When I was a child, my dad brought home the cutest little puppy. She was a black cocker spaniel/French poodle mix. He named her Zola after gorgonzola cheese.
That’s right. Gorgonzola cheese.
My sister and I came home from school about a week later and Zola was gone.
‘I sent her to obedience school,’ my mother said. We later found out that Zola’s lack of bladder control had driven my mother to call a radio station and offer her up to the first person who called her. My mother was (and continues to be) a clean freak. She dusts and vacuums her house three times a week and washes her kitchen floor twice a week (she moves the refrigerator each time). She also dusts her walls. No joke.
Zola didn’t stand a chance.
That was the end of pet ownership for us. Well, except for a parakeet we had for several years . FYI, parakeets are pretty lame pets. We’d have had about as much fun with a pet rock.
My parents are Italian immigrants. Over the years, I’ve learned that Italians (at least the ones to whom I am related) are not really dog people. I have a cousin in Italy who lives on a farm and has hunting dogs. He reportedly loves his dogs tremendously, but they live in a giant outdoor cage. He doesn’t even let them come in when the weather is below freezing. I stare at my three dogs – one in a flannel-lined denim jacket, one in a fleece-lined ski jacket and one who gets chiropractic adjustments on a routine basis – and think of how they react when it takes me more than 30 seconds to open the door once they’ve done their business. Different worlds.
My aunt came to visit from Italy a few years ago. She tried her best to mask her horror when she saw my dogs – not only in the house, but ON THE FURNITURE. It was as though she had stumbled upon a cow and a pig milling about my living room.
I’m not sure how I ended up with three dogs. I certainly didn’t mean to.
The first pets I ever owned were cats. We had just moved into our first home. It was new construction on what was previously a cornfield. You know who else lives in cornfields? Mice. Lots of them.
We had the most brazen mice living in our home. I could hear them scratching in the attic and the walls. I would be wide awake in bed – intermittently enraged as I listened to my husband snore and terrified as I listened to the mice scratch away. In the evenings, they would dash across the living room floor as we watched TV. I would stand on chairs and scream like those women in old-school cartoons:
Me: AAAAAAHHHH!!!! GET IT!!! GET IT!!!!!
Jack: What? Get what?
Me: The mouse! Didn’t you see that mouse?!? It went right around that corner!!! ARE YOU BLIND?!?! Why are you still sitting there?!?! GO GET IT!!!
Jack: (moving in slow motion to the corner) Huh. Looks like he got away.
Me: (fuming) Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!? Are you trying to piss me off?!?!
Ten minutes later, I’d hear a trap snap and I’d immediately start crying like a baby.
Jack: What’s wrong with you?
Me: I feel so bad! They were just trying to stay warm!
Jack: You can’t be serious.
The fact that he didn’t smother me in my sleep is a testament to his patience.
I ended up adopting two kittens from the SPCA one day after work. Within two weeks, the problem was solved. Of course, I started to refer to the stretch of sidewalk from the front door to the driveway as ‘the walk of horrors’ because it was littered with mouse, bird and bunny carcasses, but at least there were no mice inside the house.
I liked the cats fine and treated them well, but I never felt particularly close to them. Several years later, I decided it was time to get a dog for my son. I didn’t really care for dogs or want to own one, but he was 12 and I thought every little boy should have a dog. I loved my son and was willing to tolerate the presence of a smelly dog in my house to make him happy. So, off we went to the SPCA where he picked Maggie (our lab mix).
Within 24 hours of walking through our front door, Maggie crawled into my heart and has yet to leave. She is a lazy lump of a dog, which means she’s a perfect fit for our family. She spends her days sprawled out on the floor sleeping. She gets up only to eat, drink, go out to pee and beg for treats. So she pretty much mimics me. Unfortunately, she enjoys snacking on other dogs from time to time.
About a year after adopting Maggie, we went back to the SPCA and adopted Rocco (our Jack Russell Terrier – or Terrierist, as my husband refers to him.) Loving and sweet with humans, he is pure white (supremacist) trash when confronted with other dogs – especially black dogs. It is very humiliating and disconcerting to live with a racist. He spends 90% of his day plotting against our newest dog and the remaining portion sleeping. His breath could peel the paint off of the walls, but we love him dearly.
Seven years later (last June,) we headed to the Humane Association and adopted Frankie (our chihuahua/French bulldog mix.) Frankie is, by far, the most friendly of the three. And the most trouble. He digs, he bites and he chews things. We believe he may be part cricket (based on his ability to repeatedly jump about two feet into the air from a standing position) and part cat (based on his love of yarn, his joy of crawling along the back of the sofa and his recently-developed habit of clawing at our faces.) We are also pretty certain that he is, ahem…developmentally disabled (based on his pleasant demeanor, his lack of grace and his inability to grasp simple concepts like, for instance, ‘that dog is sick of you and is going to maul you’.) He is the bane of Rocco’s existence, but misreads Rocco’s rage as an invitation to play. Because, again, he’s a bit…slow. His cuteness is his secret weapon. It makes it impossible to stay mad at him.
Like many dog owners, I have grown to like dogs more than I like most people. They are a pain in the ass, they make a mess, they don’t always smell great and they’re pretty expensive to maintain. But I truly believe they offer humans the only true unconditional love they will ever receive. And for that reason, I will continue to open my home and my heart and my wallet for them. Just don’t tell my parents.