Monday, September 7, 2009

Going to the Dogs

This one simply screams for audience participation, which makes me a bit sad that I don't have a larger audience. But that's my own fault for not working harder on it.

As Arwyn's Birthday was rapidly approaching, and I had an idea that something would be blog-worthy out of the deal. And so it was.

It seems that Arwyn uses her birthday to shoot for the moon, as far as presents go. The last few years her requests have left me gasping in either astonishment or laughter. She often asks for things like digital cameras or a computer printer, which has a lot of appeal for a nerd like me. The problem is that she does her research and asks for the most expensive item in that particular category. Like an $800 digital camera, or the $900 laser printer or a $1500 laptop. We're doing okay financially, but not THAT well! We simply don't have C-notes stashed all over the house. She knows this, but really has a way of turning the thing into an embarrassment. It's not that she isn't worth a thousand bucks. She might even be worth 3 or 4 thousands. So perhaps I need to start stashing some away and saving up a year in advance. Then she could just get what she wanted.
This year, her request was the most audacious yet. She said she wanted a Golden Doodle puppy. She wrote down a few web sites that had some for sale and she was totally serious. The price tag on these things is about $1100. Each. Holy crap! There is absolutely no way in hell I am dropping that much money on an animal that you can't eat, milk or ride.

But there is the larger debate on getting a dog. I have some very fundamental issues about the whole idea that need some working through. I've shared a few of these with Arwyn, but I'm not sure if she is hearing me. So I'll share with y'all and you can talk back at me.

First off, I do like animals, contrary to what anyone else in my household thinks. I grew up on a farm around them, and it was okay except for all the bother and responsibility of raising them. But animals on the farm all have some sort of job to do and if they are nice and friendly that's just a bonus. The dogs we had were pets that lived outside and guarded the place from various varmints. We didn't have to worry about raccoons in the sweet corn or deer in the garden when we had dogs running around. But they lived outside. There was no potty training involved or worrying about them chewing on stuff. We also didn't have them leashed or fenced and they had the full run of the farm plus whatever other territory they could claim from neighboring dogs. But they were pretty free animals that were nice companions whenever we walked to the river to go fishing or when I was trapping gophers or whenever I went for a hike. But in the city or in suburbia, it is a lot different. The space simply isn't there as far as yards, and my wife and the kids are keen to have the dog in the house. I see trouble all along the way there. That's not to say the dog couldn't be properly trained, but the fact is that it would fall on me to do it, being the behaviorist in the family.

And that's a second point. I think keeping animals like dogs cooped up is kind of inhumane. Dogs need to be out exploring and running around, but while we are all at school or work, the dog would have to be cooped up somewhere like a crate or cage. This does not sound like a good life to me. I know I wouldn't like it! Our lifestyle is not geared very well at all towards dogs. Arwyn likes to go to places like the aquarium, the zoo, museums and these are all places where dogs are not allowed. The dog would be sitting at home. Arwyn dislikes staying at home while I rather like it, so again, this makes me the dog sitter.

And then there is Arwyn's history with pets. When we met, she had 2 cats. One was a crabby tabby and the other was a whiny wimp. Neither of them paid any attention to her when she scolded them for getting on the table or doing something they weren't supposed to. She now thinks it would be different with a dog, but I know better. the kids don't even listen to her half the time! She thinks cats are different than dogs, but in the fundamentals of behavioral training, dogs, cats and kids are identical. They all respond to contingencies of reinforcement, i won't get into all that here. Aside from the training issues, there is the responsibility issue. Her cats were absolute and total pigs who pissed and shit all over the house. To her credit, Arwyn did try to keep up and keep things clean but once our first child was born she simply couldn't do it. And then came the day that she decided that she could no longer keep up with the worst offender, which was Crabby.

When it came time to turn him into the humane society, I'M the one who had to do it because Arwyn was too gutless. Three years later, she decided it was time to get rid of Whiny, and guess who had to do THAT? Okay, so as the man of the house, I'm expected to be able to kill things or have them put to death easier than a woman, and I'm fine with that. But that does not mean I took pleasure in it. And so I am not very much in favor of putting another animal on death row.

And then there is the other issue that more directly relates to this little blog. And that is the concept of responsibility and attention. Back when Arwyn had cats, changing the cat litter became one of the things she thought about when the subject of sex came up. It was one of her escapes. Later, it became the kids. And whether intentional or not, I'm pretty certain that the dog would become an escape as well. I'm imagining the dog whining and pawing at the door while we're trying to get in the mood. Even as rare as sex is around here, I really hate for there to be any more obstacles than there already are.

Now there are upsides to getting a dog if I could get past the fact that I think keeping a dog alone in the house or in a crate or cage most of the day is inhumane. First off, Arwyn is considering the fact that my oldest has autism and the dog could become somewhat like a therapy dog for him. He's very much afraid of dogs right now, but getting a puppy would gradually reshape that for him so he would benefit in that way.

If I could keep the dog outside, he could keep varmints out of my garden. But I'd also have to worry about the dog digging in the garden. And the two pit bulls across the street getting the dog.

And the attention/responsibility thing does go both ways. There was a time when I considered getting a dog as a companion to somewhat offset Arwyn's neglect. But pet-owner is not a reciprocal relationship any more that parent-child.

So let's talk about dogs. While I benefited as a kid being around animals (especially dogs) it's hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of having a dog in the house and being neglected so much of the time. And I totally am not up for spending money on a dog, when there are so many free ones to be had. One point Arwyn and I both agree on is that we do not like little yippy dogs that have to be overly aggressive just to keep from being stepped on.

So talk to me about dogs.