tatistically, those of us who choose to share our lives with pets apparently live longer, enjoy lower levels of stress and depression, struggle less with anger and help our children learn responsibility and nurture respect for living things. It is, in short, considered a thoroughly good thing.
So why is that I begin everyday with the lament “why do I have pets”? And why have I made my children promise to beat me soundly with a large plank of wood if I ever agree to take in another furry or hairy animal no matter how desperate its circumstances?
My dog helps out by being both a psychic and a provocateur. While I was writing this, he barged into house with muddy paws, completed two laps of the kitchen, pulled a clean towel from the laundry rack and settled down before I had the chance to eject him from otherwise orderly premises. As a result, I’m not remotely relaxed; I am having trouble managing my anger; and I am absolutely failing to see the benefits of canine related biodiversity in my life.
I’m sure not all dogs are as impossible to live with as mine, but I’m willing to bet most all have their moments. Mine is a large white sheep dog with one blue and one brown eye that usually goes by the name Dillon but is sometimes addressed by words I won’t mention here. He’s not always particularly good at providing the “unconditional love and affection” countless articles insist pets give just by being pets.
Over the years that he and I have lived together he’s cost me a small fortune in police fines. I’ve sprung him from the pound, reimbursed farmers for lost turkeys and lambs, and made amends with local restaurants after he wandered into the local piazza for a little al fresco dining with tourists. While he tends to put the fear of God into those who don’t know him, I think mainly because of his eyes, he’s in fact a hopeless guard dog. He greets everyone with a happily wagging tail. He’ll also loyally follow men for miles, leaving me, who constantly feeds him and provides shelter, without a second look. He’s appeared in the classroom of my children five miles away from our home and incurred the wrath of our local Carabinieri by dutifully waiting outside the school for my eldest son, eventually leaving white dog hair on his, perfectly pressed, dark blue trousers. He’s managed to ruin the interior of two cars because he refuses to travel in the boot.
He does all these things as I read online articles that include sweet sentences such as: “A pet is certainly a great friend. After a difficult day, pet owners quite literally feel the love.”
It has been some time since I felt the love.
You may be wondering why I don’t tie Dillon up — you and all my neighbors and local law enforcement agencies. The answer is simple. His neck is slightly wider than his head so a rope or a leash will only restrain him for a limited amount of time — unless he strangles himself. He’s also become more practiced at escaping bondage. His current record stands at 43 seconds. I long ago gave up on any hope he’ll improve. Only age will slow him down so I have to live with cursing him under my breath and wringing my hands.
In an age when people have abandoned taken-in strays to the pound on the flimsiest of excuses (“He looked different when he was wet…”), I’ve shown more loyalty to him than he has to me, but that’s small comfort. While I’m sure he’s enhanced his life by making me into his pet, I still struggle to find an upside. I’m sure not all dogs are as troublesome as he can be, and city dogs don’t have farms to wander through and away from. There’s less potential havoc to be wrought.
But the next time I read about the wonderful health properties of pet ownership (“pets help you find meaning and joy in life…”), trust me that I’ll probably add another statistic to the sheet, “Exiled pets.”