Friday, June 15, 2012

We Have a Dog

Joe's the one on the right.

You can ask any of my friends -- I am not an animal person. I'm allergic to cats, and, while we always had a dog when I was growing up, I've found that it's tough enough trying to keep a house clean with two kids and a husband. Like I always say: what do I need a dog for? I just got Joe to stop pooping on the floor.

And of course, animals can sense that. Every time I walk into a friend's house who has a dog or a cat, that thing is on me like acne on a freshman. Somehow they figure out exactly who isn't thrilled to see them and the next thing I know I'm the only one wiping dog slobber off my shins. It's eerie. So imagine my excitement when I answered the doorbell early one morning and our neighbor's daughter was standing there with Lady straining at the leash.

Backstory: Phyllis, our across-the-street neighbor, lost her husband six years ago and her kids decided that, instead of just hanging out with her, it would be a good idea to get her a cocker spaniel puppy as a companion. (Pause for eye roll.) Phyllis herself could barely walk, so when Lady knocked her down in the middle of the street going after a rabbit one morning, it became apparent they needed a backup plan to get the dog some exercise if Lady was going to stick around.

Enter young Joe Skoog.

He would haul his butt out of bed at 5:30 every weekday morning and take Lady for a walk. It wasn't a really long walk or anything, but it got her out of the house, and occasionally, during breaks from school and on weekends, he'd bring her over to our house and she'd hang out with us for awhile.

So we had a nice relationship, the Skoog family and Phyllis. She'd call us to do things like fix her tv or show her how to work her answering machine, and in return my kids could think they had a dog for short periods of time. Perfect.

Until that April morning, when Lady came bounding into my house, slightly traumatized, very hungry, and more than a little happy to see me. "We had to take Mom to the hospital," Phyllis' daughter explained. "You want to watch her here, or we can just leave her at the house and you can look in on her. We left her alone last night and she seemed fine."

Now, I'm no animal behaviorist (we'll get to that later), but even I could tell that poor Lady was freaked out by what she perceived as her abandonment the night before. So I took the leash, asked about Phyllis' health (not good), closed the front door, and suddenly the Skoogs had a dog.

A dog with dependency issues.

And who has she become dependent on? ME. If I'm in the house, she never lets me out of her sight. Right now, as I type this? She's lying right next to my chair. Snoring. And apparently also dreaming, since every once in a while she makes a yelpy, barking sound that is more than a little distracting. If I get up to, say, get another glass of water or a snack, she follows me. She follows me when I go to the bathroom. She even follows me when I start down the stairs, forget something, and then have to turn around and go back for it.

I have to say, this is a whole new thing for me. My kids were never this attached to me. Never. I remember looking on in wonder when my sister would leave her children's sight and they'd start wailing uncontrollably (my dad once commented, raising his voice above the shrieking, "Did you forget them at the mall one time or something?"), since my kids would, from a very young age, actually hand me my keys as I was getting ready to leave the house.

And Lady's a nice companion. Really she is. We go for walks a couple times a day, she provides me with someone to talk to when no one else is around, and she's very affectionate. But let me be clear about one thing: I'm not one of these Animals are Better than People types. Even though it's a close race, I can still honestly say I still like my kids better than the dog.

So I was more than a little dismayed when we realized one Sunday night that there was something wrong with Lady, and it was going to be necessary to take her to the vet. We called the same vet she'd seen before, loaded her up in the car, and I got to experience my first-ever Vet Visit.

Right off the bat, here's what I noticed: At the vet's office, they separate the cats from the dogs, and the cats have a much nicer waiting area. Discrimination! We were forced to sit on hard concrete benches with little dividers on them while some People's Court-type show was on in the background (I sided with the woman whose husband slept with her sister and lit her car on fire) while the cat people got nice chairs and the Today Show. But they finally called us into the examining room, and then the fun really started.

When the vet tech tried to take Lady's temperature, Lady got a little aggressive. And who can blame her, really, since it's not like they're putting the thermometer under her tongue. The tech sort of smiled at me sweetly, patted Lady on the head, and went to get the vet. And a muzzle.

About five minutes later, here comes the vet, followed by the vet tech. The vet, whose name is Dr. Nick (it's his last name, really), looks to be about 17 years old and has that earnestness about him that comes with being young and smart and good at what you do. He started off the conversation by holding up Lady's chart and showing me the big red W on it. "See this? This is a W for warning, since we've had issues with her trying to bite us during examinations."

I stifled the urge to say, "Then shouldn't it say B for biter?" and just nodded at him. I was new at this, after all. Then he started talking to me in that slow way you speak to people who you're trying to keep calm during Big Crises. "So, we're going to put a muzzle on her to keep everyone safe. Then I'm going to examine her..."

I held up my hand. "Okay, I need to stop you right there. I'm going to be honest with you. I like this dog, I'm worried about her seeming to be in pain, but I'm not all freaked out about this. You do whatever you have to do to examine her and figure out what's wrong, and I'll be over here holding the leash."

He looked a little startled at first, then started the examination. Diagnosis: she pulled a muscle in her leg. Treatment: rest and a dog anti-inflammatory. Total cost for visit: $87.

After he was done examining her, he sat down across from me and got all serious and dad-like. "First of all, do you have any idea how you saved the dog when you agreed to take her? She never would've been readopted. But as we discussed with Phyllis several times, there are a few behaviors Lady exhibits that might need to be addressed. I know a good animal behaviorist in Mesa who you could take her to. There's about a six month wait to get into see her, but..." I stopped listening at that point. Come on! A dog behaviorist? I have enough trouble scheduling my kid to see his counselor--I'm not going to get on a waiting list to take my dog to a dog psychologist just because she bites at someone trying to put a thermometer in her butt. Please. Heck, if you tried to do that to me, I can't be certain I wouldn't bite you.

Plus, it's bad enough that my son's teachers also have that young earnest thing going on, do I need it in a vet? Last fall I'm sitting there at a parent night listening to one of Joe's teachers (who looks like he's been able to legally drink for about a month and a half) go on and on about the importance of the class and how this is going to impact our son's ability to get into a good college and how high the expectations are and all I can think is, "Skippy, lighten up. This is history. It already happened. We aren't doing high level espionage or any sort of life-saving surgery in here, are we?"

But I digress. The bottom line is, the Skoogs are now dog owners. And it's been a surprisingly good thing, having Lady around. I kind of like her.

There's one thing I can't get used to, though. Last week I took Lady to the groomer, and when I went to pick her up, the receptionist leaned over the counter and hollered down the hall, "Meggan! Lady's mom is here!"

Really? Lady's mom? No, I'm Catharine and Joe's mom. As far as I know, I've never given birth to a dog.

This is going to take some getting used to.