A year into our relationship, I knew Michael was about to pop the question. After all, we were crazy about each other, lived together, and made a great team despite our many differences. Now it was just time to make our union official.
“Babe,” he finally said one day. “Are you ready to get a dog together?”
I practically squealed with delight. Yes, I was an unabashed “dog person,” the type who regularly accosts cute canines on the street. But my real excitement was about getting a dog with Michael. In my eyes, our future pup would be a sort living, breathing, slobbering symbol of our intention to build a life together.
The first warning signs that this was easier said than done came as we discussed what type of dog we wanted. My only real requirement was that it be as close to hypoallergenic as possible (darn you, terrible allergies), but other than that just I wanted a puppy that was cuddly, low-maintenance, and as lazy as I was.
Michael vehemently disagreed. According to him, what “we” really wanted was a dog with “excellent trainability,” “superior intelligence,” and a number of other superlative qualities normally reserved for Ivy League graduates. After a month-long research bender, he announced that the Portuguese Water Dog was the perfect breed for us. (Michael will want me to add that this was before the Obama family came to the same conclusion).
I flipped through The Complete Portuguese Water Dog book Michael dropped in my lap, and learned that the breed was notoriously high-maintenance, required constant stimulation, and would likely drive me crazy with its hyperactive, smarty-pants temperament. It also had a thick coat of dark hair that bore a striking resemblance to Michael’s own mane.
“So,” I said, “you’ve basically found the canine version of yourself.”
Before we could even debate Michael’s choice, a deluge of Amazon.com boxes started arriving at our apartment, baring titles like How to Speak Dog, If Dogs Could Talk, and The Truth about Dogs. Worse, Michael actually expected me to read them.
“Did you get to the chapter on socialization yet?” he would ask me, months before we were planning to bring home our pup, tentatively named Roger. “Have you decided what type of collar we want to use?”
“Later” was my repeated annoyed response. Didn’t he know I had an aversion to doing things ahead of time?
A few weeks later, I came home to find Michael setting up an enormous crate for our yet-to-be-born dog. I was ready to strangle Michael with one of the leashes, which he had also ordered months in advance. I had always known he had anal, conscientious, by-the-book tendencies, but I had never felt them so pitted against my own let’s-just-play-it-by-ear attitude until now. I realized that of all the hard work this dog was going to require, the bulk of it might be in our relationship.
And I was right. Sure, bringing home Roger evoked a rush of warm and fuzzy “we’re a family!” feelings. But the 5-pound fur ball was soon a source of tension. As I hadn’t even so much as cracked open the training manuals Michael had been crowing about and couldn’t be bothered to follow his example of consistently correcting Roger’s bad puppy habits, I was soon subject to correction myself.
“Don’t let him chew on your hand,” Michael would remind me frequently.
“I’m not,” I’d say, even though I’d blatantly offered Roger my hand in lieu of getting him a puppy toy to gnaw on. “Anyways, who are you, The Dog Whisperer?”
I continued to neglect the rules of puppy training in lieu of whatever solution allowed me to remain on the couch, or at my computer, or didn’t force me to put my glass of wine down. Forget about taking Roger out for a little extra exercise or voluntarily working on his sit-and-stay skills. I was fully committed to my laziness and negligence—qualities I’ve always been ashamed of, but refused to admit—and wasn’t going to succumb to Michael’s nagging.
“I’ll get him,” Michael whispered—and he did. In the middle of this January night, he willingly rose from the warmth and comfort of our bed. I wasn’t sure if it was out of love for Roger, or love for me—either way, it felt like the most extraordinary act of love I could imagine in that moment.
Waiting for them to come back inside, I thought about how crucial the act of compromise—in my case, doing the hard things I didn’t want to do—was to the success of a relationship. All along, I’d been resisting the nitty-gritty and annoying tasks because they were a drag for me, and neglected to consider the effect it had on Michael, not to mention Roger. I woke up the next morning, committed to impressing both of my boys with my love, hard work and proper training techniques.
Of course, it was rewarding when Michael noticed my newfound devotion to being a responsible, proactive dog owner. I believe his exact words were: “Who are you, and what have you done with my girlfriend?” And, six months later, we now have an absolutely lovely and—except for his humping habit—impeccably mannered dog. The best part isn’t even the fact that we did this together; it’s the fact that I’ve learned the joys of changing for the people (and the pets) I love the most.
Getting a dog together wasn’t the storybook rite of passage I initially imagined, but it absolutely strengthened us as a couple in the end, despite the fact that Roger barks/growls/whines anytime his owners even think about going into the bedroom without him.