I saw this dog today. I was shopping—for
a sweater, not a dog. But there he was, a happy beagle, completely
thrilled to pounce and rumble with this stranger, whose master
was, at that moment, charging my credit card with a fairly
guilt-inducing sum of money.
I’ve always loved beagles. If I were to have a dog, I would
want it to be part beagle. Or corgi or dachshund. Only part,
though, because I really prefer mutts.
Nevertheless, I don’t have a dog and the odds are I won’t
get one anytime soon. Because I’ll never forget what I heard
comedienne Rita Rudner say: “My husband and I can’t decide
between having a child or getting a dog. We’re just not sure
which we want to ruin—our rug or our lives.”
I chose children, of course—though these, too, can be pretty
hard on rugs. In fact, I’d have had a third child, too. For
one reason or another that hasn’t seemed to be in the cards,
perhaps out of fear that I wouldn’t have another as wonderful
as the two I already have.
Having said that, even wonderful ones can be onerous. Ornery.
Obstreperous. Obtuse, off-handed and off-base. My kids are
now 18 and 15; believe me, I speak from experience.
Of course, both of my daughters want me to get them/us a dog.
It doesn’t seem to matter that one of them is leaving for
college in four months or that I have had some real issues
with the other one about what constituted acceptable guinea
pig care—that is, when Bubbles, poor soul, was still alive.
So though they regularly cajole and wheedle, I have stood
my ground. No dog, no how.
Fortunately, I have a neighbor whose dog is practically kin
to us. Daniel is an amazing dog, part Doberman, part shepherd.
We care for him when we can and I like to think he remembers
our shrill voices and busy ways. He actually sings “Happy
Birthday” (he really does). He likes his peanut butter.
He likes his sticks. He is a very good dog.
So—with Daniel in my life, why would I want to go introducing
some skinny, mangy whelp into the family system? It just wouldn’t
That’s what I tell my kids. But the real reason I don’t get
a dog is that I don’t want to scoop the poop. And I don’t
want to walk the dog in cold weather. I don’t want to walk
the dog in the morning. I don’t want to walk the dog at night.
I live in Niskayuna where nearly everybody has a dog to walk,
or a stroller or both. I watch them from my bedroom window
some mornings. I admire them. I envy them their dogs. Sort
Because I know the truth: I’d leap to get a dog if I had in
my currently nonexistent household staff a dog-walker who
was also a poop-scooper, which is, I suppose, part of the
dog-walking job description in towns keen to keep the streets
tidy. But then again, if I did have a dog-walker I
couldn’t live with myself. What kind of middle-class sell-out
had I become to hire someone else to walk and curb my dog?
After all, I had washed the cloth diapers of my eldest daughter
(though I wised up by the second one).
You can see why “dogs” is a complicated subject for me.
Only—it’s not just dogs. It’s house plants, too.
House plants are not complicated because I don’t have a green
thumb. I do have a fine enough green thumb. I used
to graft the cacti and force the bulbs like nobody’s business.
Nowadays I make herbs grow out of the sandy, shady glade that
is my yard. But houseplants are different. They require relationship.
And sun. I don’t get much sun.
I used to have four plants: a faux-stately mahogany tree—which
I paid too much for, given its eventual fate—a Price Chopper
scheflera and a hearty example of the ubiquitous ficus. I
also have a tiny, darling patchouli plant.
I love patchouli. Yes, I know. It smells of pot and sex and
incense. It smells of head shops and unwashed madras caftans.
But it also smells whole—like grass that hasn’t withered,
like skin that still can feel, like laughter and mystery and
So I am good to my little patchouli plant. I give it the best
sun. And still sometimes it gets a little droopy and I wonder
if it’s just not cut out for this climate, even if I shelter
For the most part, though, I don’t need to pay it much
mind. I don’t need to walk it, curb it, feed it. I don’t need
to bring it to the vet.
Nor do I have to bring it to the school event or the dentist’s
office or the birthday party. I don’t have to worry about
its grades, its friends, its attitude, its troubles, its sadnesses.
I don’t have to—politely or impolitely—yell at it to empty
the dishwasher. Because it can’t. It’s a plant.
And it’s my favorite plant. But of life’s three big demands—kids,
dogs, houseplants—I chose to focus on the first.
I know there are better women than me out there, women whose
kids walk the dog and sort the laundry while they are free
to swab the mealworms off the underside of the ficus leaves
with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. I never made it as
that kind of woman—and actually, I don’t know any women who
I admit: I’d like to get a dog. And I very much want my little
patchouli plant to take steady root and grow strong. Barring
a third child, these are worthy desires, I think.
But I’ve still got a few miles to go with the two I have,
And I don’t want to be out walking the dog on the bike path
when there is still some time to walk a path with my daughters.