I never wanted to get a dog. It’s true. The last time I felt any real devotion to an animal was when I was five, and I barely remember that. We had a cat when I was a teenager, but I didn’t really have a bond with it. As an adult, I wanted no part of an animal that required you to follow it around and pick up its excrement. Nor was I emotionally moved by being slobbered and shed on by my friends’ pets.
My husband is a dog person. My daughter had wanted a puppy since she was five. But I was adamant. I had mental health issues and chronic pain. I didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of a dog, and I knew a lot of it would fall to me because he worked long hours and my daughter has attention issues.
So why, after years, did I give in and not only consent to a puppy but take an active part in searching for one? I’d like to say that I wanted to make my family happy, and I found the courage to take on this responsibility. The part about wanting my family to be happy is true. But the rest of my motivation was much darker, and it has taken me years to admit what it was.
Today’s title gives it away: I was in a deeper state of despair than I realized, and on some level I believed I wasn’t going to be around for much longer. I thought, without ever thinking it in so many words, that the people I cared about might as well have what they wanted.
It was December of 2010 when I found our dog, about five months before I went to rehab for real. At the time I was several months into relapse after my last attempt at recovery. I had convinced myself that the recovery concept wasn’t going to work for me because of the things that made me “different,” and now I see that I was subconsciously adjusting to the idea of what this meant: things were going to get much, much worse.
She was a puppy coming in from Taiwan, brought by a rescue agency in San Francisco. She and her sibling had been abandoned after birth by a breeder because they turned out not to be purebred. She was almost four months old when she arrived, eight weeks after we saw her pictures for the first time. We went to the airport to pick her up, and as we waited for customs to clear it was like the ultimate blind date. What the hell had we gotten ourselves into?
I didn’t expect what happened. I knew she was cute and all that, but everything I knew about myself and animals told me that I was just not the type to go all mushy about a dog. But I did. In the years since then, I’ve continued to love her despite her pathological anxiety, her tendency to be jealous of any contact between family members that doesn’t involve her, and her regrettable lack of both intellect and trainability. I’m embarrassed by my previous insensitivity toward people’s deep feelings about their animals.
My little suicide puppy has grown up. She causes me all of the inconveniences I always knew a dog would cause, and more. She didn’t save my life by any means; an addict at the stage I had reached cannot be saved by affection alone. But, because I did end up taking a different path, she’s a symbol to me of being alive. She’s part of being present in the normal and messy aspects of being a person. Instead of a dead, imprisoned or committed addict, I’m a living, free and recovering dog owner. I’ll take it.