JOHN BAXTER TELLS HIS DOG STORY AND A GOOD ONE IT IS
When I was about six, my parents, in a well-intentioned but misguided parenting gesture, brought home an adorable Sealyham terrier, named him "Chester," and then stood back and waited for a bond to form between us. But it turned out that Chester was even less interested in me than I was in him. He poured all of his considerable energy into getting as filthy as possible at every opportunity, and I preferred playing with insects, so we tacitly agreed to ignore each other for the duration of his stay. Indeed, I hardly noticed when he was shipped off to a farm (yes, a real farm) less than six months later. I felt no sadness at Chester’s departure and I certainly didn't miss him, but every so often it would cross my mind that he was once our dog. Then I would picture him happily chasing livestock and rolling in a pigsty somewhere and think he was well out of it.
When I was a teenager, my parents recycled the same failed gesture for my younger brother. They brought home an adorable Westie, rather foolishly named him Macbeth, and then stood back and waited for a bond to form between them. But Mac...er, I mean, the Scottish Dog, was a neurotic mess, desperately in need of training that he would never get in our house, and one day he excitedly bonded his teeth to my brother's chin, earning him an express ticket back to the breeder.
This time, I felt ever so slightly depressed by the departure and briefly wondered if I might after all be a dog person. It seemed unlikely--twice I'd had a puppy in the house without feeling the least bit drawn to it, which suggested that I was the problem. I clearly lacked the requisite personality for true bonding between dog and person, so I decided there would never be any point in my owning one. Moreover, my encounters with dogs in the ensuing years, two of which required stitches, did nothing to change my outlook. And certainly, when I moved to Manhattan in my 20s, the issue was laid to rest once and for all—every time I saw someone encouraging their dog to do their business on the bustling city streets, I would think, “What kind of moron would keep a dog in New York City?”
Twenty years later, dogs are everywhere in this town, and I myself have transformed so thoroughly into a dog person that I actually feel slightly offended by my own earlier use of the term “moron.” What spurred this transformation was having a daughter who apparently was born a dog person. She entered childhood already so obsessed with domesticated mammals that she became a volunteer at our local animal shelter before she was old enough to understand the concept of volunteerism. We eventually rewarded her unflagging and selfless dedication to the grim task of letting puppies and kittens crawl all over her by adopting Ginger, a gorgeous mixed-breed born at the shelter in a litter of ten.
In the early going, I was only doing it for my daughter, and I tried in vain to offset the negatives by reveling in the notion that I was taking one for the team. I grumbled a lot, especially when I had to walk Ginger in foul weather, or whenever she indulged in her youthful habit of chewing irreplaceable objects to bits. But by year two I found myself treating her with an unmistakably paternal solicitousness, and from then on she was family.
Meanwhile, my daughter continued her work at the shelter, which meant frequent exposure to other cute, homeless dogs, which in turn led her to lobby for a second adoption with eventual success. I agreed that Curly was adorable, yet for me it wasn’t love at first sight. Yes, I had become a dog person, but I already owned a dog, and a perfect one at that. Who was this scraggly, snaggletooth interloper that treated our kitchen like his own personal bathroom? Well, suffice it to say that I was soon just as smitten with Curly as I was with Ginger, and I wouldn’t part with his dental asymmetry now for anything.
So, while I am not of the opinion that everyone should own a dog, I do believe that anyone can become a dog person with the passage of time and a little patience. Having a natural inclination toward dogs is obviously the best foundation for a decision to buy or adopt, but don’t assume, like I did, that your own indifference toward dogs means you’ll never own one. There are many paths to dog ownership—a daughter you can’t say no to, for instance.