(Vincent O’Keefe’s piece first appeared in The Huffington Post. Reposted by permission of the author.)
Can we be honest? I know many people adore dogs, but I have mixed feelings. In fact, in 10th grade, I had to present a five-minute speech on a pet peeve for my Public Speaking class. I explained four reasons why I did not care for canines back then:
1. They bark. Near my childhood home, there lived an intimidating German Shepherd named Hook. Whenever anyone walked by his house, he would bark fiercely and barrel out of the garage, only to be snapped back at the last moment by a thick rope. Neighborhood lore included a morning when the rope failed, and the newspaper delivery boy had to climb a rose trellis to escape attack. Some accounts added a “Hook-bite,” but that was never verified.
2. They bite. See Hook story above.
3. They shed. Another neighbor’s dog, Bilbo, was a lovable but shaggy gray blob who left hairs wherever he went, including across my clothes when I would visit.
4. They smell. Sorry Bilbo, but you stunk.
As you might imagine, my audience did not love my speech, especially those students who owned dogs. At the time, my family had an indoor-outdoor cat, but he was as low-maintenance as a fish. So, I was neither a dog-person nor a cat-person, but the slight edge went to cats. Looking back, however, I see that my “public” speech at age 16 was based too much on my private experience.
Fast-forward to stay-at-home fatherhood, and I’m faced with two daughters lobbying hard for a dog. My first mistake was taking them to the local pet store “just to learn about different pets.” Unless you plan on getting a pet, don’t do this. My search was for a low-needs, non-allergenic pet, and we came close to settling on a guinea pig, which I argued was very dog-like. But when I realized they frequently trudge through their own urine and feces, I cancelled that search party.
Then, I researched small dogs, and we inspected a few. During one trip to a pet store, my daughters, my father-in-law, and I squeezed into the little observational cubicle to test the personality of a pug puppy. That adorable pooch behind glass, however, became a pint-sized terror in person! As he nipped at our ankles, my daughters (and possibly me) started screaming and standing on the seats like proverbial 1950s housewives afraid of a mouse. My father-in-law, who had just recovered from heart surgery, tried to calm the puppy, but the dog scratched his forearm and drew blood. From her perch above the scene, my medically savvy 11-year-old surprised me when she started crying “He’s on a blood thinner!”
After a store employee rescued us from the pugnacious pug, we did more research and finally settled on a Yorkie due to its non-allergenic, indoor-trainable and “cat-like” nature.
Now that I’ve spent some time with our semi-beloved Benny, please allow me to revise my 10th grade speech and present four reasons why I sort of like dogs now:
1. They bring out the animal in you. I admit, I love to live vicariously through Benny’s simple, instinctive pleasures: reveling in horseplay, feasting like a pig and sleeping like, well, a dog.
2. They bring out the kid in you. Each time someone enters the house, Benny politely jumps straight up and down alongside them until they agree to get on the floor and play with him.
3. They bring out the parent in you. My wife adores Benny, and my kids now know their mother’s “baby voice,” which she once used with them but now reserves for the dog. She enjoys the chance to be maternal to a “baby” without all the incessant mothering (and fathering) an actual baby demands. On a disturbing note, she has started to claim publicly that her canine “son” looks like Brad Pitt. While Benny does have long hair parted in the middle and a seeming soul patch on his chin, my concern is growing.
4. They put pet peeves in perspective. One of my other pet peeves has always been “morning people” (who I secretly envy). But I admit that due to Benny’s energetic morning greetings, one of my pet peeves has neutralized another. On a larger note, the vision of my daughters proudly carrying their dog around the house redeems all the peevish Hooks and Bilbos of the world. I even allowed them to put an “I Love My Yorkie” sticker on our car, which makes it even harder to be a stay-at-home tough guy.
I don’t remember what grade I got on my presentation back in Public Speaking, but I think about my old pet peeve on certain days with Benny. For example, the uncanny canine got his revenge for that speech the day we leased a new car and shortly thereafter, peed and pooped on the back seats (of absorbent cloth, not easy-to-wipe leather). Then he climbed all over me with wet fecal matter in his Brad Pitt hair.
— Vincent O’Keefe
Vincent O’Keefe is a writer and stay-at-home father with a Ph.D. in American literature. His writing has appeared in The New York Times “Motherlode” blog, The Huffington Post, The Shriver Report, Brain, Child, The Good Men Project and Role/Reboot, among other venues. He is seeking an agent for a humorous memoir about a decade of at-home parenting. A chapter on colic is currently titled “Take This Onesie and Shove It.” Watch/read/listen to more of his work at www.vincentokeefe.com or follow him on Twitter @VincentAOKeefe.