Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dogged By Dog Guilt

I know I'm not the only one suffering from this, but sometimes it feels that way.  Are there really other people out there who, watching their canine companion snoring peacefully on the rug, wonder whether the dog is sleeping because, a) she is tired or, b) she is in despair at the hopeless monotony of her days?

There is no end to the emotional and mental states that I attribute to my dogs:  frustrated ambition, a sense of unrealized potential, loneliness, boredom, and existential despair.   Don't think I haven't noticed that some of these preoccupations also occupy my mind.  But it's hard to keep from projecting when my dogs are at my feet (Wolfie) or under my elbow (Bisou) practically 24/7.

I feel that I am perpetually disappointing them.  Every time I close my laptop or put on a sweater they catapult to the back door in the mad hope that something magical is about to happen--but alas, it's just me going to fire up the wood stove or spritz the plants.  It's that all-forgiving but never-ending hope in their eyes that does me in.

I'm lucky to be a member of an unofficial dog-guilt support group.  I have dog-loving friends whose dogs by any standard lead enviable lives.  They have good food and soft beds.  They have received the benefits of training.  They enjoy the company of their own species and are hardly ever out of sight of their owners.   And yet when we humans get together, one of our perennial topics of conversation is the guilt that dogs us.  We each assure the other that her dogs couldn't possibly be depressed or sad or bored in any way.  This makes us feel better for as long as it takes to finish a glass of wine.  But the moment we get home and are greeted by our patient dogs ("Not that I hold it against you, but why were you gone so long?"), the guilt returns.

Many years ago, I felt guilty about my first dog, who lived in the back yard--now that was something to feel guilty about.  But all our subsequent dogs have lived in the house, slept in our bedroom, been trained and groomed and walked and cooked for.  And the guilt has, if anything, only gotten worse.

Lately the guilt has expanded to include my fish, my little Betta splendens that I got for aesthetic reasons but who, it turns out, has emotional needs like everybody else in this house.  Every time I go by--he lives in a large flower vase on the kitchen counter--he rushes towards me, waving his tiny fins.  If it weren't for the glass between us, he'd jump onto my shoulder.  He doesn't want food.  He wants to be petted.

So I do.  Every morning, after I let the dogs out, I stand at the counter and stick my index finger in the water and pet the fish.  I try to remember to pet him once or twice while I'm fixing dinner, and again before retiring.  I don't want him to feel ignored--my interactions with him are probably the highlight of his day. 

For some reason, though, I am delightfully free from chicken-related guilt.  I take good care of my hens, but although they come running whenever they see me, they don't have that ever-hopeful-yet-forgiving look in their eyes that the dogs have.  Besides, there are nine of them.  They are their own little tribe.  They depend on me for food and shelter, but not, thank heavens, for mental stimulation or emotional sustenance.  I find them blessedly restful to be around.

9 comments :

  1. Serendipity! I just this morning purchased a Kindle book, "Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals" by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. It's next on my reading list!

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  2. It's a wonderful book, which I should reread. I love Temple Grandin!

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  3. I am wrestling with the same problem myself, because I am sure that my dog is quite depressed right now, although he seems not to be when we go for walks. I think he is very disappointed in me and my entertainment value and I am always letting him down and not providing him with the diversion that he needs in his life. Either that, or he is suffering from a deadly disease and is slowly slipping away from me. xox

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  4. Irene, you need to join our support group!

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  5. boy do i understand this feeling. i feel it every time i leave for work and see rosie's hopeful face staring at me through the glass kitchen door. doug and i are planning a vacation for may--it will be our first trip away since boscoe went into his decline, four years ago--and have arranged for a dog-loving friend to stay in our house with the dogs while we're gone. but already, in the midst of planning, we stop and think, "shouldn't we just go up north again? and take the dogs with us?"

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  6. The voice of reason says: your humans-only vacation will make you and Doug even better dog parents than you already are.

    The voice of madness (with which I am personally acquainted) says: take the dogs, take the dogs, take the dogs.

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    Replies
    1. we have not yet booked our flight. so which voice will win? stay tuned...

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  7. OK, that's why I'm a cat person. When they're sleeping, you know they're sleeping because that's what cats do. I never worried they were bored! (They also had a cat door, so could come and go at will). I don't think I could handle the guilt around owning a dog.

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  8. Mali, I remember the joy of having a cat. Like chickens, cats are emotionally self-sufficient.

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