The problem with dogs is that they don’t grow up. They only grow old. They start as cute puppies, turn into impatient and demanding toddlers, and from there on, it’s a slippery slope to undignified old age, and beyond.
Liking puppies is easy. Everyone likes puppies. Even pugs are cute when they are puppies. But look at a pug when he grows old. When his eyes pop out of his flat face and turn into gelatinous balls covered in a bluish-whitish film and he no longer sees the world around him. When his stubby legs collapse under the weight of his bulky body and all he can do is waddle from one side of the house to the other, bumping into the furniture, and keeping himself busy by endlessly searching for food, which he doesn’t really need, because hungry he is not.
I don’t know what type of diseases this pug I know contracted by the time he reached the old age of sixteen, but his medicine cabinet is definitely better stocked than mine. He consumes pills dunked in cream cheese and goes nuts when he smells a chicken slow roasting in the oven. He knows that he will be the main beneficiary of this culinary masterpiece.
I can see how much this pug's owners, who also happen to be my friends, love him. He is the epicenter of their emotional life and an integral part of the family. Their devotion to him is admirable, yet mind boggling. That dog has the face only a mother can love. To my uninitiated eyes, he looks like something between an overweight piglet and a depressed gopher. Even the sounds that come out of him are peculiar. He snores like an emphysema-ridden chain smoker and his bark sounds like a phlegm-filled cough.
On my friends' porch stands a tattered baby stroller. As far as I know it is not intended for a baby or a stroll. I refuse to imagine his mama walking the streets with a baby stroller occupied by this pug. It must generate some derisive comments from passersby. Which makes me realize that the love his people feel for him surpasses even the fear of public humiliation.
I never try to feign affection for this pug. That is beyond my capacity. So let’s say we respect each other’s space for the sake of mom and pop. He knows when I am around because he can smell me, but even his superior sense of smell does not prevent him from bumping into me when I'm sitting in his kitchen. I attribute his unusual interest in my legs to his excitement at the thought that food might be served soon, because I am a guest. When he parks next to my feet, his mama scolds him to go back to his corner because I am not going to give him any food. He doesn’t hold it against me. He knows that even if I don’t hand him a piece of this or that, something might fall off my plate to the floor. Miracles do happen sometimes, even dogs know that.
Looking at the way my friends treat this elderly pug, still taking him for short walks outside so he can relieve himself, still cutting up his food for him, still making sure he takes his pills on time, etc., I can easily imagine how until very recently this pug used to be their permanent toddler. Because dogs don’t becomes adults. They move from toddlerhood to old age, just like that.
As long as a dog functions, his people take him out to the dog park, the beach, or the wilderness to run around and meet other dogs just like I used to do with my daughter when daycare was over and I had no other entertainment options at home. And they hang out with other dog people and exchange dog stories , just like I used to do with the other mothers at the playground.
As long as a dog functions, his people pack snacks to feed him and water to hydrate him after he runs around the beach or the dog park and gets hungry and thirsty, just like I used to do with my daughter when she was four. The only difference is that I brought carrots and apples and dog people bring chewy dog treats.
As long as a dog functions, dog people have to make sure he doesn’t fill their car with sand and dirt and samples of the local vegetation and of course hair, which later they might want to vacuum if they want to have their car minimally presentable, or not, just like I used to do when my daughter climbed into the car with her little shoes full of sand and her hands sticky with god knows what. At least her hair didn't cling to the car seat. But the Cheerios were everywhere.
But the thing is that my daughter grew up, and I stopped going to the playground, and preparing snacks, and cleaning the car after she returned from her outings. I stopped putting socks on her little feet and buttoning her shirts, and brushing her teeth and braiding her hair. Now she can do all that stuff by herself. I only have to cook when she’s around and send money after she calls. That’s it. Easy.
But a dog, he never learns. He never grows up, and for the entire time he graces you with his dog love, you have to do all this for him, until he gets so old, that you have to pry his jaws open and shove a pill in his mouth, while touching his tongue and smelling his doggie breath. Right after he ate that beautiful, perfectly-roasted chicken.
photo: Flickr/ Kasper Florchinger