The Dogs of War

tiny dog.jpg

There was Lola, an Australian Shepherd mix, good with cats. Ruby, who is fun and social! Dolly, an extremely sweet Chiweenie. Kira, who is shy at first and looking for her forever home. I have Petfinder bookmarked

I want a dog, badly. So much so, I sometimes fantasize about a black nose and whiskered snout cheek-to-cheek with mine, a small, warm body the little spoon to my big, her paws smelling of salt tucked up in an easy crease, both of us gently snoring. (Perhaps, this is why Mitch doesn’t want a dog: One snoring bitch is enough.)

Where I imagine love and kisses, Mitch sees responsibility. Where I envision puppy cuddles, Mitch sees another item on his heaping pile of duties that weigh on him like chain mail. As much as I yearn to hear the clicking of nails against the wood floors, that’s how much he doesn’t want to be responsible for clipping those nails.

Just when I’m sure he’s a hard “no,” he’ll pet a bouncy lab and a grin as goofy as a squeak toy will spread across his face. Or I’ll instant message the picture of a darling rescue dog, her head tilted just so—I’ve sent hundreds of these--and I can sense from his response—"Oh, she’s really cute” or “Where is she?”--the hesitation, his inherent sweetness fighting against his sternness, his inner babycakes at war with his prickly, alpha crust. Oh, there’s light! It’s googly Mitch I want to take to the shelter.

We grew up so differently. There were always animals in our house, from the 2.5-pound poodle who died of liver failure when I was eight, leaving me sobbing, to the 60-pound boxer who slept in my twin bed with me after I graduated from college, me untethered to any future, the dog, a farting, big-hearted security blanket who loved me like a soul mate as I took halting, graceless steps into adulthood.

Mitch had no pets at home. OK, he had white mice, but that hardly qualifies. He never had a kitty snuggle against him until he spent the night at my apartment and Momcat, rheumy and oozing out of every orifice, slept on his head. He never had hamsters or a lizard or bird or baby ducks or pet frogs. He never had his parents come home from the veterinarian with an empty leash, not until we had to put Jazz down, me holding her, him scream-crying in the corner stunned by grief over this animal, who once peed on him demonstrating who really ran the show.

My cats were non-negotiable, but Momcat died before we moved in together. By her food bowl. So her.

When I discovered her body in the kitchen, I called Mitch.

“How do you know she’s dead?” He asked.

I looked at the phone, thinking, City Boy. “Oh, she’s dead. You need to help me with the remains.”

 “She’s your cat,” he said.

“This is what boyfriends are for!” I said and hung up.

He came over and put Momcat in a shoebox and I took her to the Dumb Friends League to have her cremated. Years later he would build a small, wooden box and place the remains of our Sadie inside and we cried with our neighbors, burying her under the apple tree Mitch had to climb when she strayed into the upper branches.

We’ve had arguments about The Dog and talks and chased our tails. Don’t you want me to be happy? Don’t you think Aquafaba would be a great name for a puppy. Little Aquafaba! How can you be so callous? How can you not see how happy dogs make me? Lord, I’ve even tried “I” statements. “I get really sad when you say I can’t fucking have a dog!”

“Antone,” Mitch tells our orange tabby, “I’m the only thing that stands between you and a dog. It’s you and me against…her.” He casts me a meaningful glance.

Occasionally I fall wildly in love with one of the pups I find on AdoptaPet, usually a small dog with a long snout and big, floppy ears. Lucy, who was part beagle, and despite all my magical thinking, would probably have been a cat chaser. Betty, a dachshund mix, with a face that belonged on a sack of kibble, that’s how cute she was. This past week, Kira, also part beagle, with the visage of an angel in fur.

The times I crave dog most poignantly are the days I hunger for a distraction from a career that’s sputtering, and my aging parents—their waning health a constant hum of pain--and my novel that pushes me flat against the limits of my talent.

A year and a half ago after being worn down by a blitzkrieg of words and tears, Mitch acquiesced to adopting this adorable sweetheart, who was all eyes and ears and soft muzzle. As we prepared to meet her, though, I felt defeated and confused. This wasn’t how I wanted it to go down. A gut reaction, mostly, guilt about upending Antone’s world and Mitch’s, where all responsibility is a 10, whether it’s the electrical bill or moving his newly widowed mother across country, away from the city she enjoyed with his father for nearly 40 years. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring her home.

Sometimes I want the dog simply for the win, or I yearn for the grand gesture, Mitch proving his love with the gift of a pooch, smiley and beribboned. Mostly, though, I want us to want the same thing, for both of us to fall in love with a creature who we can love unabashedly, showing each other our bare open hearts, the hearts that take a lifetime to display. My, how fear hounds our nos and yeses.

“A dog isn’t going to solve all your problems,” he says.

“Or start all of yours.”