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The Joy of Owning a Dog

Columnist Lisa Bigelow says making the most out of your doggie-parent relationship means not being afraid to get silly.

Thinking about getting a dog for your family this holiday season? Great! Now pay attention.

Regular readers know I love writing and I especially love the news. I never get tired of thinking about and analyzing leadership strategy, cynicism and hypocrisy. Nevertheless, in case you are becoming concerned, there is way more to life, or my life, anyway, than work and politics!

Life is really about family. And when I say family, I include friends, too. And by friends, I include my best furry friend.

No, not my husband. I mean, of course, my dog. Bowser.

I’ve been reading with interest about singer-songwriter Fiona Apple’s decision to cancel part of her concert tour to spend time with her dying dog. She wrote a touching Facebook update, asking for their support.

There are undoubtedly thousands of unhappy fans out there who are thinking, so what? It’s just a dog. 

And to those people I send a big, sloppy pffffffttttt.

People who want a dog are probably beyond the sway of reasoned argument. But for so many of our furry friends, people enter pet ownership completely unprepared for the realities of pet parenting.

They poop and pee on the rug. They chew up your favorite family photos. They bark at inconvenient times and give you the puppy face because you want them in the crate and they want to be on your bed. They throw up really gross stuff. Sometimes they shed.

I had a dog, a sweet Golden Retriever named Blondie, who once ate a box of crayons. After surveying the results of Blondie’s endeavor in the yard, my dad observed, “That’s some colorful *&$%.”

This time of year, there are plenty of stories and warnings about getting into pet ownership without really understanding the work that’s involved. While that is certainly important, I’d like to add something that usually gets added as a footnote, if at all.

Dogs need food, water and veterinary care. But to thrive, dogs need love. Yours.

What a dog offers in companionship, loyalty and yes, love, is completely unmatched in the human kingdom. All they want, all they live for, is to see you, be with you and please you.

Until I brought home Bowser, I never had the close relationship with an animal that I enjoy now. The Scottie I had when I was young, Blackie, was firmly attached to my mom. Blondie, who was by all accounts a wonderful family dog, really belonged to my husband. Even my daughter has George, the once-in-a-lifetime tabby we rescued from the New Haven pound, glued to her side.

Jealousy consumed me, and because a writer’s life is solitary during working hours, I wanted a furry companion of my own.

Bringing home Bowser, whose loving nicknames I won’t mention here because I don’t want you to throw up on your keyboard, is the second best personal decision I’ve ever made, after marrying my husband.

To really enjoy having a dog and to get the most out of your pet ownership experience, you have to get silly. You have to give yourself over completely to the experience and become crazy in love with your pet.

You have to spoil her, talk to her and give her treats just for looking cute. You have to scratch her ears and her back vigorously and regularly, multiple times daily. Take her for walks. Bring her for rides in the car. Multiple times daily.

The idea of kenneling my sweet baby doodlebug (sorry) makes me anxious beyond belief. I defend him vigorously against the tyranny of my children and George the Cat. My friends think I’m crazy (except for the ones who get it). And I get a lot of eye rolls and pitiful looks from my husband, who would rather choke than admit he loves Bowser, too.

It’s so easy to bring home a dog and then just forget they’re there after the first exciting days. But please, don’t do that. Let yourself go crazy for your new addition.

Remember that dogs live -- they really do -- to please. When you do, you won’t believe how smart and sensitive these amazing creatures are. 

At least once, discover why adding a dog to your family brings more joy than you could ever think possible. It is a decision you will never regret.

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