Adoption: Like Me, Why You Probably Need a Pet, Too


On an insufferably hot day in February 2017, in a moment of reckless abandon, I got it into my head that I needed a dog.  Years ago my beloved service animal, a Bichon Frise named Beauregard (after the same guy who ordered the firing of the first shots on Fort Sumter during the American Civil War) succumbed to renal failure. For months I was so heartbroken, it felt like I couldn’t breathe sufficiently; he had been part and parcel of my very being. When I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, my trusty companion, sadly, was not at my side to see me receive my B.A in history or take his regular evening constitutional on the beautiful manicured lawns of the campus. 

When I eventually made landfall in North Carolina, I finally figured that the time had come to patch up the hole in my heart that his passing had made.  My reasoning led me to the notion that any budding Civil War historian worth his measure should have a canine buddy in tow, especially when the academic going got hot and heavy in graduate school at UNCG and emotional support became critical.  In relatively short haste, following that act of circumspection, my mom and I adopted another Bichon from the County Shelter. An employee there told us that this might be the best decision we would ever make although later that week we questioned that as the dog lost no time in doing things which seemed to deliberately reflect an intention to make us crazy.

We all know that hearts can be won in a moment and mine was surely snagged when a 19-pound ball of white fluff came racing at me, almost knocking me down, grabbing my shoelaces and relieving himself against the legs of my new pair of Levi jeans.  No matter – I would no longer be abject and dogless.  I named him Jackson after General Stonewall and wondered if he, too, would have a penchant for lemons and a reputation for eccentricity. What I didn’t realize was that beneath that gleaming double-coated perfectly white exterior lay a heart bent on mischief and irascibility.  He was down for disaster.  On the way home, Jackson succeeded in tearing up a copy of the Winston-Salem Journal and a box of Kleenex, barking incessantly the whole time. 

Over the past few years, things have not necessarily gotten better.  For one thing, the dog has the instincts of a thief.  When I’ve unwittingly turned my back for a moment, a grilled salmon dinner has suddenly disappeared, as well as a dish of scrambled eggs with goat cheese. On a stormy, rain-heavy afternoon, I walked into my bedroom only to discover that Jackson had peed on a beloved antique log cabin quilt purchased in Richmond, Virginia, doing so with apparent disdain and disregard.  The same utterly wayward behavior was directed at a cherished cashmere sweater bought at a highbrow department store.  Jackson seemed to take an absolute delight in destroying just about everything. Even my piano bench has suffered from his toothy terrors and the Art Deco armoire in the living room has battle scars where he managed to rip out a piece of its 1940s grain-resplendent wood.  Simple delights like “walking the dog” are admittedly feats which test anyone’s patience and athletic prowess since he is not “good on the leash” with the result that he walks me – not the contrary. Since he’s joined our household, I may have to cope with the fact that perhaps service is not exactly what he is providing. 

So I have these moments of doubt; is a dog really man’s best friend? And yet .. and yet. . who can dispute the obvious love he bears me, sleeping closely by my side every night on the bed, waking me with wet kisses and protecting me from strangers who tread uncomfortably close. When I give him a doggy treat, he drops it onto my lap, and I am given to understand that it is his full unmitigated intention to share. When I study for an exam or practice piano, he curls up against my legs, seemingly approving the activity.  The proof is in the pudding: he is my boy and I am his. For whatever it is worth, we have yoked our fates ineluctably together. I think of the words of the English poetess Frances Cornford in her poem “Feri’s Dream” because they tellingly express our truth, albeit in the words of a Georgian tradition:

“I had a little dog,

 And my dog was very small;

He licked me in the face,

 And he answered to my call;

Of all the treasures that were mine,

 I loved him best of all.”


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