“Sergeant!” was yelled from my neighbor’s backyard almost every day when I was a kid. No, I didn’t live on an army base. Sergeant was the name of the dog that lived next door. He was an athletic, friendly pooch that looked like the best parts of a greyhound and a pointer. Sergeant loved to run and would escape the confines of his back lawn by jumping over the four-foot fence every day so he could sprint around our neighborhood. My family didn’t have a dog, ever. My mom was never much of a dog person. But my siblings and I loved Sergeant and the other dogs on our block.
I still love dogs. Or at least I thought I did before I decided to dog-sit.
The bond between dogs and humans is a real thing. Almost 70 percent of Americans have a household pet. Nearly 40 percent of those pets are dogs. Out of all those dog owners 40 percent identify their pooch as a member of the family. Meet Timmy my son, Jenny my daughter, and Rover my furriest child. This is not merely because they are around, taking up space in the home. Dogs have been linked to social support and emotional well-being, as well as contributing to one’s sense of self. Four-legged, tail-wagging companionship simply makes us feel better and more confident. Add that to the psychological and health benefits of time spent outdoors and pooch companionship looks mighty nice.
Dogs have been domesticated for about 100,000 years. In fact, some scientists believe that our success as a species is linked to the human-dog bond and symbiosis. Pooches aided early Homo sapiens with hunting and protection, and canines were fed and sheltered. Both offered the other companionship, which is still very present today. When a human and a pooch lock eyes, oxytocin, the maternal/paternal-bonding hormone, is released in the brain. It’s the exact same chemical response that occurs when one gazes into an infant’s eyes.
I am currently fighting this response with everything I have in me.
I am looking after a pooch this week. To protect his owner and the pooch himself we’ll call him Elmo. Elmo is a mutt, part collie and part Farrah Fawcett’s beautifully feathered hair. He is devilishly handsome and very nice once he realizes you’re a friend and stops barking. Truly, that’s just how he says hello, like the yowling version of “HEY! HEY! HEY! PET ME! LET’S BE PALS!” Elmo has a bit of a humping issue, but again, that’s just him saying hello. He is a great dog, aside from his tiny difficulty with keeping his hip undulation and gyration under wraps. But Elmo is a problem, he’s a real flippin’ real problem.
We went camping last weekend in the San Juans. Elmo chased birds and rolled in dirt and sniffed all the sniffs and frolicked in the wild flowers and ran after bugs and protected our perimeter and looked all sorts of majestic as all get out against the backdrop of Colorado’s most beautiful mountain range (probably the country’s). It looked like a photo shoot for Camping With Dogs, for crying out loud. It was adorable. Even when Elmo barfed up half-digested grass in the front seat of my Subi, my immediate response was “aaawwww, cute lil puppy vomit.” We’ve gone for hikes. We’ve gone for runs. I’ve helped him cruise for chicks at the dog park (re: humping problem). He’s greeted me with love when I return home. We cuddle at night in my bed. This damn dog.
Here’s the deal. If you don’t already own a pooch of your own, dog-sitting a mountain hound is probably the worst thing you could ever do to yourself. There you are, just living your life, feeling content as can be, fulfilled to the max, what with your outdoor endeavors and your chief identifiers, like skier, hiker, trail runner, biker, boater, wedding reception dance floor murderer, all pinned to 11 on your life’s joy-o-meter. And then, BLAMO! you watch a mountain dog for a week and you realize your life is a joke. It’s a paltry excuse for an existence, in fact.
Your sense of self is shattered as you realize that how you navigate the world, the adventures you go on in the mountains, everything you do is made better with a furry sidekick. You know whom I have for companionship? A Mr. Potato Head toy. He rides in the center console of my Subi. Sure, I don’t have to pick up his poop but he sure as hell doesn’t get excited when I enter a room and say, “Wanna go for a hike?” You know what Mr. Potato Head does? Nothin’, that’s what. He just sits there, glassy-eyed and unemotional.
I either have to kidnap this dog forever or get one of my own. Thanks a lot, Elmo, you jerk. Now, let’s go for a walk, you handsome bastard.