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Dog Dreams

I saw this dog today. I was shopping—for a sweater, not a dog. But there he was, a happy beagle, completely thrilled to pounce and rumble with this stranger, whose master was, at that moment, charging my credit card with a fairly guilt-inducing sum of money.

I’ve always loved beagles. If I were to have a dog, I would want it to be part beagle. Or corgi or dachshund. Only part, though, because I really prefer mutts.

Nevertheless, I don’t have a dog and the odds are I won’t get one anytime soon. Because I’ll never forget what I heard comedienne Rita Rudner say: “My husband and I can’t decide between having a child or getting a dog. We’re just not sure which we want to ruin—our rug or our lives.”

I chose children, of course—though these, too, can be pretty hard on rugs. In fact, I’d have had a third child, too. For one reason or another that hasn’t seemed to be in the cards, perhaps out of fear that I wouldn’t have another as wonderful as the two I already have.

Having said that, even wonderful ones can be onerous. Ornery. Obstreperous. Obtuse, off-handed and off-base. My kids are now 18 and 15; believe me, I speak from experience.

Of course, both of my daughters want me to get them/us a dog. It doesn’t seem to matter that one of them is leaving for college in four months or that I have had some real issues with the other one about what constituted acceptable guinea pig care—that is, when Bubbles, poor soul, was still alive.

So though they regularly cajole and wheedle, I have stood my ground. No dog, no how.

Fortunately, I have a neighbor whose dog is practically kin to us. Daniel is an amazing dog, part Doberman, part shepherd. We care for him when we can and I like to think he remembers our shrill voices and busy ways. He actually sings “Happy Birthday” (he really does). He likes his peanut butter. He likes his sticks. He is a very good dog.

So—with Daniel in my life, why would I want to go introducing some skinny, mangy whelp into the family system? It just wouldn’t work.

That’s what I tell my kids. But the real reason I don’t get a dog is that I don’t want to scoop the poop. And I don’t want to walk the dog in cold weather. I don’t want to walk the dog in the morning. I don’t want to walk the dog at night.

I live in Niskayuna where nearly everybody has a dog to walk, or a stroller or both. I watch them from my bedroom window some mornings. I admire them. I envy them their dogs. Sort of.

Because I know the truth: I’d leap to get a dog if I had in my currently nonexistent household staff a dog-walker who was also a poop-scooper, which is, I suppose, part of the dog-walking job description in towns keen to keep the streets tidy. But then again, if I did have a dog-walker I couldn’t live with myself. What kind of middle-class sell-out had I become to hire someone else to walk and curb my dog? After all, I had washed the cloth diapers of my eldest daughter (though I wised up by the second one).

You can see why “dogs” is a complicated subject for me.

Only—it’s not just dogs. It’s house plants, too.

House plants are not complicated because I don’t have a green thumb. I do have a fine enough green thumb. I used to graft the cacti and force the bulbs like nobody’s business. Nowadays I make herbs grow out of the sandy, shady glade that is my yard. But houseplants are different. They require relationship.

And sun. I don’t get much sun.

I used to have four plants: a faux-stately mahogany tree—which I paid too much for, given its eventual fate—a Price Chopper scheflera and a hearty example of the ubiquitous ficus. I also have a tiny, darling patchouli plant.

I love patchouli. Yes, I know. It smells of pot and sex and incense. It smells of head shops and unwashed madras caftans. But it also smells whole—like grass that hasn’t withered, like skin that still can feel, like laughter and mystery and promise.

So I am good to my little patchouli plant. I give it the best sun. And still sometimes it gets a little droopy and I wonder if it’s just not cut out for this climate, even if I shelter it.

For the most part, though, I don’t need to pay it much mind. I don’t need to walk it, curb it, feed it. I don’t need to bring it to the vet.

Nor do I have to bring it to the school event or the dentist’s office or the birthday party. I don’t have to worry about its grades, its friends, its attitude, its troubles, its sadnesses. I don’t have to—politely or impolitely—yell at it to empty the dishwasher. Because it can’t. It’s a plant.

And it’s my favorite plant. But of life’s three big demands—kids, dogs, houseplants—I chose to focus on the first.

I know there are better women than me out there, women whose kids walk the dog and sort the laundry while they are free to swab the mealworms off the underside of the ficus leaves with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. I never made it as that kind of woman—and actually, I don’t know any women who did.

I admit: I’d like to get a dog. And I very much want my little patchouli plant to take steady root and grow strong. Barring a third child, these are worthy desires, I think.

But I’ve still got a few miles to go with the two I have, And I don’t want to be out walking the dog on the bike path when there is still some time to walk a path with my daughters.

—Jo Page


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