(Matt & Laura Hubers wrote beautifully about their new dog-owner experience in August. Now that it’s been a couple months, I think I can stop worrying about flooding the market.)
Early last spring my roommate/landlord/resident buyer of run-down, never to be run-up vehicles/emotional bellwether Brett stood in the kitchen of our (his) house and said, “We should get a dog.”
Now, Brett had said this a few times over the years, and each of those times was followed by exactly no action. I had no reason to believe this time would be any different, so I agreed. Dogs are great. Then I threw some reality his way to help ease the idea into oblivion:
“Sure we have a yard, but we live at an intersection—it’s not really a safe place.”
“It’ll have to be inside a lot of the time, especially in the winter, so we probably wouldn’t even be able to get a big one.” (Here I’m tapping into what I know to be Brett’s complete dismissal of anything smaller than a Labrador.)
“Besides, we’re all working full-time jobs. We wouldn’t be here to watch it or train it early on, which I’m pretty sure is really important.”
Then one night in April Brett called his own bluff and showed up, straight from an Amish farm, with a puppy.
We named her Kira (short for Shakira), but before long it became clear that the four of us in the house had very different ideas about what it meant to have a dog. My family had always had dogs, often two, but they were “working” dogs, and stayed outside and fairly distant. One of us had grown up with a small, house-friendly family dog. Another had had something akin to a guard dog. The other thinks a turtle is a reasonable pet.
This, as you might imagine, led to some confusion about how to raise a dog. While ultimately she was (past tense here for narrative purposes; despite a few heart- and car-stopping jaunts across the road, she’s still with us) Brett’s, and the responsibility for most things would land on him, practically, she was everyone’s—especially insofar as she did not discriminate between whose papers she mangled, or whose floor she pooped on.
So when she scattered the trash or chased a jogger or bit a hand, someone might have yelled at her, someone might have locked her up, someone might have hit her, or someone might not have done anything. Reacting naturally with someone else in the room raised a few conflicts. We all attribute responsibility differently.
Barking, though, got to be a real problem. Kira’s friendly up close, but likes to act tough when strange people or dogs, or strange people with dogs get near the house. It does not help that hers is not a deep, from-the-chest woof, but a high, apparently far-travelling arf.
One day we came home to an anonymous note about her barking on our door from a “concerned neighbor.” (I’m pretty sure it was the same person who filed this complaint—now affixed to our fridge—against us with the City of Grand Rapids in February: Burned out car, half covered with blue tarp. Sitting in driveway for past nine months. In Brett’s defense, that the tarp was blue is the only accurate part of the description.) Then one of our parents was over for a weekend and became concerned enough to buy a bark collar. It sat, sealed in plastic for several days while we tried a few more things before collectively and quietly deciding to give it a try.
Brett held it up to his neck and barked (surprisingly credibly) six or seven times until he received a healthy jolt (level one, on a scale of three), then suddenly everyone had somewhere else to be and I had to put it on her. The expression “he wouldn’t hurt a fly” probably couldn’t be better applied. I apologized as I tightened the strap in my hands. I apologized as I clicked it around her neck. I apologized as I jumped up and down two steps away with my hands in my pockets, terrified that I was a passing bicyclist away from being a terrible, terrible person. I watched her for over an hour before Brett came home. Walkers walked. Runners ran. She hadn’t barked.
David Greendonner (’12) is an MFA candidate at Western Michigan University where he teaches writing and is the managing editor of the literary magazine Third Coast.