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I don't own a dog. It's true. I resist owning a dog despite the urging of friends who insist it's more gratifying than raising a family, or embracing a lover, or maintaining close relatives. It's a mass trend. I read that both Seattle and San Francisco now have more dogs than children; that 80% of dog owners now refer to themselves as their pooch's "mommy" or "daddy;" and some 45 percent say that having a dog is a superior experience to having a child.
I don't argue. I mean everyone knows that dogs make better companions than humans. I'm sure you've heard the jokes:
• Unlike your spouse, your dog is always happy to see you.
• Unlike your lover, your dog actually misses you when you're gone.
• Dogs don't criticize your friends.
• They're happy with whatever video you rent.
• They think you're a brilliant chef.
• They mean it when they kiss.
Well, the list is endless, and part of a rising general opinion that animals may not be more important than people, but they're probably better — I mean people being so warlike, so polluting, so fickle, so judgmental, so unforgiving, so self-absorbed, and so astoundingly difficult to please.
Really, astoundingly difficult to please.
Okay, this opinion probably doesn't give humans enough credit...for example, we invented dogs, didn't we, thousands of years ago? Bred them into these wonderful, soulful creatures? Without us, where would dogs be?
So me, I'm still holding out hope for my human relationships. No kidding: I'm sure that someday they'll all work out, and the people in my life will prove just as loyal, eager, upbeat, and affectionate as, well.....
Last week, after a rough tumble with wife and kids, neighbors and in-laws, I joined my friend Jim for an evening stroll up Runyon Canyon in West Hollywood. Jim's twice divorced, no kids, and not coincidentally, owns two dogs. Runyon is a great mixing bowl of singles and dog fanciers, rising out of the city like a set for romantic comedy. Come by at 7 p.m., and you'll find a crowd of folks aged 25 to 35, working their thighs and racing their retrievers off-leash. The dog people and non-dog people co-exist, if uneasily.
"On the one hand," says Jim as we pass through the gates that smell of urine, "my dogs are conversation starters. On the other hand, I can avoid sleeping with a woman by saying I have to run home to give them a walk. Works either way."
I've never seen Jim so happy. And one after another, as I look into the faces of the dog people watching their animals leap and bark, I see yes, a true light, a pure and unalloyed joy.
Then I look at the few actual parents juggling kids and strollers, and sure enough, they seem much less joyful about the antics of their offspring. As usual, actual parental good cheer seems a tad forced, with an overlay of worry and irritation.
Now a woman pulls up with a jowly boxer, her own cheeks shining. She and Jim exchange dog names, and as their pets tumble, the humans make peppy talk about kibble and excrement and chew toys. Three or four other dogs arrive and soon there's a rowdy rumble which makes the dog people smile and the non-dog people scowl. Once again, Jim suggests I cross over and become a dog person. He says I look like someone who'd appreciate a Lab.
For a moment, watching him fondle his giddy Shepherd's furry ear, I hesitate. I mean they look so content.
Then I straighten my back and think, "No. Surely there's something nobler in spending my time continuing to seek the affection of my fellow human beings, in catering to their needs and trying to give them pleasure. Probably something deeper if...less reliable; more significant if...less appreciated; grander...if more self-sacrificing. I'm sure there's something more spiritual, more necessary, more ultimately gratifying, more....something.
"Really, I'm pretty damn sure."
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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