“Can you play with the puppy for a bit?”
If Kari was facing me when she said that, she’d have seen the momentary flash of “Cripes, what do I do?” cross my face as I stared down at the tiny, grey, four-legged, excited, tail-wagging being in front of me.
I’m not a dog person. I’ve never been a dog person. I’m not entirely certain why this is the case. Some combination of fear and misunderstanding, having never had dogs growing up, never being around them. Or maybe I’d had a bad experience with a dog as a kid and it just stayed with me. I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t know.
Kari was house-sitting for some people a while back, mostly because said people had a small puppy who needed someone there. She is a dog person, by any definition. She loves most dogs. She had one growing up, and had pictures of that dog around her apartment when I went over there. She was good with them, in a way I’d seen others be, knowing just how to communicate, and her concern shows when she’s around them.
This dog, Pepsi (named by a little kid, clearly), didn’t seem to care that I had no idea how to respond to Kari’s question. Her tail was wagging, wanting SOMEONE to play with her. Kari was making dinner, and didn’t want the dog waiting around for scraps while she did. I wasn’t doing anything.
There was one problem with her ask: I really didn’t know much about dogs.
Dennis got home from work yesterday, and came downstairs to greet me. This was fine, in and of itself, and not that unusual. His next statement, however, was.
“This is gonna sound weird… there’s a dog outside our door.”
I don’t remember what I was doing at the computer, but I stopped. “What?” I asked, more out of disbelief than missing what he’d said. “Where?”
Dennis told me, and we went outside. A tiny little rat-like dog, shivering in a corner of our deck, next to the house.
There was probably a similar moment of panic between us when that happened, our collective ignorance of dogs freezing us. But it was clear: we should get him inside.
Dennis got on the horn to 311 to see what our next step was, and I tried to lure the shivering dog inside. I tried to grab him at first, shift him around to see if he was okay. He seemed to be favouring one of his legs initially, and I was worried he was really hurt.
I thought of Kari, of all the things she did, and had told me about dogs. “It’s okay,” I said, softly, as if the dog could understand me. “Come on in.” I tried motioning my hands first, and then stepping back into the house, into the warmth, hoping it would entice him.
The dog eventually got up, and bounded inside, going up the stairs into the kitchen as if it were his home. Dennis didn’t need the report; he heard rather than saw the black ball of fur move. Without knowledge, the next move was safe, and obvious. The blanket was my idea, the water was his.
Kari house-sat more than once over the fall and winter (because dogs), and I got some experience helping her walk them. It actually worked out well: it was a good excuse for us to get outside during the evening, if we were hanging out during the week. And small dogs are kind of hilarious.
One time, she had a place with TWO dogs, so we split the duty. She got the excitable one of the two. My main contribution was being able to hold a leash.
One of the things I resolved to do over the last couple years- in this relationship, or whenever- was to be more open-minded. I thought I would try to apply it to me not being a “dog person”. I didn’t really know dogs. I was afraid of them, on some level. Because I didn’t understand them.
I recall peppering Kari with questions about dogs, both at the house and as we went on the walks: etiquette, right things to do, when to pull the leash and when to let ’em go. She was patient and open, telling me what to do to let the dogs get to know me, and really breaking down several years of not knowing anything about how to handle myself around dogs. It makes sense: most people had been around dogs as kids, and really knew what to do. I didn’t.
Dennis and I had cats growing up, and being honest, we were very lucky. Our cats were personable, and loved people, which is very unusual for cats. Walking the dogs, being around them while Kari did her house-sitting, I started to understand how and why people could love them. I came to appreciate them myself, in some ways.
Kari was my first contact after getting the poor stray inside, and she had some good tips for us. Obvious stuff for dog owners, less obvious for us. Dennis got 311 on the case (animal control would be a couple of hours getting there, and would take the dog), and we speculated on the dog’s origins. He seemed old, and I thought he was hurt. We figured he was abandoned, though had nothing but our own suspicions to guide us.
Dennis had acted first, so I took point with our new guest. I thought back to the dog-walking with Kari, and the time with her that was shared with dogs while she was house-sitting. I tried to let him sniff me, get to know me (her words, on my phone, and in my head), but he was resistant. This was understandable: depending on how long he’d been outside, or what he’d been through, he probably had reason to be reluctant. Though he had sought out a corner near our house, shielded from the wind.
Soft strokes and soft voices seemed to put him at ease. He stopped shivering for a bit, at least. We fed him a little bit of cheese, which seemed to perk him up, and he finally lapped at the water after leaving it for a while. I felt a weird kind of elation at this. We helped! Dennis and I helped!
Dennis took a turn minding him. He’d settled in the kitchen, and eventually left the blanket for the floor to sleep. I didn’t know why he’d left the soft blanket for the cold floor, but wasn’t going to question. If that’s what this poor guy wanted, we weren’t going to take that away from him.
So I kind of learned how to play with the puppy. Pepsi didn’t care about my lack of knowledge, thankfully; she was young and excited enough that I was giving her attention that how I did it didn’t seem to matter.
I came to enjoy it, and Pepsi even seemed to pick up on it when I came back to visit Kari: any time I was around, the dog wanted to play, and thought I did too. She wanted me to chase her, to toss toys, and came to recognize me. It was endearing.
I’d almost forgotten why people get pets. Dennis and I are so long separated from having cats that a lot of that experience was forgotten to me. The companionship, the love, and a connection that’s different from you get with people.
I started to understand dogs, too: why people like them, and want them, and in some cases prefer them over cats. My long-standing theory was that dogs were “lower-floor/higher-ceiling”, though I’d pondered revisiting that theory after my time with Kari while she was house-sitting. I wish I’d known before. I wish I’d understood before.
But part of life is understanding that things happen in their own time, and I know that it wouldn’t have been the same for me if I hadn’t come to that in this time. Or if it wasn’t someone like Kari, loving and patient and understanding as she is, who’d helped me come to that place.
Animal control arrived promptly, and Dennis and I did our best shrug as we tried to figure out how the dog had arrived on our doorstep. No, he didn’t have ID. Yes, he was just waiting in the corner when we got home. No, we have no idea how he got there. No, neither of us had any idea how to take care of a dog, and we’re very sorry if he hurts you or throws up or something.
We didn’t ACTUALLY say that last one, but we were both thinking it the whole time. If you were dropping a lost dog anywhere, on our doorstep is probably the last place that guy would want to be. Two guys who didn’t know much about dogs, and for the most part, didn’t care for them. Especially little dogs.
I think Dennis and I would both agree it was an interesting few hours, and that we felt strongly for this little guy who was (figuratively) dropped into our laps. We didn’t know why or how he’d gotten there, and talking today we were hoping that he found his home. Or a home, if he’d been abandoned.
I’m probably still not a “dog person”, but after my last few months, I can see how someone would be one. How they could work their way into your heart, and stay there, and how you could love them. Maybe whoever had this guy felt that, maybe they didn’t. I hope they, or someone else, does again.