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So You Wanna Get a Dog....

I have a college friend who went by the nom de plume of Vocks, and telling the history of our friendship requires the reveal of both the highs and the lows. Admittedly, the high spots have dimmed with age -- “You introduced me to Eminem, thanks a ton.” -- but the lowlights still are pretty memorable. And that’s because Vocks occupied an equal half of one of the most venomous, publically toxic relationships I’ve ever had the extreme displeasure of witnessing.

But we aren’t here to talk about the relationship itself. (Believe me when I say, that’s best left in a Minneapolis-area attorney’s case files under “Cautionary Tales.”) Instead, we’re going to dissect this couple’s make-up strategy after yet another room-clearing blowout: they’d go out and buy a pet.

Following one of their fights, there would be no airing of grievances, or addressing what brought about the row in the first place, or, you know, just breaking up already. Instead, they’d visit a local PetSmart and bring home a puppy. The thinking must have been that, as we’ve all learned, nothing corrects withering mutual disgust like sharing responsibilities that neither person wants.

It should be no surprise that by the time they finally called it quits four interminable years later, two equally unfortunate things were true: they’d accumulated a small army of furry reminders of how mismatched they were as people, and these animals weren’t particularly well taken care of. The pets weren’t malnourished or anything to that effect, but they weren’t exactly loved either. And once the couple parted ways, the fight was less about who got to keep the pets than about which registry items were still under warranty.

This speaks to a universal truth of owning any pet, and also what it means to share one with another person: it tells you a lot about yourself, about your relationship, and ultimately about how capable you are (or are not) of presiding over the wellbeing of another living thing.

The reason I bring this up is because almost six years ago, there was a morning when my now-wife woke me up by tapping on my head. “Ty, what do you want for your birthday.”

“I want a puppy,” I replied. “And please, stop tapping on my head.” But then I thought about Vocks, because there are only two ways the pet experiment goes for a young couple. Basically, castle or sandcastle. She and I loved each other (and shared a lease), but unexpected responsibilities can make that milk go sour right quick.

But we went for it. We picked out a dog, a goldendoodle, name of Barnaby. I remember thinking on our way home as I stared at him in the kennel, that I really hoped I was ready for this.

Since that fateful drive, my wife and I have certainly learned a lot about each other. We know we can count on each other to make sure Barnaby’s fed and groomed and exercised and loved. (And I won’t lie, she probably does better in this regard than I do.) These are all small things, sure, but the fact that is that we’ve raised a viable, living thing that we’d gladly take anywhere, and we’ve done it together.

I talked to Vocks last week, and we laughed about how unprepared he was back then for what he’d signed up for. He now has a child on the way, much like I do. And I could hea

r his dog barking in the background.

“I wasn’t ready then for a dog, or much less a kid, buddy. But I am now.”

And then I looked at my wife, a terrific dog-mom, and future mother of my child.

“Hey,” I said, glancing her way. “Just tap me on the head when you’re ready.”

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