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Monday, July 18, 2011

Why I Adopted a Dog

I am not a dog person. My attitude was "Dogs are fine, as long as they belong to someone else." Two months ago, I adopted a dog. I had to talk my husband, the one who's been begging for a dog for years, into doing it. I had to convince most of my children that we needed a dog. Me, the one who didn't like dogs.

For years, we've been cat people. Cats require very little maintenance. Feed them a couple times a day, empty the litter box once or twice a week, and pet them if they ask for it. You can leave them alone all day and they don't care. Cats are the perfect pets. They require less work than houseplants.

But my son was allergic to cats. We assured the allergist that when the cats died, which should be soon since we'd never had one live more than five years and these two were almost six, we wouldn't replace them. That was twelve years ago. One of them died last spring from a stroke at the ripe age of sixteen. The other one shows no sign of dying anytime soon although at seventeen he's slowed down a bit. My son has learned to deal with his allergies, which have lessened a lot over the years.

Buddy, the stuffed gorilla, feeding Clyde, the toothless ancient cat
So we were down to one ancient, toothless cat. We'd decided when he died, we were done with pets. Then things happened to change my mind.

I met a wonderful couple with an autism service dog at a convention in Seattle. He was a tiny little thing, very cute, and very friendly. They spent time with me, answering my questions about the dog and his role. I have four children on the spectrum and two others with related disorders. I'd never heard of an autism service dog and had no idea how it could help my children. As we talked, I realized our cats had been filling that role. The dog's purpose was to initiate social interaction and serve as a focal point. He also served as a sensory stimulus when needed. Petting a dog is an acceptable way to get the physical sensory input some autistic people need to calm down. There were other things the dog did, but those two were the main needs my children needed filled. Our ancient cat wasn't doing his job anymore.

Wookie
A week after that convention, my middle daughter brought home her new boyfriend, an eighty pound chow-lab mix. He's a very well-behaved, sweet dog. She and her dog spent a week with us before moving out. During that week, my other kids became attached to Wookie. My youngest daughter, the only neurotypical one out of the eight, cried when he left. My ten-year-old with extreme sensory issues actually petted the dog, surprising all of us. Wookie didn't reek of dog, like most of the dogs I'd ever had contact with. He taught me that I could live with a dog, if it were the right one.

I wrestled with the idea for another week, then spent the week after that talking it over with my husband. His reluctance to adopt a dog surprised me. I thought he'd be ecstatic that I'd finally given in. I convinced him to just go to the shelter and look with me. To think about adopting a dog.

The shelter was noisy, full of tiny kittens and barking dogs of all shapes and sizes. I didn't want a large dog or a noisy one or a hyperactive one. I needed a calm dog who wouldn't be in my face. I changed my mind about living with a dog, but I'm still not a dog lover. We looked at a golden lab who was more interested in running away and sniffing floor drains than interacting with us. Not the right one. We pulled another out of the kennel. He promptly peed on the floor. Not a good sign. Most of the ones barked as we passed. I lingered over a tiny chihuahua who sat very quiet in his pen. Too small, my husband decided. He didn't want a little dog. The retriever was too large and hairy and jumped on my husband, not a dog for us. My husband tried a shitzu who wound the leash around and between his legs. Cute dog, but much to licky. Dog spit was what triggered reactions and eczema in my kids. We needed one that didn't slobber. We tried dog after dog and none were right. I decided we could wait another week or two. Or maybe I'd been wrong about dogs. Or right, depending on how you looked at it.

Sasha, shortly after we brought her home
Then a small black lab mix caught my eye. She was quiet with a sad expression in her brown eyes. She was the right size, not a big dog but definitely not a small lap dog. She came quietly when we put her on a leash. She showed little interest in floor drains or peeing on the floor. She put her head on my leg and just asked to be petted. This was a dog I could live with.

We brought Sasha home two months ago. Yes, she barks sometimes. But she's a mostly polite, sweet natured, and obedient dog. She wants to please. She loves attention and people. My kids, some of them anyway, love her. She's pulling them out of their video games and on walks. She's teaching them to throw balls since she dearly loves to fetch. She keeps my youngest daughter safe from nightmares. She loves long hikes with my son-in-law. She's exactly what we needed.

Most of us. My son with the extreme sensory issues claims to hate her and won't touch her, but I have caught him playing with her when he thinks I'm not looking. We adopted a cat for him and my oldest son.

Chunkalicious Rex, King of Lardbutt
So instead of one ancient cat and then no pets, we now have two cats and a dog. Make that two dogs. Wookie and my daughter have moved back home. I'm still not a dog person, but I'm getting there.