My friend Fred is going to the dogs, or in this case, the dogs are coming to him. He offered to dog-sit for a week- and a half. Unaccustomed to animals in his life, but as a favor to friends who needed to leave town due to a family emergency, he made the grand gesture to take on the job.
"How bad could it be?" I asked, trying to sound sympathetically realistic. "Human house guests can be worse."
"Don't remind me," he said. "I'm expecting them next weekend."
The present "house guests" included a Bouvier des Flandres named "Mrs. Peel" and a Briard who answers to "Voltaire." This guaranteed to provide, if not an enriching experience, at least a tolerable one. I imagined Fred would be as conscientious and gracious a host with his furry friends as he is with his human house guests.
"You'll see," I said, "the time will fly."
"I'm dreading it already," he said.
Fred, who, under most circumstances, is as generous a person as I've ever known, admitted that the responsibility of entertaining two dogs was not his forte.
He further confessed that he disliked the feeling of having to be dominant over an animal. Two animals were pushing the limits.
"So, why did you agree to do it?" I finally asked.
"Because," he said,"while my friends reminded me I'm not a dog person, and while I agreed that was true, I am a friend person. So I offered, they accepted, and I have dogs for a while."
Day one came and went. The dogs settled into a routine of sorts orchestrated by my friend to allow him to function normally while making sure the dogs' needs were met.
The daily regimen included brisk morning and evening walks, two meals, and whatever activities were part of the prescribed package. Accommodations were the garage, where the dogs would reside with access to their crates for easy entry and familiarity.
"How is it going?" I checked in.
"Manageable," Fred said, "but I'm not really cut out for this dog business."
Upon further reflection, he admitted that his antipathy toward pets wasn't canine-specific.
"I can't stand watching goldfish either," he admitted. "It seems unnatural for a fish to be confined to a bowl where it swims around in a circle all day."
I had to agree. Animals and fish removed from their natural habitats goes against the natural order of things. Fish belong in streams and oceans. Similarly, dogs should be able to navigate in large stretches of land where they can run freely, meet other dogs and live life with limitless boundaries -- not be prisoners assigned to allocated spaces based on the needs of their owner's whims or schedules.
I shared with Fred that there is something about owning pets that instills in me, too, a combination of sadness and guilt when I must leave them alone for hours at a time. It is difficult enough to cope with human frailties, but animals --helpless and dependent creatures -- were more than even I wished to acquire.
I once owned a cat that provided endless amounts of joy and was a great sleeping companion until her time on earth was over. I mourned her loss far beyond what was considered appropriately normal. Now, my friend reflects and laments. "I am reminded every day -- all day -- why I'm not a dog person. Either they take a lot of time, or I feel like I'm neglecting them, or both," he says.
One day, Fred took the dogs to a local dog park, where he observed the following behavior patterns:
"There is a different diplomacy, or hierarchy, at the park that is settled subtly and with little disturbance," he said. "Left to themselves, the dogs don't apparently sink to our level. It's counter-intuitive, but evidently, they're not as angry, spiteful, and devoted to combat as we are. They're much less primitive than people."
I envisioned a kind of friendly rivalry where socialization became adaptive and even nurturing.
Come Friday, Fred's gig will be over when his friends return to collect Mrs. Peel and Voltaire, and he just can't wait. He will be grateful to have his house back to himself, so he tells me.
I imagine a different scenario: when the house is devoid of dogs, and becomes quiet again, when Fred no longer has reason to complain, or when the occasional barks cease to announce the animals' presence, it is then that Fred will feel a momentary tug of separation. He will deny this, of course, but you know how it is when you no longer have what you're so sure you didn't want -- sometimes, you actually miss it.