We have a dog this weekend on loan from the owners of our Airbnb rental. Both my wife and I are decidedly Dog People, so it’s kinda great. Nevertheless, we haven’t owned one for 15 years. I miss having a dog, but not all that much.

Any Dogs, All Dogs

Our Loaner Dog, Elsie, is a very chill Golden Retriever. For me, she’s perfect. I love all breeds, sizes, colors, and shapes of doggies. As a preference, however, I lean toward hound-ish field dog breeds. My family had a couple of English Springer Spaniels in my youth and I still love that breed.

This is not the case with my wife, Kay-Kay. She grew up with little poodles. 

In the early years of our relationship, her parents had a little silver poodle named Pierre. I think he was silver. I never got much more than a fleeting glimpse. He spent approximately 22.75 hours per day under the living room couch. You’d completely forget there was a dog in the house until you felt something move under you while sitting on that couch. 

Pierre only really liked my mother-in-law. Other than a bite to eat and pooping/peeing twice a day, he’d only come out to watch Johnny Carson from my MIL’s lap. Since Carson was only on Monday through Friday, Pierre was completely invisible on weekends.

Loaner Dog

So yeah, it’s kinda great having Elsie the Loaner Dog in our rental cottage. She mostly flops down and sleeps a lot. The cottage is 15 yards behind the owners’ house, at the back of their property. Having spent six months of the last year in this cottage, Kay-Kay and I are big friends of hers.

She’s also a ninja dog. Seriously, for a big dog that weighs 60 pounds, she’s creepy quiet. While I’ve worked on a laptop on the patio, she startled me many times. She’d just be… there. I was making breakfast at the kitchen counter today and nearly broke something tripping over her. She was lying directly behind my heels and I had heard nothing of her approach or her lying down inches from me. Dog is a silent assassin.

She’s also become a trainer dog for Goldie, our two-year-old granddaughter. 

Goldie is shockingly fearless. She’ll climb and jump off of anything. When you push her on the tree swing out back, she’s indignant if she’s not swinging over your head and slashing through the tall bushes. The kid does stuff that terrifies me, but I’m under strict orders from my daughter, Peanut, not to manifest any grandfatherly freaked-out behavior.

A Dog With Training Wheels

I should say that Goldie fears almost nothing. No one knows how this came about—she’s never had a Major Canine Incident—but she’s more than a little skittish around dogs. We’ve been using the Most-Chill Elsie to ease Goldie out of her doggie phobia. 

The advantage we have with Elsie is she’s sort of a dog with training wheels. I don’t think she’d bite anyone even if you put a gun to her head. She’s highly un-excitable, like an anti-Chihuahua. Her owner says you can’t get her to fetch a ball without a pound of dog treats in your pocket. She barks rarely, but admittedly has a Big Bark. This has sent Goldie into paroxysms of wailing a couple of times. 

Goldie talks a lot about Elsie, mind you. She’ll stand at the window and give a play-by-play of where Elsie is in the yard and what she’s doing. But—a big but—Goldie has hitherto appreciated Elsie much more as a distant concept than an up-close reality.

Yesterday, we made some progress. When Goldie raced into our cottage, she pulled up short when she found Elsie inside. I mean, she left tire ruts in the carpet slamming on her brakes. This did not bode well.

But as I said, she’s generally fearless and Elsie is anything but ferocious. First, Goldie made wide arcs around the dog whenever she wanted to move past her. While petting Elsie, Kay-Kay managed to get Goldie to touch the dog a few times in various safe places.

By the end of the day, however, Goldie would creep up to a recumbent Elsie and pet her. Not enthusiastically—we’re talking maybe three strokes maximum. Then she’d scamper off giggling, very impressed with her bravery. 

It’s some progress. Baby steps, as they say. Or baby pets, as the case may be.

Doggie Downsides

So yes, it’s wonderful having a Loaner Dog for the weekend. It brings back a lot of fond memories and that genuine good feeling of having another living thing underfoot. I’ve also been surprised by a feeling I have not gotten.

Much as I love them, I don’t want to own another dog. 

This was a revelation to me. But here’s the reality. Dogs are kind of a hassle for several reasons.

We travel a lot. During the pandemic, we’ve split the last 13 months between California helping care for the grandkids (six months and counting), our main house in Virginia (six months), and our place on the Outer Banks (one month). Schlepping a dog on a couple of 3,000-mile round-trip drives would not have been pleasant. 

When there’s not a pandemic raging, we travel much more widely and frequently, both for work and pleasure. Not having to board a dog or hire a dog sitter eliminates a big complicating factor for our travel. 

With the clarity of perfect hindsight, I know dogs are hard on houses, too. This includes most certainly floors and furniture, but also grass and landscaping. And many breeds turn all textile surfaces into angora with several months of shedding each year. I’ve learned to appreciate the tidiness and cleanliness of a dog-free house, I shamefully admit. 

Being a Modern Dog Owner

Dog owning has also become much more anthropomorphic of late. Dogs and cats are increasingly replacement children for a lot of people. This manifests in the profusion of specialist veterinarians that have sprung like mushrooms in urban and suburban areas—vet dermatologists and vet orthopedic surgeons and vet oncologists. 

I grew up in an extended family that included a beloved veterinarian uncle, known to all by the highly unoriginal nickname, Uncle Doc. He was an old-school farm vet who did dogs and cats as a sideline to fill the hours between de-horning cattle and delivering problem foals. Such “large animal” vets are increasingly rare, there being much bigger and easier money in tending exclusively to Fluffy the Persian and Humbert the French Bulldog.

It’s not the expense I have problems with. It’s the new consensus that a dog owner must go to extraordinary and even heroic lengths to save a seriously ill pet. Which in many cases is, in my opinion, wrong and even cruel. 

Here’s an example. If a person develops cancer, they may receive chemotherapy. This may make them violently ill and really miserable for an extended period of time. But that human knows why someone is doing that to them and consents to the misery for the hoped-for benefit. 

Letting Go Is Hard

Dogs don’t know that and can’t know it, no matter how fervently you believe Pookie can read your thoughts. All they know is they’re being hurt and made to feel awful. I don’t believe cruel is too strong a word for this, in a lot of cases.

Uncle Doc once told me that he hated putting any animal down, genuinely hated it. But he always added that he hated seeing an animal suffer needlessly because an owner wouldn’t let go of them. 

I’m with Uncle Doc, which puts me in the decided minority today. Better for me to stay on the sidelines of dog ownership, I suspect.

I deeply love dogs and always will. There’s a true nobility in them. Their unqualified and unquenchable loyalty is something we can only dream of from most humans. 

So I’m past being a proper dog owner. I’ll just have to settle for the occasional loaner.

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