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  • Jan Flynn

Please Don’t Judge Me

I have a weird compulsion

Come here often? Image by Manfred Burdich from Pixabay

My husband enters the room. I close my browser tab

He glances at me. “You told me you’d stopped,” he says, and I know he knows what I’ve been doing. “You said you weren’t going to do that again.”

I scan Google News as though that’s what I’ve been looking at all along, but I’m not fooling anyone. “I didn’t say never again,” I say, my eyes on my screen. “I said not until we got back from our trip.” I try to keep the guilt out of my voice, but it’s there.

I sense his resigned half-smile. I know he’s shaking his head as he pours a cup of coffee and sits down to read the paper. Silence descends.

We’ve been back from vacation for two weeks, I tell myself, defiance overcoming shame as I reopen the tab. 

Instantly I’m drawn in, scrolling through photos, scanning names and profiles. It’s not as though I’m indiscriminate. Some are too young, others are into hunting and other activities I don’t enjoy, and many simply aren’t my type.

But. “Check this guy out,” I say, waving my laptop screen in front of my husband. He looks up and sighs.

“Right?” I say, deliberately misreading his exhalation. “Those eyebrows! And look at those ears.”

“Very cute,” says my husband as he tries to hand the laptop back to me. I ignore the note of closure in his voice.

“Did you read his profile? He’s good with kids, and he’s lived with cats,” I say, pointing at the screen. “His name’s Rufous,” I add wistfully.

My husband’s expression is built of components in tension: strained tolerance, marital devotion, and a deep desire to return to his coffee and paper in peace.

“Did you read the part where it says he weighs 100 pounds and digs under fences?” he says.

What? Where? Oh. No, I missed that,” I say. “Darn.” I retrieve my laptop, return to the couch, and resume scrolling. Dogs at the local Humane Society. Dogs on sites with names like Homes for Hounds or A Refuge For Rover.

I feverishly scan local rescues, regional rescues, even national rescue clearinghouse sites that will, if you pass muster as a prospective pup parent, fly your new fur baby across the country to you.

When I’m really slumming, I resort to the pets section on Craigslist. There I find postings that are questionable from the get-go: “Looks my for small dog,” says one. Proofreading is not a big thing on Craigslist.

Pit bull mix to good home,” says a lot of posts.

I have nothing against pit bulls, but I don’t want one of my own, and there are very, very many of them seeking new furever (sic) homes. At least that listing is more honest than the ones that offer a “Labrador mix” or a “shepherd mix” when one glance at the accompanying photo reveals that Fido is mostly if not entirely, a pit bull.

At least Craigslist entertains with some of its other postings, like “Photogenic cat,” or “low income cats” (I’m not making that up), or “3 ball pythons and everything I have for them.”

I could spin stories out of headlines like that.

But I don’t. I’m too distracted by stalking adoptable dogs.

I’m happy with my life

I swear I am. I adore my husband, love my cat, enjoy my home and neighborhood, and relish the rhythm of my days. If I don’t feel like getting out of bed when my alarm goes off, I don’t have to.

So why do I behave like someone with a Tindr addiction?

Because we don’t have a dog.

At least, that’s what I tell myself when I once again cave to the inner voice that whispers, C’mon, the Humane Society has refreshed their listings. Take a look. Just five minutes, what can it hurt?

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t want just any dog. I’m clear on that. I don’t want a puppy, as adorable as puppies are, because acquiring a puppy is like taking on a toddler with pointy little teeth. I don’t want a dog that’s too big, or too small, or too nervous, or too aggressive, or too too. No diggers, no crotch-sniffers, no yappers, and absolutely no cat-chasers.

In the past year, I’ve been unscrupulous enough to use my husband’s affection for canines (he actually speaks dog) to recruit him in an attempt to rescue two pups, on two separate occasions.

The first dog turned out to want to eat the cat. Needless to say, she didn’t work out.

The second dog was determined to eat everything in the house but the cat.

For 16 hours a day, most of our time was devoted to working with him, supervising him, walking him, training him, taking him to the dog park, and furnishing him with chew-proof toys — all of which he promptly reduced to shreds. We found a metal leash to replace the two sturdy nylon ones he tore through within five minutes. We showered him with attention.

