This is not a shock to any person who has seen me with a dog, who has seen me see a dog at a distance, who has seen me see a cute photo of a dog, has seen me even engaged in imagining the future presence of a dog, a sweet thing a dog has done, a particularly cute kind of dog, and so on, and so forth.
So when in mid-April, Nathan announced that we could now enter the “research and development” stage of Getting A Dog, we both expected that I would respond effusively. And I did. But when he suggested that I stop just perusing adoptable dogs on Petfinder and actually submit an application to the Serenity Animal hospital to adopt Love (bad name, very cute spaniel mix, extremely fluffy tail, already adopted by a family that BETTER BE GOOD TO HIM), I startled. The part of the show where we actually lay down our cash and load a pup into our Prius and take that pet home to our apartment, where we will be its sole caretakers… it had been far away for so long.
The doggy adoption application was—dramatic pause—extensive. We had to write out the names and ages of everyone who visits our house frequently. We had to identify every pet we’d ever had and what happened to them. We had to disclose our “thoughts on crate training.” We had to provide a vet reference. (I don’t have a vet. Because I don’t have a dog. That’s why I’m filling out this application.)
We didn’t finish filling it out—Love disappeared from the website and we’re going to be traveling much of the next month. But what’s stuck with me is the backside of page three—“what would cause you to return your potential dog in the future?”
Why would I give up my dog? They list a lot of things I could say no to—fights with current pets? Don’t have any. Jumps fence? Don’t have one of those either. But change in my health? Loss of income? Death in my family?
I was telling my therapist about this last week (shoutout to the Graduate Employee Organization of the University of Michigan for winning mental health care coverage for student workers). “My parents adopted a one-and-a-half year old dog in 2003 and she lived for another FIFTEEN YEARS,” I said. “That’s a long time. That’s a big commitment. I don’t know what’s gonna happen to me in the next fifteen years!”
She smiled, as one does when they know EXACTLY Where This Is Coming From.
“Sometimes,” she said, “you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen. You have to make a decision and take things as they come.”
This felt both annoyingly obvious and profoundly unsatisfying to me.
She was right, though, in the sense that we’d been thinking only about the present. Our conversations about Getting A Dog centered on the appropriateness of the present situation—this summer and, really, most of the the next four years of my doctoral program, I have a very flexible schedule. I can be home with Dog while he gets used to us and our apartment. We’ve got a dog park down the road. Getting up to walk him will force me to create structure in what is otherwise an endless stretch of research and writing. It’ll force me to leave the house, which is typically a problem for graduate students in the throes of research. But that’s now, this summer, the next year. It won’t last.
Fifteen years is a long time.
It’s not just that I’m afraid of what the world will be like, afraid of what I don’t know, what can’t be known, of the coming decade-and-change. It’s that I am afraid, I think, of what I will be like—afraid, too, of once again getting what I wanted and realizing it doesn’t quiet the internal vibration I had hoped it would quell. I am afraid that I have talked far too big a game about being a dog person, and someday I will look at my small, fuzzy pet and sigh with soul-deep exasperation and wish I could take it all back, everything, all fifteen years, and start over again.
I am not so afraid that I will not go forward with this. We’ll get a dog, it will be a very cute dog, and I will love the dog. I will get exasperated with the dog and I will probably wish—if for unrelated reasons—that I could take all the years back. Fifteen years is a long time. But if ever there were a time to take the advice of one’s therapist… what’s coming will come, I suppose. And we—me, Nathan, and Dog—will meet it when it does.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.