Last week, I looked at our Scottish terrier named Douglass, and instead of being filled with annoyance; I was filled with pity for his lonely day next to the water bowl. So much pity, in fact, that I decided to let him ride in the car with me while I went to pick up my toddler–something I haven’t done in the six plus years he’s been with our family.
I didn’t always hate pets. In fact, I grew up as quite a dog-lover, devotedly letting a white Westie named Robbie take over my bed at night, and accompanying him on tedious, slow-moving walks with a million stops at trees and fire hydrants.
But somehow, as a teenager, my interest in animals waned. I found Robbie–now aged, deaf and grouchy–too smelly to be around and less interesting than my ongoing high school drama. And then my mother rescued a neurotic Maltese from probable death by the pound, who proved to make my life miserable. Completely deranged, Buddy would attack any unfamiliar person who entered the house. True, he was only about 5 lbs., so you barely noticed him gnawing at your shoe, but it was still embarrassing–especially as I was new in the neighborhood and trying to make friends. Buddy also never mastered the skill of being house-trained, so our downstairs became an obstacle course of gates and blockades to keep Buddy from peeing on the furniture. And Buddy and Robbie, both unneutered males, would vent their mating frustration on each other, clinching my determination that dogs were gross, weird, and unfit for human cohabitation.
But then I got engaged, and my husband-to-be (who is named Robbie, no joke) told me it was his lifelong dream to have a dog. I told him I wasn’t on board. So my husband, the king of noncommittal, said, “OK, we’ll see.”
And see we did. Two months into our marriage, I got a call from my mother.
“Rachel,” she said in a frantic whisper, “I did it.”
“Did what?” I asked.
“I stole the dog!”
My mother–an avid animal lover who regularly donates to pig sanctuaries and PETA–had taken pity on yet another forlorn animal, chained outside in the New Jersey cold next to his own feces. After weeks of pleading with the owner and local law enforcement to improve his situation, she took matters into her own hands.
“Can I bring him to you?” she asked. My mother couldn’t keep him since the abusive owner lived only a few blocks away.
“Um, I guess so,” I replied. So that night, Douglass, as he soon came to be known, arrived at our apartment in Queens. And somehow, he never left. My husband’s dream had come true.
But while I didn’t object to Douglass at first, I never really got attached to him. He was a good conversation starter (in the Orthodox community most people don’t own dogs) and helped us meet new people in the ‘hood. But he was wild, a bit ugly, and didn’t cuddle.
I put up with Douglass until we had our second child and moved to California. And then, suddenly overwhelmed with taking care of two kids, my feelings turned from apathy to elimination-strategy. I started to hate Douglass. I hated that he peed on the carpet; crept behind me while I was making dinner, causing me to trip; and attacked any dog in close proximity. He had an oversized head that would often painfully collide with my shins, and his sudden bark would wake up the baby from his nap, which I’m sure you understand is an absolutely unforgivable sin.
I started plotting Douglass’ exit. I posted his photo on Facebook, asking for takers. I threatened to put him on Craigslist, until my husband decided to start taking him to work to keep him out of my hair. That worked somewhat.
But then we had our third child, and I really lost my mind. I came down with an ugly case of postpartum depression, exacerbated by an epic family fallout that left me reeling. I was overwhelmed by basic tasks: like keeping our kids fed, clothed, and (relatively) clean, and my husband was overwhelmed by my newfound incapacity. The Douglass issue took a backseat. But in my free moments I still felt the enmity. And poor Douglass, he felt it too. He became lethargic and depressed himself, and would no longer play ball or respond to the sound of a tuna can being opened. Our kids, who liked Douglass, would clamor for him to sleep in their beds. But inevitably, if he were left in their bedroom, he would urinate on a blanket, or crib, or laundry hamper. My kids’ room constantly stank from it–just something else for me to deal with.
I decided it was time to give Douglass back to my mother. It had been six years, a sufficient margin to be safe from the former owner, and he would be loved and cared for in my mother’s arms like no other.
But Mom had gotten used to life without pets and was planning too many trips to deal with taking care of an animal again. I didn’t feel comfortable giving Douglass elsewhere, so I suddenly felt very, very stuck.
But at the same time I was also starting to feel happier. Through a mix of support groups, exercise, therapy, and good nutrition, my mood was lifting and my energy was coming back. I agreed to start hosting Shabbat guests again. I got back in touch with friends I hadn’t spoken to in months. I restarted stalled writing projects and even made a plan to go back to school. It had been over a year, but I finally was starting to feel like myself.
Then one day my husband was stuck in jury duty, and I agreed to take Douglass on a walk. I stood patiently in the sunshine while he peed on a bush, and, like a revelation, I realized I didn’t hate him anymore! I suddenly saw Douglass for what he was: an aging, placid Scottish terrier–a bit on the smelly side–who just wanted some love and attention. And for the first time in years, I felt like I could give him some.
Poor Douglass. I see now that he had become the scapegoat for all my years of overwhelm: moving, work, kids, financial stress, family drama, and more. Yes, I plan to take Douglass to a trainer since being house-trained is a must. But the fact that I’m petting him and talking to him during the day is almost unreal. I barely can believe it myself. I’m sorry for all my years of neglect, Douglass, and I even love you. Who would’ve thought!