When I embarked on a months-long, county wide campaign for public office in 2014, I only thought I knew what I was getting myself into.
The experience left me with a mixed cocktail of emotions that ranged from cynicism to outright incredulousness.
I learned a lot about my county. Many things I would have rather stayed blissfully ignorant of, but those facts are now etched onto my memory like an epitaph on a tombstone.
One of the things I learned is that approximately 99% of our residents own a dog. Schnausers, Pit Bulls, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Labs, and any type of mutt your imagination can conjure: someone in this county owns one.
And, it would seem, the majority of these canines are kept indoors. Though I was chased from yards by more than one vicious creature throughout that fateful summer.
There was the beautiful, fluffy white angel of death dog, the German Shepherds that apparently studied under ISIS, and the one that was a direct descendent of Old Yellar: the rabid version.
I was terrified of dogs when I was a child. Strange dogs incited a fear within me that obviously did not go away with age and maturity. Because every time I heard barking when pulling up to an unfamiliar house along the campaign trail, my throat would go dry, my knees would tremble, and I would often feel the need to vomit.
But I kept my anxieties in check and pushed through. And though I can’t remember many of the people I met on the campaign trail, I can tell you what kind of dogs live at just about any residence I visited.
I’m not a pet hater. Or a dog hater. I’m just more of a…..cat person. Even though I’m allergic. Even though I saw Strays as a child. Even though my sister had no less than a total of 9,324 cats throughout our childhood.
But back to the dogs.
Dog people are altogether different. And I think you’re either a “dog person” or you’re not.
For 35 years, I have not identified as such.
It’s not that I don’t like dogs, it’s simply a combination of childhood fear mixed with the trauma of having more than one meet an untimely demise in my early youth.
We had a dog for many years. He moved with us from Oklahoma to Mississippi when I was 11 years old.
Jack, when fully shaved for the summer heat, exhibited some characteristics of being part Spaniel. But when his blonde fur was all grown out, he looked like the sheep dog from the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
He was the perfect watchdog, and went everywhere with me and my sister. He came to us as a stray. My Dad, looking at his daughters and their pleadings of “Can we keep him? Puuullleeezzzz?”, had a heart. Jack would be part of our family for a decade.
In rural areas like the ones I’ve always called home, people who don’t know what to do with pets, or can’t or WON’T care for them, dump them in areas like the places we lived.
It’s cruel, heartless, irresponsible, and I believe, fitting of intense punishment. These creatures have but a few possible fates: find a home, starve, or go wild.
Jack found a home. The dogs that ended his life had been dumped out by some pathetic jerk. They weren’t looking for a home. They simply reverted to their wild instincts, and took out what they deemed to be a threat.
Since Jack died, I have pretty much refused to love another dog. I don’t have anywhere to keep one and am not of the mindset to take on the responsibility of one, since keeping a pet indoors would cause a divorce and is also akin to raising another child. “Ain’t nobody got time fo dat.”
But now, now there’s Roxie. A dog that is now referred to as my “fur sister”.
February a year ago, on Valentine’s Day, my mother brought home a little ball of brown and white fur. Part Dauchsund and part Border Collie, Roxie is, apparently, the daughter my parents always wanted. Though they already have two. Yeah, Mom and Dad. Remember us? Your human children? Oh never mind.
I have sat by for the last year and a half and watched my parents turn into “those people“. The ones who give their fur baby preferential treatment over that of their own flesh and blood. The ones who share their furniture. The ones who tell stories about the dog like it’s just another grandkid. Strike that – like it’s their FAVORITE child.
But I digress. And, I jest. I love Roxie.
My parents, finally having learned that outdoor pets don’t make it long, keep Roxie inside most of the time. She is allowed on the furniture. Is given ice cream. And is generally treated like a furry little human.
It’s sweet. And weird. My parents, my dad especially, have never exhibited signs of being “those people” before Roxie came along. But the metamorphosis has been nothing short of amusing to witness.
I think it’s a testament to how love, in any form, changes people. And changes them for the better. Makes us softer, kinder, less selfish.
Love for a pet is something that I always understood, but never really allowed for myself. There is already so much heartbreak in human love, why would you willingly love something as fragile as an animal. Surely that can only lead to heartache.
But I know why and how it happens. Why the most crusty of curmudgeons can become attached to a pet, especially a dog.
The love is pure.
Their eyes convey emotions. Their behavior exudes the things all of us so desire to feel from others: admiration, desire for our companionship, and unconditional love and devotion.
There’s a reason they’re called “man’s best friend”. They aren’t capable of disappointing us because even if they appear to do just that, we can always say, “She’s just a pup. She doesn’t know any better.”
We realize that their behavior is a direct result of how we have treated them, conditioned them, and raised them.
A lot of poignant lessons in that, I believe. Because humans are partly animal as well. And our shortcomings also have a lot to do with the very same factors.
Jack had been heavily mistreated by his former humans. It was evident in how he behaved, even up until the day he died. Those scars ran deep. But his life ended with him knowing he was deeply loved. Our hearts have never been quite the same.
Roxie knows she is loved. I now look forward to seeing her when I visit, playing our routine games that must be played whenever I show up.
I find myself talking to her. Talking about her. Thinking of things I could buy for her!
She doesn’t belong to me. But she is part of the family now. Despite my best efforts to remain unattached, she’s stolen a piece of my heart.
I guess I’m one of “those people” now.