Mastiff already sports paws as big as catcher’s mitts. If anyone is going to lumber around my house, it will be me, after I finish off the Halloween candy still in my pantry.
These days, pleasing a pet seems to require a lot of accessories. My kids clean Ellie’s muddy feet with baby wipes, and she has a harness attached to her polka-dot leash that is more difficult to manipulate than their daughters’ car seats. Pet departments used to carry bags of food, toys, and collars, but now megastores offer everything from dog overalls to high chairs that fasten to the table. There are doggie butt covers, umbrellas that attach to their collars, and Minions costumes. Cat ownership may be less complicated, although were I to acquire another, I simply must have a nightstand litter box and waterfall bowl.
The truth is, I love dogs and cats, but have reached the stage when starting over sounds like too much work. Maybe someday, I’ll find a straggly stray kitten at my door, or someone will leave a whimpering puppy in a box the way a teen mom might leave her unwanted newborn at the fire station. Then fate will have intervened, and I’ll have no choice but to keep it.
In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for a solid, steady lean by Maggie. Furry friends like that are hard to find.
Editor emerita Deborah Paul’s personal reflections on culture, society, and family have graced the pages of IM since 1981.