Many’s the time I have said that marriage is about learning to compromise and accept about 85% of what one wants–and to do so with authentic grace and satisfaction. If you sign on to the deal, but grump about it for the next decade, that’s not authentic grace and satisfaction. If, of course, the deal later hands you large rations of shit that you didn’t bargain for, but you bear up anyway, a certain amount of grumping is not unreasonable provided you don’t recriminate. It’s the difference between “We have the worst dog in the whole world” and “Thanks a lot for making it so we have the worst dog in the whole world”. The first is simply a judgment on the animal (in our case, justified); if true, it might be borne. The second blames the judgment on one’s spouse; whether true or false, it would open and jab at a painful bleeding wound in one’s spouse’s soul. People who do that crap don’t stay married long, nor happily.
Deb, who is a dog person, married me, who am dog-phobic. Not universally, not always, not every dog, not every situation; just mostly. This includes all unfamiliar dogs that bark at me, run at me, or otherwise inflict themselves on me when I am not bothering them. I often shorten it to say that I hate dogs, but that’s lacking in nuance. I should say that I dislike them, would rather never deal with any again, but that there are very few dogs I wish ill, and none that I wish mistreated. My respect for dogs’ abilities and varied talents is profound, and if they practiced them all far away from me, in full health and decent treatment, I would have no issues.
In our marital lifestyle compromise, dogs were what my labor representative wife would call a “mandatory subject of bargaining.” Until we bought a house, I staved off the question on grounds of lack of yard. When a yard came, I had to honor my side of the bargain. We got Fabius, a black Lab puppy. He lived thirteen years, the last of it apart from Deb due to our life circumstances (me holding the fort in Boise while Deb went ahead to get established in Portland, essentially glamping in a studio apartment that did not allow large dogs).
While I didn’t like Fabius (him being a dog, after all), I took care that he received humane treatment and, in his dotage, extra patience. His life had met a couple of my key criteria to earn some sense of respect, insofar as I can have that for a species for which I have no fundamental affinity. When he couldn’t easily process commands to which he once leaped with alacrity, I waited a bit and re-issued them. When his final days arrived, and it was clear he was suffering, I had him hospitalized and made comfortable until Deb could arrive to see him off. She loved that dog. I didn’t, but I owed him consideration and my wife good stewardship as well as respect for her feelings, and that’s as good as I’ll ever get concerning dogs.
As Fabius had aged, we obtained Leonidas the miniature Schnauzer. Fabius was obedient, cooperative, and when not attempting to coat me with nauseating salivas, a bearable klutz. Leo simply didn’t want to cooperate, and didn’t care how anyone felt about it. He was a canine Huck Finn and barn cat rolled into one small package of untrainability, insolence, and inconvenience. I liked Leo even less when he not only developed dogabetes, but due to Deb’s schedule I ended up with much of the duty to administer his dogulin shots. (Weird: his shots were the one and only soul-of-cooperation aspect of that dog’s life. Put another way, he was a complete jerk until you wanted to stab him in the neck with a needle; then he was fine.)
We could ill afford Leo’s illnesses, and we cut the budget in order to compensate. Not brutally, but he was a $200/month dog for the last year of his life, and that was $200 that didn’t get saved, or spent on something more fun (say, colonoscopies). To the very end, I maintained that Leo would have been much happier had he been able to manipulate his front paws such that he could raise a middle claw at us, thus making the physical gesture of his inner canine soul. But Leo’s last days came, and as with Fabius, I went along with Deb to see him off. (For some reason, both dogs had always considered me a reassuring presence. I wonder if they came to associate profanity with a protective figure. They had always run to me during fireworks.)
For the first time in nearly two decades, Leonidas’s passing rendered us (for me, blissfully) dogless. Deb knew that both dog situations had grossly exceeded our original understanding (“Okay, but it’s your dog, you deal with it”), extending me far beyond my comfort zones. Neither was her fault, nor the dogs’ fault; stuff had happened, dog stuff, life stuff. I knew that she understood my actions as motivated by a sense of duty and deep love for her; she’d said so, and she’s so rarely dead serious about emotions that her utterances in that area stay with me for decades. Deb hesitated to rush right out and seek a new dog. Part of it was a reward for me: she felt that I had earned a few blessedly dog-free months before the return of a semi-purgatorial status.
I milked it out as long as I could, and not just for selfish reasons. I wanted to consider dogs, undistracted (thus, currently uninfuriated with any) by them as I had not been for most of my middle age. My lousy relationship with Leo had done nothing to improve my life. I gave some thought to how, while remaining true to myself, I could have more influence over whatever dog Deb might bring home. Would Leonidas have behaved better had I invested a bit more time and energy in him? We’d never know, but here’s what I did know: two dogs we’d had, that were supposed to be my wife’s responsibility and problem, and I’d ended up as their caretaker, barf-cleaner-upper, one-time-late-night-ocean-of-barf-faller-into, and expensive-check-writer. Had I been unable by now to realize that this agreement would never hold in its original form, and that the future held more dogs I’d wind up looking after whether I liked it or not, I’d have been a hopeless boob.
It seemed time for a different approach. No, I would never, at heart, like dogs, want dogs, want to be around dogs, etc. Could I go so far as to at least let the thing be around me when Deb was gone, and accept its desire to pal around with me a bit? Up to a point. No, I would not embrace the dog as “our” dog. No, I would never tolerate dog salivas. Fabius had a tongue like a big wet raw steak, and could leave two acres of saliva on any surface he chose (including, one wretched time, my entire forearm). But would I recognize that on some level, I’d given Leo a reason to wish he could flip me off (unlike Deb, who doted on him, and received as much odious treatment as me)? Yeah. I believe in personal responsibility.
