Kids: Wanting a Dog

My twelve-year-old son has wanted a dog since he was five. For a number of reasons, we’ve been putting him off.


First, and foremost: we have a cat - a very old cat. We adopted Basie from an animal shelter only a few days before she was to be euthanized. We’d gone to the shelter looking for a young cat, maybe a kitten. Basie was fully grown, and was sitting in her litter staring out like she knew she was a goner in a shelter full of adorable kittens. She’d been owned by a single woman, who’d had her declawed.Two years later, the woman married a man with other pets, and Basie, who had a much less cool name then, could not adapt. She fought with the other animals to the point where she’d been surrendered to the shelter. I always felt the woman probably made the wrong choice, and I wonder if she’s still with the man and his pets. The shelter had two conditions for adoption. One was that she remain exclusively an indoor pet (since she is declawed, this was a no-brainer), the other was that we promise not to bring other pets into the household. With the exception of some ill-fated hermit crabs, fish, and aquatic frogs, we’ve honored both conditions admirably.


Another reason for our doglessness is that my husband is not really a dog person. I suspect his real aversion isn’t to dogs, but to very particular kinds of dog people. He dislikes people who seem to fancy themselves “Lords of the Manor” as if they live on vast English estates, yet want to unleash the hounds at public parks. It’s really the American SUV/ Big Mac/ McMansion mentality that he dislikes (as do I), and this mentality does seem to run rampant amongst certain types of dog people. The same ones who get giant dogs that belong on acres of land in Colorado, and try to make them fit their southern townie lifestyle. These aren’t people who really love dogs; these are people who love an image of themselves, and purchase these dogs to inflate their own over-sized egos. If they really loved dogs, they’d get one that fits their lifestyle and their tiny plot of living space.


Perhaps the trickiest issue, though, is that my eight-year-old son has a strong fear of dogs. He calls them “monsters”, even when they’re fluffy little puppies. His fear is understandable; he had repeated exposure to some poorly-trained large dogs when he was very little. I tell myself that with time and systematic desensitization he’ll overcome this aversion, but we’ve been working on this issue for years now. Just as we seem to be making progress, some clueless person unleashes his or her dog in a public space and scares the beejezuz out of him. Like at a local educational farm, where a very large puppy knocked him down, and had to be pulled off of him, scratching his face, arms and knees. My son had tried to run away when he saw the dog, and the dog, being just a puppy, chased him. I don’t blame the dog; I blame the owner who should’ve supervised a big puppy around small kids. I’m afraid the only thing my son learned at that educational farm was that running from a dog can be worse than standing still and being terrified. Thankfully, we do have semi-frequent exposure to a well-trained, sweet, calm dog that he has almost learned to ignore, after a few initial “Where’s the Monster?” questions.This has to be a positive sign. The fact that the dog is a three-legged pit bull is endlessly amusing to me.


My twelve-year-old, meanwhile, has been ridiculously patient, waiting over half his life for a dog. He’s even started saying he’d be happy with a kitten. Part of this is because, having done some pet-sitting for a former neighbor, he now appreciates that dogs require a lot of attention. And part of it is that I think he’s giving up on us ever being ready for a dog. The vet has suggested that a kitten might be acceptable to Basie, whereas an adult cat or a dog would not.


Basie is now 19 years old - as cranky as ever, on multiple meds and IV fluids every three days. She won’t leave us alone when we eat, or read, or try to type on the computer. She knows she rules this roost, and is my only female companion in this home with five males. At this point, it might be spite keeping her alive; I’m not sure. What I do know is it still looks like we’re not getting a dog anytime soon. If it means Basie is still around, I’m good with that - but perhaps it’s time to consider a kitten for the sake of a boy who’s been waiting a very long time.