Our eyes locked, and I sensed a deep pleading from her dark brown eyes-a very earnest expression. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but my heart went out to her. And before I knew it, I was saying: “Oh, Ruby, I love you.”
Did I just say ‘I love you‘ to a dog?
Yes. Yes, I did. And it wasn’t even my dog.
In retrospect, Ruby’s look probably meant something closer to, “Please feel free to drop a bite of your burrito,” than, “You’re a great human-I feel so much affection for you.” But in the moment, I felt an overwhelming fondness for my friends’ elderly Belgian shepherd. And in her eyes, was that maybe a glimmer of fondness in return?
Isn’t that ultimately what we want from our canine friends? We feed them, walk them, clean up after them. Not so they can scare away intruders, or wake us up for a morning run. We want to be loved-and we believe these furry creatures do just that.
If ever there were a dog enamored of his owner, it’s Dexter, my friend Elizabeth’s dog. She sometimes dresses Dexter in a necktie and takes him along to the office-he patiently goes along with it, loath to let her out of his sight. He goes along on climbing trips, fretfully waiting at the foot of the crag like he’s afraid she’ll never, ever come back down to him. It’s impossible to think he doesn’t love Elizabeth.
I recently heard the term “pupological clock,” and I think it might be a real thing-and mine is ticking. Loudly. Other women have a biological clock: an emotional and maybe physical urge, a desire to have a soft, sweet infant. But some of us yearn instead for a fluffy, floppy-eared puppy. A loyal dog to take on hikes, to run with, to cuddle on the couch with, to take on road trips. To be that unconditionally loyal friend we all fantasize about when we talk about “man’s best friend.”
And then they knock over trash cans to devour plastic bags and chicken carcasses. They pull tampons out of bathroom trash cans while guests are over (Tarn!), consume entire boxes of carefully tucked away Thin Mints (Dexter!), and get into the unroasted coffee beans only to stay awake for days straight (really, Mack?!). They chew up our couches and get sick on our rugs. They roll in poop and then want to be cuddled. They cheerfully bring us gifts of dead rodents.
We get kind of mad. Then we hug them, talk to them and think of them as family. And probably feed them too many treats.
Sometimes it’s hard for the dogless folks. No wagging tails to greet us at the end of a long day. Studies show that owning a dog can help lower stress, build immunity to allergies, and even help you meet people. So you can hardly blame us for crossing a street just to pet a dog walking down the other side, right? Did I mention I love your dog? I haven’t met him. Or her. Whatever.
A friend of mine recently admitted that she covertly browses ads from the local rescue shelter. Her husband shakes his head, laughing: “We can’t get a puppy right now.” And I feel her pain. Yes, I’ve been known to scroll through Instagram for #golden, #goldenretriever and #bernesemountaindog. So until it’s the right time for us, we’ll be the ones asking, “Can I pet your dog?” And maybe somewhat awkwardly telling them we love them.
Photo of Dexter courtesy of Elizabeth Williams.
Read more of AJ Contributing Editor Hilary Oliver’s work at The Gription.