Decision made. If I wound up despising this one also, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort on my part.
When my approximately three-month dogcation came to an end, as it had to, I told Deb how I planned to do it differently this time. You can imagine her delight. Deb knows better than to push such things with me; she took her 85% and smiled. She is well aware that what was once a simple childhood dislike matured into an adult phobia and loathing partly due to smarmy and stupid things said by dog lovers, in part because of misbehaving dogs encouraged by dog owners, and sometimes both. She would do not one thing to push me in her idea of the wrong direction, and would change any practice I might reasonably ask of her.
We made a couple of trips to local humane societies, and we learned that Portland does not have a stray dog problem. Portland in fact imports strays from other states, and most of these land quickly on waiting lists. All those places euthanizing strays should study whatever Portland is doing. While we were there, a big ten-year-old German shepherd mix mourned at full volume for the people who had abandoned him. Before we finished our own adoption, even the mourning howler (too large for us; Portland is basically Tiny House Living) had found a new home.
I insisted that we prioritize chemistry and reactions over website pictures and descriptions. I wanted us to consider the dog who seemed to love Deb on sight, and to tolerate me at least. I also wanted a dog who looked like a correct dog, not an overgrown rat. Deb had a hard time grasping my appearance criteria, but I told her I’d know a correct dog when I saw it. Good enough. It had to be small; Deb is 58, and if young, this dog would likely see her to 70. Manageability mattered. No purebreds (hybrid health, please), none purchased from breeders, no puppies. We intended to adopt a rescued dog that needed a home.
Two visits to the nearest shelter were useless; they had only a couple of dogs. Maybe two dozen empty kennels, two dogs. I mean it when I say it’s hard to find dogs to adopt around here. Off we went to the Portland Humane Society, over in the Gothic wilds of northeast Portland near Ikea and the airport. It’s a beautiful facility that manages not to even smell like dog turds. One surveys the dogs, and may place a brief hold on a given dog for a nominal fee. If the dog already has a hold, and it expires, the next hold gets a phone call. Holds last for one or two days–better not fool around.
We met a tiny, dog-looking Cairn terrier mix called Mavis, a seven-pound yearling California import with a face resembling that of a baby monkey blessed with precocious facial hair growth. Mavis looked stressed, but was friendly. Excited, Deb paid the fee to get in her hold line. By the next day, if the people ahead of us didn’t pick up Mavis, our own clock would start.
There commenced about twenty-four hours of jitters, pins, needles, and anticipation as Deb could barely stand the wait. I assisted by reminding her that it was not a sure thing, and not to be too crushed if someone else got Mavis. Pointless on my part. When around noon the next day the society called to let Deb know we could come get her dog, for a moment there I thought my wife might go full puppy and piddle herself in excitement. Having promised, of course, I had to attend. Little Mavis would ride to her new home in my lap, resting on a towel I hoped would absorb all the bodily substances that an unfamiliar car ride might elicit (joyously, she emanated none; early gold star).
We bandied names. Leonidas and Fabius had received names from antiquity, and in their own ways had deserved them. The sexism of history means that there are fewer well-known historical women than men. Mavis did not really seem like a Cleopatra, Nefertiti, or Messalina. She didn’t really seem like much of anything except a seven-pound wiry-haired terrier mix, black and rusty brown, fairly chill. No ancient woman jumped out of my memory’s throng, very annoying to people with ‘history’ on their I Love Me walls.
Moving afield, I had an inspiration. I like Ireland and visiting Ireland; Deb loves Ireland and would move there next month if feasible. Maeve was an ancient Queen of Connaught, she who launched the Cattle Raid of Cooley (in Irish, Táin Bó Cúailnge), and I could think of far worse spirits with which to imbue this little dog. It sounded enough like Mavis, a pound name to which the creature hadn’t had time to grow attached. I advocated the Irish spelling of Meadhbh (also pronounced to rhyme with “pave”), but Deb rejected this cultural nod; I took my 85% and smiled. And thus was designated little Maeve.
Or Obdud. Longtime blog followers may remember that I’m not known for my embrace of modern telephone technology. I can text, after a laborious fashion and having zero fun while I do it. It was Deb’s first day away at work (Maeve’s second day in our place), and my doting wife was concerned about her new animal. She texted me to ask how it was going. My flip phone has a T9 Word function that offers some predictive text based upon the alpha/numeric keypad, though some words are futile and must be spelled out in the old style. Some of us won’t do that and simply expect our regular contacts to do some deciphering. “Fending” goes through as “demeio” and I expect poor Deb to figure that out by now. “Home” will always return “good” so if she gets a “Headed good” text, she knows to expect me. So I typed M A E V E (6 2 3 8 3). My little screen said: Obdud. You can see where it got those, of course: NMO ABC DEF TUV DEF. I said screw it and kept typing: Obdud is laying on her blanket by my office door.
My wife questioned this. I explained, again, the impact of T9. There’s no way I am going to spell out old-style a dog’s name, so at least in texted status reports, Obdud she is.
Maeve, sometimes called Obdud, is happy and feistier now that she’s away from a kennel full of other, noisy dogs she can smell but not touch. Deb is also happy and feistier.
As for me, well, we have a dog, and I’m trying. We’ll see how that goes. Right now it’s time to take my 85% and do as I agreed.