He responded affably enough. But all he really wanted to do, the moment our backs were turned, was sneak off somewhere with any object we’d neglected to place out of his reach so he could rip it to pieces. After losing two iPhone chargers, a set of curtains, the belt on my Christmas bathrobe, a few chair legs, a couple of collectible books, and I forget how many shoes, we grew weary.

Then it turned out he needed heartworm treatment, which meant medication that required two months of exercise restriction for a dog with the energy level of a ferret on meth. At the same time, we learned my husband needed knee surgery and was looking at a two-month recovery. I had to admit defeat.

Dog II was surrendered back to the Humane Society (our local one does not euthanize unless an animal is severely ill, wounded, or dangerous). After that, I only checked the website enough to learn he’d recovered from heartworms and had been re-adopted.

My husband went through his surgery. After his recovery, we traveled. I stayed away from pet adoption sites, as I’d promised to.

But then we came home, and I found myself pooch-scrolling again.

You would think I’d learned my lesson

I did, in a way. I learned that as much as I love dogs, there are limits to my tolerance and patience. You’d think I’d have figured that out from having kids, but it’s been a long time since my sons were little.

I learned, or re-learned, that, unlike kids, a dog has to fit into the family and not the other way around. At least, my dog does.

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I don’t care what breed the dog is or if he or she has curly hair or a waggly tail. Well, that’s not entirely true. Tail wagging is adorable. But I’ll settle for a wiggly rump.

All I’m asking for is a dog who is happy to go for walkies when it’s time and just as happy to curl up at our feet when it’s not; who won’t poop in the house or yap at passersby or jump up on visitors or gnaw on the baseboards. Who won’t chase cars or bicycles or squabble with other dogs at the park or annoy our cat (too much).

A dog who wants to hang out with us. A dog who loves us and wants, more than anything, to please us.

Is that so much to ask?

We had all that with Molly

Molly: a very good dog (with a very good bone). Photo by author

Molly was five when her breeder, who’d kept her papers, rescued her from the abusive side of a divorce gone bad. We’d been in conversations with him, considering buying one of his puppies, when he called us one day to ask, “Hey, I’ve got this dog. Do you want to come meet her?”

We drove home with her that day.

Molly walked into our home, our lives, and our hearts with gentle grace — while giving a respectful berth to our cat. She never even tried to get on the furniture. She was sensitive, eager to please, and so smart that we only had to tell her something twice before she caught on.

She was a Pudelpointer, a breed that’s still rare in the U.S. Pudelpointers look nothing like golden retrievers, but like many of that breed, Molly understood everything and loved everybody.

Her only vice was counter-surfing: sneaking food off of shelves, counters, and out of the kitchen sink when we weren’t looking. She carried on her larceny with amazing stealth until we put a stop to it by leaving mouse traps on the kitchen counter. After one of them snapped at her while she swiped a loaf of bread, she not only stayed off the counters but avoided the kitchen altogether from then on.

We had Molly for ten years. She was showing signs of frailty but was still enjoying life — that photo above was taken a couple of weeks before she died — until days before her fifteenth birthday.

On that morning, she couldn’t get out of bed on her own. We helped her outside where she did her business and then collapsed on the lawn, her breathing labored. We carried her back inside to her own bed, next to ours. With the help of a kind vet, we let her go. She never had to get out of bed again.

That was a year ago on Labor Day weekend

Last week, my husband and I stopped by our local weekly food truck rally to pick up dinner. There was a band playing oldies and lots of families with kids and dogs.

While we waited for our food, one dog seized my attention. That unmistakable, bristly face. The wiry, reddish-brown fur, the all-knowing amber eyes, the three-quarter-length tail.

“Excuse me, is that a Pudelpointer?” I asked the young man holding the leash.

“It is!” he said, surprised that I knew the breed. “We’ve only had her for about two weeks, but she’s a great dog,” he added as I knelt and received gentle dog kisses. “Her name’s Dolly.”

We chatted with him and petted the dog until our sandwiches were ready. As he led Dolly off, her tail waving, my eyes filled with tears.

Grief shows up in weird ways

As much as I savor my life as it is, a year on there is still a Molly-shaped hole in it. Maybe one day a dog will come along who won’t take her place but who can occupy a spot worthy of the one she left behind.

Or maybe not. Dogs like Molly don’t come around often.

Still, I keep looking. Maybe that explains my weird, endless scrolling. Who knows, one day another just-right dog, one who needs us as much as we need her, will appear.

One day, maybe, I’ll swipe right.

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