I feel I should preface this post with the fact that I do indeed, like dogs. All my life, I’ve enjoyed having a furry friend scampering about the house. Even though my first dog, Blanche, bit everyone who came over—family members included, I still have fond memories of her, tolerating our presence as she did.
Blanche was a rescue dog before there were rescue dogs. No, we didn’t get her from a special organization. We weren’t screened and deemed fit to handle her care. We didn’t buy her and the privilege of picking up her poop or washing the fleas out of her illustrious fur. We just found her, wandering our neighborhood, looking scared and needing a meal, a bath, and a bed. Funny, we don’t often invite people who posses these same pathetic qualities into our homes, but there is something disarming about an animal in this state that’s altogether alarming in a human.
My parents, being the humanitarians that they are, agreed the right thing to do was feed and wash the dog, let it rest, and then take it to an animal shelter where someone could adopt her. After all, they were already running a household of five, with a son who had a penchant for reptiles. Blanche didn’t seem to fit in the family picture. So one hot afternoon in Katy, Texas, we corralled a truck-owning neighbor and hosed the pup that would become known as Blanche down repeatedly with the full intention of sending her smelling of lilac right into the arms of her new family. Somewhere between lather, rinse, and repeat, my sister and I fell in love with the mutt.
We sent Amber in to give her most pathetic puppy eyes to our Dad and ask to keep Blanche. Like any red-blooded, American male faced with a little girl begging for something, my Dad caved. Blanche was ours, fleas and all. For fourteen years. She was a little dog, and they live a long time, mental health not withstanding. Despite all the love and care that we gave Blanche, which included birthday parties complete with cupcakes and pointy hats, she never really recovered from whatever horror her previous owners had put her through. She cowered when you went to pet her, bit new and old friends alike, and generally tried to avoid people. I recall my Mom buying her a faux leather jacket once, with a matching hat that had ear holes and an elastic chinstrap. This was really more of an ironic gift, poking fun of her biker-tough mentality, than an actual attempt to please Blanche or make her look presentable.
A lot has changed since the dog-owning days of my youth. Besides dog clothes making a fierce comeback, there are now dog car seats, dog diets, and my personal favorite, dog flu vaccines. One advertisement in a magazine devoted to none other than man’s best friend, pictured a sad looking puppy lying on the couch. The script below read: The only thing worse than having the flu is not being able to tell anyone about it. I happen to disagree. I think being manipulated to pay money for an animal to be preemptively injected with a strain of a human virus that is non-life-threatening and quite possibly doesn’t even affect canines, is a worse fate than suffering the seasonal flu in silence.
While walking around the neighborhood, I noticed the latest trend in pet ownership: Fence windows. It’s no longer enough to have a well-groomed backyard full of tennis balls. Today’s pet requires visibility. Some people only go the trouble of making dog-height level eye slits. Others screen in entire rectangles, allowing the dog to view the street activity with a wide lens. Our current family dog, Elvis, enjoys the aforementioned luxury. He also sleeps in his own bed at night with sheets and pillow. Although they both came to our house as strays, it’s not really fair to compare the temperaments of Elvis and Blanche.
Elvis was clearly the object of great affection and concern at his previous residence. His delightful disposition has prompted us to concoct many a tale of his escape or release into our neighborhood. Our favorite version has Elvis as a fraternity house dog who was dropped off unharmed by a the girlfriend/fiancé/wife of a fratastic dude who never took the time to untrain Elvis from sleeping on the sofa, getting in bed with you, or eating your ice-cream. Knowing he wouldn’t willingly part with the dog, she took matters into her own hands.
The very fact that we fantasize about our dog’s previous life shows the degree to which he has become part of the family. And we wouldn’t let our own kind sleep outside or live a life of wood-paneled imprisonment. Thus the burgeoning sector of luxury items for dogs. I don’t know if it’s because people are having fewer children now, or because they are waiting longer to start a family, or because we have more expendable income than before, but dogs are now a legitimate part of the economic sector. Although they don’t work themselves, they certainly know how to bring in the big bucks.