First, I am not an animal hater. I don’t want the hair to stand up on anyone’s back or to get anyone’s gander up. I am simply not an animal lover. I like to see them in certain places — the zoo, natural habitats, television wildlife shows — just not in my house.
Recently, many people in my age bracket who are now empty nesters are attempting to refill their nests with four legged critters, primarily of the canine persuasion. I don’t understand how the substitution can be effective. I can’t imagine hugging or kissing an animal like I did my son. The excitement is just not there. The feeling of pride when your child brings home an A on their spelling test cannot be replaced by teaching Spot how to bark for a bone. Teaching Spot how to sit in his doggy seat is not quite as thrilling as teaching my son how to ride a bike without training wheels. The list of unacceptable comparisons is endless.
At Christmastime each year, two friends and myself gather at my home for a pre-Christmas breakfast. We bring our favorite Christmas photo cards and vote on the best one (this is deserving of an entre article itself). This year as we shared and compared photos, I was shocked and bewildered by the number of photo cards we received with animal pictures as holiday cards. One of my friend’s sisters had several pictures of her dog dressed up in various costumes in a collage picture for her holiday card. It isn’t a pretty dog to begin with, and the costumes made it look even more ridiculous. A dog in a Halloween outfit doesn’t say cute to me, it says the owners have way too much disposable income and time. Pictures of people’s dogs do not scream Happy Holidays!
One of my very best friends for last 40 years is painfully enduring the empty nest syndrome. Both of her children have moved out of state. She became the surrogate parent for her son’s dog when he moved. I thought she would send the dog packing in days because she never allowed her children to have a dog. To my horror, she has found solace in this creature. She plans her exercise around the dog’s schedule, she plans his diet, and then she keeps me on the phone to discuss the cute things he does. I am too dumbfounded to reply to his.
I think my aversion to having an animal in my house can be traced back to my childhood. When I was in grade school, my family went to our church picnic at a small park outside of town. Toward the end of the picnic, one of my siblings found a stray mutt. We assumed someone abandoned it near the park. Miraculously, my siblings convinced my parents to bring the dog home with us. She was a scroungy mutt, and the dog reminded me of a used SOS pad. (You know how an SOS pad’s edges are brown and frayed after a couple uses.) We brought her home, and my dad named her Bertha Butt after the Jimmy Castor song. Do you remember Bertha as one of the Butt sisters? My dad thought this song was funny (or it might have been the Pabst blue ribbon). Anyway, Bertha was here to stay.
We really didn’t have any rules for Bertha; hence, she had two litters of six puppies in our living room. She was a stray slut. Bertha and I never really bonded. She got along well with everyone else in the house. The tension between us increased as we both aged. When I entered high school, I tried the normal teenage shenanigans such as staying out past curfew. As soon as I quietly opened the front door for my quick return, she started barking like a wild animal was trying to take her away. Then, without fail, my mom or dad would awake and look at the alarm clock in their bedroom only to discover that I was late. Then came the admonitions that all parents use — “You are grounded for the week.” Those magic words released a calm over Bertha and she immediately quieted down.
Then, to add insult to injury, I sulked to my bedroom, which I shared with my two sisters, only to discover that Bertha had a present waiting for me in my bed. Bertha ate Gainesburgers. If you are not familiar with them, it was dry dog food in the shape of a hamburger patty. She took one patty and somehow managed to crumble it under my pillow. Disgusting. She was the antithesis of the tooth fairy.