The Dog I Didn’t Know We Needed

The dog I didn’t really want is helping us make it through these strange, awful weeks by getting us outside for a thousand walks. By making us laugh and helping us find new rhythms.

We spent most of January in our backyard, avoiding a virus. 

Yep, January. 

It was because of our puppy. She was two months old and unvaccinated, so staying home kept her safe from canine parvovirus, an infection that kills 91 percent of untreated dogs. But the risks of not socializing a puppy are also real: without being exposed to new people, animals, sounds and places at a young age, dogs react badly to new things later on. Every day was a judgement call about where to go – deadly virus or dangerous isolation!?  

Now, a few short months later, everyone in the world answers that question daily. We are all in our yards, so to speak, avoiding another terrible virus while desperately needing socialization. 

“I’m starting to understand,” as one meme said, “why pets try to run out of the house when the front door opens!” 

But let’s go back to January for a minute, when we first got this puppy. 

The first days
Our daughter Alba spent ten years asking for a dog. She’s 13; it began almost as soon as she could talk. I did not grow up with dogs. I do not love dogs. But we love Alba, and so finally we agreed. 

Last summer, we made inquiries with friends who had a golden retriever they planned to breed. Once our name was on the list it was inevitable, I guess, though dog ownership didn’t feel real to me when we heard the puppies were born on Remembrance Day. Not when we visited twice before Christmas, when the pups grew from the size and shape of rats to small cats. Not even when we gave away our cat in preparation and bought a leash, food, toys and a crate and people started giving us dog paraphernalia. Maybe it was denial. Or maybe I just didn’t have a clue. 

We picked Quinn up on January 4 – she was eight weeks old and weighed about 12 pounds. She has a perpetual forlorn, hopeful expression. “All the dog books I’ve been reading,” I wrote in an email to my family that first week, grumpily, “assume that you love dogs. What if you don’t?” 

That question haunted me. And it applied to more than books. When I lugged a bag of puppy-specific dog food to the counter, the cashier at PetSmart gushed: “How old? What type? What’s her name? Oh, you must be so excited!” We had been up the night before to let Quinn out at 2 and 6 a.m. We were averaging two extra loads of laundry a day with items she had peed on. Exhausted fit a little better than excited, but I’m not sure the cashier wanted to hear all that. 

A puppy in winter
Those first few weeks, as we tried to implement a house-training schedule, I spent more time in our backyard, in sub-zero temperatures, than I probably have in five years. I edited columns at the kitchen table while Quinn chewed her way through slippers, mittens and towels. She snapped at us constantly. Dog experts call it “mouthing” or “nipping” and I know it’s normal for puppies, but all I could see were her teeth. Outsiders assumed that we were happy – ecstatic even. “Savour this,” a complete stranger admonished me on the sidewalk, when my thoughts that day were closer to Survive this.

I was put mostly in charge, since I work from home. A needy, lively puppy and me? I can’t remember ever feeling as unfit for a task as I did that first month. Various advice on how to house-train and raise a well-behaved dog seemed contradictory. Let her outside when she whines by the door. But don’t respond to whining or she’ll become spoiled! It felt like a lot of pressure to succeed at something I had no idea how to do. 

The kids could tell I was struggling. “But do you like her?” they kept asking, worried. “Do you think she’s cute?” Sure, she’s cute – but that didn’t seem like much to go by. It didn’t seem like enough reward for the vet bills, sleepless nights and ongoing debate about the One Right Way to Raise a Friendly Dog. 

A puppy in a pandemic
There wasn’t a magical turning point. Things just slowly got better. Quinn was eventually house-trained and stopped biting. She started sleeping through the night. We signed up for puppy training school and went for a thousand walks. I stopped reading books by the experts. I stopped worrying as much about the permanent, long-term implications of owning a dog. I appreciated the breaks from my computer work to get outside. We got into a rhythm.   

And then COVID-19 changed the world. Now I’m having trouble sleeping through the night. The whole family is in my office, working at school or working from home. And there are still complete strangers telling us to Savour this time! when the reality feels much darker – when more often the best I can muster is Survive this. We are all having trouble adjusting, especially to permanent, long-term predictions. 

And the puppy? She’s Alba’s life raft. The dog I didn’t really want is helping us make it through these strange, awful weeks by getting us outside for a thousand walks. By making us laugh and helping us find new rhythms. 

Will there be a magical turning point? Is the best we can hope for that things slowly, steadily get better? I don’t know. Don’t ask me, because I used to say stuff like, “No pets!” And then, “Just one pet!” And then our youngest really missed the cat because he can’t see his friends anymore and so the cat came back and now our house is a zoo.  

And it’s exactly what we need.

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three children.

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