Clippings: Dogsitting duties curb pet fantasies

Every so often I become obsessed with the idea of getting a puppy.
This wouldn’t be so bad, except that my fantasies of dog ownership rarely factor in the true rigor of that sort of project. You see, I grew up with no pets, on the fifth floor of a 100-year-old apartment building in New York City (read: no elevator).
My brother and I would beg and plead for a dog, but my parents insisted that after the honeymoon period, they would be the ones dragging it down four flights of stairs two to three times a day. In retrospect, this was a very wise decision on their part.
So instead we’d ask for a cat, but my dad’s allergic. Then it would be hamsters or gerbils or guinea pigs or rabbits, but apparently they smell a bit too much for a Manhattan apartment.
Then my mom would remind us that we had our very own pets just outside the windows.
“Rats with wings,” she’d groan, tapping the glass so that the pigeons scattered.
Still, there are a few bright spots in my history of pet ownership — for example, my mealworm in third grade. Each member of my class received one as part of our study of invertebrates, and together we watched as some 20 wriggling white worms feasted on potatoes and cornmeal. They did little else with their time until the day each one retreated into its larval stage, then emerged as a beetle.
My beetle lived well into the summer, longer than anyone else’s. When it turned on its back and gave its legs a last little wriggle and died, we held a solemn burial for it under a tree in Riverside Park.
A year or two later there were sea monkeys, but they gave up the ghost after a few weeks without food (who knew?!). I also had a brief infatuation with an earthworm that I rescued from my cousins, who were attempting to use him as fishing bait. His name was Alfred the Third, since I came to his rescue after two thirds of his body had already met its watery grave. He lived for only another day, but what a day it was!
Despite my pet-related failures, these days I’m occasionally inspired to take another stab at pet ownership. In those moments of inspiration, I start to research dogs (i.e. watch YouTube videos of puppies), then start to imagine the long hikes we could go on, just the two of us wandering the mountains and trails of Vermont.
These flights of fancy are exactly why dogsitting is good for me.
Take Podo, a 10-year-old Chow/St. Bernard mix who came into my care last week while a colleague was on vacation. Podo and I have a natural affinity, or so I’ve always thought — we’re both gingers, and gingers stand together.
All was going fine until after Podo and I went for our first walk, when it became clear that he was not planning to eat.
I tapped his food bowl and he sniffed it, then looked at it with big, black, pleading eyes.
“You’re not my family,” said those eyes. “I just want them back.”
“Sorry, Podo,” I said aloud. “It’s just me and you for the next few days.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that they would be gone all week.
After two days, Podo seemed to have settled into my presence — or at least, he began eating again. We went for long walks around the neighborhood, sniffing everything in sight (him, not me). He greeted me with energy every evening when I got off of work and every morning when I woke up.
But leaving the house in the morning and seeing Podo’s sad eyes from within the cone of shame (he had a sore on his leg and couldn’t be left alone without the cone on) nearly broke my heart. He’d press up to the window beside the door, tongue lolling out, as though he knew I wasn’t coming back for the next eight hours.
It’s those eyes, ultimately, that remind me that I just can’t yet handle the responsibility of owning my own dog. I couldn’t rationalize owning a dog that spent most of its time waiting for me to come home from work, from fiddle lessons, from swim practice, or from bike rides. The more often I left home, the more I’d be walking out the door with those sad, sad eyes staring at my back.
So for now, I guess I’ll stick to hanging out with other people’s dogs and feeding my own sourdough starter every so often. Sourdough can’t guilt me with its eyes.
Plus, it’s mighty tasty … which is more than I can say for a dog.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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