Dog Companionship – A Brief History
I am a dog lover. My spouse Larry is a dog lover. Even my mother – who once and probably still believes certain mangy mutts belong outside – loves our Zeke and Coco. During her visit to our then Northern Virginia home – Zeke would cradle his noggin on her feet as she watched the Today Show. My mother did not mind, she only got nervous when he would bark at her from afar given his not been accustomed to a third two-legger being in our home. My cousin Ashley has a Pomeranian named Braxton. My uncle Steve and his wife Jennifer have a dog named Cutie Pie – the breed of which I am unsure. One of my cousins used to have a chained, anti-social, incessantly and viciously barking Pitbull in his backyard, a perversion of dog ownership I probably will regret mentioning. A smattering of other relatives has canine members of their family as well. My friends and colleagues are more so devout dog owners than my relatives.
Teachable Doggy Moments
As with most people – I would imagine – who owned a dog for the first time, there is no shortage of moments where you feel in over your head. Owning a dog can be exhausting. I experienced bouts of bleakness and loneliness – diagnosed with depression even in my early adulthood. I would listen to people go on and on about the joys of having a canine wingman, how great of a mood lifter dogs are. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting a dog as inspiration to become more physically active – the results of which provides a steady flow of feel-good dopamine. While pursuing my first graduate degree in Birmingham, during the latter part of my stay I rented the basement of a gay couple. In 2010, I adopted a black Labrador-mix puppy named Remy. He was born on a farm one hour northwest of Birmingham.
In the rented basement, I raised Remy to be my four-legged sidekick – a non-pharmacological mood booster. A short while after moving back to Atlanta from Birmingham, caring for Remy became too burdensome. Given my job and commuting patterns – he would spend most of the day in a crate. I could not afford doggy daycare. After a month or so of procrastinating in making what I know for sure was the right decision, I began seeking a better home for Remy. I met a nice married couple from Cobb County who agreed to care for him. He was two years old at the time. After the friendly adoption exchange in Piedmont Park, I went home and sobbed uncontrollably. I had never felt so sad about a dog in my life – yet knew it was for the better Remy went with the welcoming couple.
I learned the toughness of making certain decisions does not warrant our procrastinating to do so. Even though Remy brought me invaluable companionship and a sense of calm, his being locked in a crate or at home alone for hours on end was borderline torture. Dogs are not meant to be caged for several hours no more than we are meant to sit at desks in windowless offices for extended periods. I had to release him to a freer home.
Our Present-Day Pups – Zeke and Coco
When Larry and I met, Zeke did not exist. Coco was born in December 2010, just shy of four years prior to my first date with Larry. A Yorkie – Maltese Mix with hues of tan, gray and white, Coco is somewhat of a loner. She engages Larry and me to request food, water, or the use of our thumbs to open the door so she can go do her business outside. On occasion she wants to play, yet her modus operandi is to stay out of Zeke’s line of sight. He can become quite playful, sometimes too rough for her. Topping out at 12 pounds, she is a voracious eater as a small dog – watching her inhale her dinner puts experienced hot-dog eating contestants to shame. Quick on her feet and very attentive, Coco has the stamina of a mule. She easily conquers hiking trails deemed hard by the AllTrails app.
Zeke on the other hand has an entirely different personality. A third-generation Labradoodle, I wished upon several stars Zeke would inherit his dad’s lovely dark caramel coat. No such luck, hints of this brown hue can be found around his mouth and within the crevices of his webbed feet. All over, Zeke has a tan color. Admittedly, he is a faster learner than Coco and far more affectionate. Born on Thanksgiving Day 2014, Zeke was number two of a 10-puppy litter. We got him from a Hall County, Georgia breeder – bringing him home on Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday in 2015. He was such a ball of fluff and cuddliness, Larry and I would fight over who should hold him. He turns four this November.
Coco is the more serious type – Zeke for sure is a social butterfly. Coco does not like small children – especially if they are rowdy and make sudden movements. Zeke sees such behavior as a call for doggy calisthenics. Coco may or may not acknowledge passerby-dogs, Zeke is the shaking paws and kissing puppies type. Coco prefers napping in a quiet nook away from all the ruckus, Zeke would lie across your trachea if you let him.
Our Appreciation for Dogs
The responsibility of owning a dog is expensive, demanding, and very rewarding. My mentioning the sky-high costs of having a dog does not take away any love I have for them. It is a fact. While Zeke’s bouts of jelly-belly offend our olfactory nerves and gag reflexives – his loving and cuddling personality is a great compliment to a quiet night at home. His cuddly affection synergizes with sipping a glass wine and reading a good book. Given Coco’s stubbornness – exemplifying the idiom it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, her independence and tendency to be standoffish are quite welcoming after having had a long day at work and simply wanting a moment to sit quietly while not satisfying a needy dog.
Caring for our Zeke and Coco gives Larry and me another source of purpose. We decided not to adopt children – with no worries of who will care for us in our elderly years. There are plenty of forgotten parents in nursing homes. In housing, feeding, and exercising our pups, they give us so much more in return. They are neither ungrateful, disrespectful, nor spiteful. They are always happy to see you. They motivate you to be physically active. They sit with you quietly, offering their puppy eyes of consolation as you cry-out whatever rage or sadness consumes you. Their funny moments act as conversation starters when engaging strangers.
Our dogs are random sources of belly laughter. Consider the time Zeke first noticed himself in the mirror – starting several minutes at his reflection as if he thought it was another dog and not himself. Or the time an overly friendly woman in Washington DC picked-up Coco without asking, only for our dog to respond via doggy-body-language as if the woman had a corrosive case of body odor. Or the time Zeke stepped on a bird while hiking much to his and our surprise, given he has the motor skills of a passed-out drunk frat boy at an SEC school. Coco and Zeke match our moods without explicit direction. Some people believe dogs may not be able to sense our emotions – I wholeheartedly disagree. If Larry or I are not feeling well, Zeke comes over and places his head and/or paw in our lap to let us know everything will be just fine.
Coco and Zeke will not intentionally hurt anyone for any reason. They are loyal and notices you in a crowd. Zeke and Coco are the best hiking companions ever, leading the way in some instances knowing not to get too far ahead of Larry and me. For these reasons and many others, Larry and I wish to acknowledge the joy our doggies bring us on this National Dog Day.
I am committed to a person who loves me for who I am. He and I have two dogs. Cascadia is home for us. I know for sure no one makes it alone; bootstrapping is a cliched dog whistle. I surround myself with truth tellers. I am healthy and grateful for what I have (on most days). I wholeheartedly believe reading gives us super powers. Vote. Exercise. Eat Healthily. Sleep Soundly.