Conversion to dog
Dan Piraro's take on the heavenly kingdom. Used with permission.
When I was a teenager, my mother stared at me speculatively and said "I hope you never get God." I had a thin-lipped, obsessive look. I spent all my time studying and running. If I got God, I would do it in a big way. Cloisters and convents sprang to mind, although vows of silence and obedience seemed a bit of a stretch.
I never got God; I got Dog. My transmogrification is not uncommon, at least if my neighbourhood is anything to go by. A couple of years back there was a heated debate about off-leash dogs. Most of the anti-off-leashers were adamant that they weren't anti-dog: some of their best friends had dogs, and they really liked dogs — just not en masse, and not in their park. Sound familiar?
Anyhow, as a result of the debate, changes of heart are a matter of public, if informal, knowledge. Here are a couple of examples.
One family declared that taking a large dog to the local park was tantamount to bringing a pony and running it through its paces; a stampede was inevitable. A little while later, they discovered their youngest child liked dogs. Enter the puppy, a wonderful, L-size canine, who can take children out with a single butt swing — not that she would never dream of doing so. So far I have resisted the urge to dangle a riding crop from my wrist when their pony-puppy makes a park appearance.
A few families argued that off-leash dogs were a violation of the Geneva Conventions Rights of the Child, specifically, the right to play. (And yes, many of us were surprised to learn such significant human rights laws were at stake re: dogs in a park). Anyway, a couple of years go by and voilà, one of these families gets a dog. Admittedly, Leo is tiny, but he's a real go-getter. Should I ever encounter the bouncy Leo off-leash, I will make a citizen's arrest on behalf of the UN, to Save The Children.
Many people subscribe to the born-that-way theory of dog love: you've loved dogs since birth, will always love dogs, and are practically a dog whisperer. But what about the converts? I disliked dogs until I actually got one. Now I like to have three on the premises at all times.
The great thing about conversion to dog, besides the fabulousness of dogs themselves, is that it's unexpected. It's like falling in love with the kind of person you've always disliked. Suddenly life bursts with hidden, unanticipated possibilities.
The conversion can be sudden, or gradual. Mine was quick, but most of the conversions I observe are slow, unfolding over a year or two. They most commonly occur in households where one spouse is a dog fan, and one spouse is unconvinced, if not hostile.
The puppy arrives and fails, in the first months, to charm. How can that be? Perhaps because puppies are unpredictable, prone to digestive upsets, buzz with unbridled energy, are hygiene disasters, and demonstrate Tasmanian devil-like destructiveness. They absorb almost all available family attention. The puppy is 'in', the non-dog person is 'out'. It's one of the few times you may hear an adult mutter "You love him/her more than you love me."
Crazed puppy moments: more exasperating than enchanting, at least to some.
In most cases, the resentment gradually shifts. Maybe the dog fan travels and the hostile spouse has a chance to bond. Maybe the lines of communication improve, thanks to obedience training or plain old trial and error; unacknowledged fears abate. Or the dog park turns out to be fun, rather than onerous. Perhaps the dog escapes, is temporarily lost, and then joyously restored. However it happens, a conversion takes place. The zealous neophyte usually out-fans the rest of the family in their relationship with the dog.
My friend Joy's spouse Gavin is a case in point: at first Joy was worried about Gavin's jealousy and indifference towards Harvey, then thrilled by their budding bromance, then amazed at the intensity of Gavin's feelings. Now Joy worries about what will happen when the dog dies: "Gavin won't be able to handle it. He weeps at the mere mention of any dog's death."
Harvey and Gavin, joined at the lips.
Had my mother told my teen-aged self "I hope you don't get Dog," I would have laughed in her face (much as I did when she mentioned God). With any conversion, it's hard to believe it might happen to you. During the neighbourhood dog-off-leash debates, some pro-dog families shared their change-of-heart stories: when their kids were very young, dogs were feared, but as the kids got to know some, dogs topped their wish-lists, and eventually dogs joined their families. These anecdotes elicited 'it will never happen to us' eye-rolling from the unconverted.
I can identify with such scepticism. Someone once told me (pre-dog), "You have a lot of love to give." I had no idea what he was talking about, and dismissed him as new agey. Then Mim, my first dog, came along and I realized he was right: I have a mountain of love, at least when it comes to dogs. Now, if anyone shows the remotest interest in the dogs, we stop for a meet and greet (especially when it's kids — get them while they're young). Sometimes people ask, "Should I get a dog?"
"Yes!" I say. As befits a true believer, tears of joy shine in my eyes.