By Tom Travis
I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to take care of a dog and three cats. Not one of those little cute lap dogs but a really large, hyper black Lab named Sadie. Albeit Sadie is my brother and sister-in-law’s dog, so kind of like a niece-dog.
I have to confess that the first two thoughts in my head were: my brother’s house is way out in the country about 30 miles north of Flint and west of Birch Run. I was envisioning morning coffee on his patio in the bucolic peacefulness of country life watching the deer graze at the tree line along the Flint River. And also, shopping at the Birch Run outlets. When my brother asked me to dog-sit my first thought wasn’t even about Sadie. I mean, she’s a cute and a lovable dog for sure.
My life as a pet-less, single guy is filled with regimen and order, by design. I can pretty much tell you what I’m going to be doing most days and weeks except for the occasional and sudden press conference, visiting bigwigs or some other newsy event that dares to interrupt my balanced, intentional Zen-filled daily pace. I have neither a spouse nor partner nor pet to dictate to me a schedule other than my usual daily itinerary.
During the pandemic shut-down I pondered, like millions of others as we all “battened down the hatches” at home, getting a dog or a cat. I even looked up dog breeds and did some pet research. But then I snapped to it and realized the central tenet of why I don’t have a pet….I like being single and pets are an extra and significant layer of responsibility.
I’m reminded of this significant layer of responsibility when I’m out with a pet-person having coffee or lunch and they’ll jump out of their seat saying, “Oh, I gotta get home and let Fifi, Flossie or Bubba out to go potty….bye.” Cat owners don’t have to do this.
I’ve even gone as far as to write down some reasons why I don’t want a pet: I don’t like to pet or touch animals, I don’t like the oil from their fur on my hands, I don’t like their hair on my clothes, they puke and poop inside on the floor, they die and that makes me sad (I have enough to cry about.), they have to go to the doctor (money I don’t want to spend), they bark annoyingly long and loud.
Reasons to have a pet: Companionship. Meeting cute humans while walking your dog at a dog park. Unconditional love (from dogs, cats of course don’t give a shit about you. Cats offer the opposite, pure judgmental and condescending vibes.)
Here’s another reason I’m not really interested in having a dog. When I walked into my brother’s home each day after work I found something new, a gift, if you want to call it that. One day it was dried puke on the living room floor (my brother said it was likely from the cat.) I confronted Sadie about and asked her if she did that. She just looked down the hallway where the clandestine felines dwelled so apparently it was, in fact, cat puke.
The next day it was a tube of my sister-in-law’s hand lotion chewed apart lying on Sadie’s blanket. As soon as I saw the chewed lotion tube, Sadie hung her head. Then I tried something we all try…reasoning with pets. Why do we try to reason and talk to animals? I tried to reason with Sadie. I sat on the floor with her and cupped her big black Lab face in my hands. I asked her why she chewed that tube of lotion. She just looked at me. She didn’t try to lick me. She didn’t try to move. She looked at me in a way as if to say, “let’s do this all day, just stare at each other.”
Tanja Mancinelli wrote in the Summer 2022 Meditation Magazine about animal communication, “Animals and animal communication can help us to restore a healthy relationship with creation by reminding us of the sacredness of all living forms, by showing us that everything is conscious – even if at different levels and thus worthy of our respect and loving care, and most of all by reminding us of the deep interconnectedness of all living forms, humans included, into a miraculous and mysterious web of existence.”
Each day when I came home Sadie had a bra from the laundry basket at the foot of my brother and sister-in-law’s bed and a pair of my brother’s shoes lying on her blanket in the living room. I would pick up the bra and shoes and put them back in the bedroom and the next time I came home there they were, again. I assumed it was a sign that Sadie missed her parents.
At the beginning of my dog-sitting assignment I would just leave the house, get in my car and leave. But then I found myself talking to Sadie and saying good-bye to her. I would look at her into her eyes and say, “I’m leaving now Sadie. I’m going bye-bye. I have to go to work.” You’ve heard people say the phrase, “big puppy dog eyes.” That’s what Sadie gave me when I said good-bye….big, brown, sad, pouty puppy dog eyes.
Sadie taught me and reminded me of some important life lessons. We need each other. We joke about the crazy nature of dogs compared to cats. You know the typical scene? You walk in the door of your house and the dog is right there jumping in your face, licking, barking, running between your legs (repeat).
Honestly, deep down, the craziness of a dog’s welcome can warm your heart. Who doesn’t love to be recognized and your presence enjoyed? It’s like that classic Cheers scene where everyone calls out Norm’s name: “Norm!!”
The joyful consistent and unconditional welcome of a dog when you get home makes you feel loved and appreciated. Even if the people in your life don’t love and appreciate you.
Nonetheless, I’m going to remain a single and petless guy. I love your pet – Flossie, Riffle, Sadie and Mitsy – just keep them in your own house.
EVM Managing Editor and animal lover but not an animal owner Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org