I’ve come to realize that in the search for a decent relationship, a pet owner is an especially good bet, particularly when the pet is a dog. Ownership of any animal means that on a basic level, an individual can handle a serious commitment; it means they can remember to feed something besides themselves, and that they’re used to dealing with shit on a regular basis. But I think a dog is still a special case. A dog makes you schedule your life around its need to urinate. A dog will come at you with love in its eyes and breath that smells like a zombie’s ass. A boy who owns a dog is a boy who is not afraid to come home every day to a creature that jumps for joy and gives him a look that says, quite obviously, “I love you I need you I depend on you for my every requirement take care of me forever.” This is no small thing to face. A dog may not be a child, but it is still needy and dependent and has a knack for embarrassing you in front of people.
There is also something nice about being in a relationship with a pet owner, at least when you like the pet and the pet likes you back. It makes your duo into a nice little trio. It gives you some shared responsibilities that make you feel like a team, and that teach you how to rely on each other and work together to make sure the dog is fed and walked and bathed. These are fairly minor tasks, no doubt; you don’t have to send the dog to school or teach it table manners, and you can walk around naked in front of it. But they are responsibilities no less.
I don’t know as much about the trials and tribulations of cat ownership. I have never actually dated anyone who owned a cat. I guess this is good, because I am allergic to them. This puts a slight damper on my enthusiasm, which is further dampened by much of my interactions with cats. I tend to get along best with cats who act like pointy little dogs. In fact, I have noticed that people tend to brag about their cats by saying that they are like dogs. This to me is telling. If cats are so great, why are they even better when they act like dogs? Why not just get a dog and save yourself the disdain?
I think that’s really my main issue with cats, is that they don’t seem to care for you particularly. You call to a cat, and he just stares at you from across the room, and then turns and continues walking away. You call to a dog, and his ears perk up, and his eyes get this look like, ‘Who, ME?’ and he can’t get over to you fast enough. Granted, it’s probably because he thinks you’re going to take him outside so he can finally pee, but still. I crave that validation. I want him to want me. I need him to need me. I need therapy.
I face enough coldhearted rejection in my daily life. When I get home, I want total, complete acceptance and love. Even if it comes with breath that could flip a tank over.
My boyfriend inherited a fish when one of his roommates moved out. He is in a huge tank in the bedroom which needs to be filled with water or the filter makes a splashing noise all night long which fills my nightmares. He is an impressively large white fish (about the size of a pot roast) with teeth, and he can see you from outside his tank and follows you as you walk along it, particularly when you have just gotten out of the shower and are groping for a towel and feel at your most vulnerable. In the mornings he likes to sound a gentle, loving wake-up call by banging against the filter in his tank which makes a noise like a gunshot. Sometimes he will do this a dozen times in the course of an hour if you have decided to sleep in because it’s a weekend. He doesn’t eat that much and he’s great otherwise. If we had more that just the bedroom of this shared house to put him in, i.e. if he could go in the livingroom or the basement or pretty much anywhere else, he would make an excellent and fascinating pet. But as it stands, he gots to go. Let’s make a deal.
I was one of those children who had an enormous enthusiasm for dogs and cats and was unfortunately allergic to both. Whenever it was possible to play with a dog or a cat I did so. It takes an enormous amount of dedication (and an enormous lack of self-control) to play with something that consistently and without fail gives you a severe allergic reaction. I played with furry animals until my sneezes echoed to the cold, uncaring skies, and the tears in my itchy, watery eyes mingled with real tears of regret that I could not have this much fun all the time. More than anything in the world I wanted a puppy, and I asked for one every Christmas. I got a sister.
Looking back, I don’t think a real animal could have lived up to my expectations, anyway. I wanted a playmate, a confidant, and a licensed therapist all rolled into a big furry package that never shed or smelled like a wet dog. I was determined that my dog, when I got one, would be courageous and faithful like Old Yeller and have the wit of Snoopy, the soulful, melancholy brown eyes of a Pound Puppy, and the British sophistication of the two parent dogs from 101 Dalmatians (the cartoon, not the live-action version). On top of this, I had no real experience with owning a dog, and my subconscious assumption was that they waited, patient and immobile like stuffed animals, for you to play with them and take care of their basic needs when you felt like it. One of the more inventive of my many How To Get A Puppy When Your Parents Won’t Let You Get One schemes involved letting the puppy live in a large cardboard box on the New York City street outside my apartment building, where it would be taken care of and properly watched over by kind, attentive strangers and passers-by.
I couldn’t have a puppy, but I could have goldfish, my parents said. I sure could. And I had goldfish, off and on, for many years. I discovered early on that I received precious little emotional fulfillment from taking care of a creature with a six-second memory and no awareness of my existence. Not that I didn’t try. I named my fish, I took care of them, I watched them swim. It’s pretty much all you can do, though I somehow continued to expect more—and to be disappointed. A short but eloquent poem that I wrote at the age of five perfectly expressed my feelings of disillusionment at the deep and profound bond that failed to develop between me and any of my goldfish. It went:
I have a little fishI love her very muchBut she doesn’t care.
The thought that I wrote that poem still troubles me. My parents think it’s hilarious.
I have been giving this topic a lot of thought, because last week I bought another fish. I haven’t owned one since early on in high school. My motivations have changed, I reasoned. This is a frivolous purchase; I’m getting a little blue fighting fish because it looks pretty and it will jazz up my room. I won’t even name it. Look how far I’ve come!
Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe I like my feelings unrequited. But I really think it’s going to be different this time. Just now when I looked over at my fish, I could have sworn it gave me a look like it understood. At least, for six seconds.