My desire to have a dog was based on Timmy and Lassie. If I had a dog I could have an adventure. I could have a trusty companion. I could be loved unconditionally. My mother was quick to point out that dogs were dirty, and that Stuyvesant Town forbid them.
I settled for stuffed animals. My favorite was Lucky the Lion. He was so big that he took up the whole foot of my bed. He was the first prize I ever won. My name was pulled out of the raffle drum at the “father and sons” dinner at Congregation Rodeph Sholom. Daughters were allowed, but I pretended I was a son. I carried Lucky the Lion home on the bus; he took up two seats.
It is hard to go on an adventure with a big stuffed lion. I sat with Lucky the Lion on my bed and daydreamed. I pretended to be a boy with a dog. I imagined that my dog would anticipate and follow all my commands. I thought all dogs were perfect, like Lassie.
When I was 10, we moved. It wasn’t a big move. It was to a slightly larger apartment up the street in Peter Cooper Village (no dogs allowed). My mother wanted us to throw out our old toys. She said I was too old for stuffed animals. I knew I was too old to want to be a boy, but I could not stop wanting to be one. Lucky the Lion was dumped into a bin in the garbage room. I left him behind.
When I turned thirty, I thought I should get a dog. I wasn’t sure because I never owned one. I had read a lot about dogs, but I didn’t know much about living with one. The books were full of warnings about being the alpha dog and making sure the dog knew you were in charge. It didn’t sound like playing Timmy and Lassie. If I made the wrong decision it could make my life and the dog’s life miserable. I waited three years and then I adopted Lena. After Lena died, I adopted Gracie.
I was lucky. I was a dog person all along. There is nothing I would rather be doing than sitting on the couch rubbing Gracie’s belly.
Being around dogs make me happy. Even an imperfect dog, like Gracie. Gracie is a good girl, but she’s a handful. She barks at all the new dogs in our building, and lunges after anyone on a skateboard. She barks every morning at 5:15 when our neighbor’s New York Times is delivered with a thud. She scratches at the couch as if she was trying to dig to China. But when she turns around and looks up at me with that goofy grin, or when she rolls over and thumps her tail on the floor, I melt. I’m a soft-hearted butch.
I’m an imperfect owner. I don’t neglect Gracie, but I’m busy. I don’t have enough time to work with her. I don’t give her as much exercise as she needs. I take her to the dog run, but I can’t tire her out enough to calm her down. She’d be happier if she was herding sheep. She’d be happier if I took her for an adventure instead of reading or sitting at the computer. She’d be happier with Timmy.
Saturday was the first real snowfall of the season. Gracie loves the snow. She loves to pee on it. If there is any leftover snow within a quarter-mile of our apartment she will hold it until we get to that patch. Because she loves snow, I love snow. As soon as it starts snowing, I reach for her leash and we go out for a walk. She snuffles it, as if she’s hunting for truffles. She paws it, she rolls in it, she’s happy. I’m happy. We are both covered with snow.