I’m kind of dating a girl right now who doesn’t like dogs, and it’s actually becoming a sticking point.
I mean, she has legitimate reasons. She’s allergic to pet dander of all sorts, so she never got the chance as a kid to fully bond with the neighbors’ retrievers. And it’s not like she hates them, exactly -- she just makes this sad, pained face when she sees them, like they’re an acquaintance from college whose name she never cared to remember.
A few weeks ago, we were walking up the stairs from the BART trains when a tiny, fatass French bulldog came barreling down the stairs toward us. I squealed, incandescent with excitement, and ran to meet him, scratching him at the base of his tail. As he writhed at my feet, I grinned up at Faye, thinking that it might be one of those moments that couples or almost-couples share: one of those cutesy, tiny pockets of magic that color your whole evening lilac.
Instead, she grimaced, making that same awkward face. “I respect your decision to throw yourself at that dog,” her expression said, “But I am never going to share in your adoration.”
Faye is a wonderful person. She works at a non-profit with college students and volunteers at a suicide hotline; she’s clearly not selfish or unworthy of admiration. But when she made that face at me, something in my belly knotted up.
This may turn out to be a problem, because my dog is the love of my freaking life.
Much like some people get all bug-eyed about girls who listen to the Smiths or boys who read Terry Pratchett, there is little I appreciate more about a date than a shared enthusiasm for animals of any kind. If I’m out on the street and I see a cute dog, the chances are high that I’m going to start making pained, frantic noises until I gather up the gumption to go ask the owner if I can pet it. In San Francisco, where dogs outnumber children, it is difficult for me to make it anywhere in fewer than 20 minutes.
I’m social and all, but if I disappear at parties I am most likely holed up in the bathroom with the resident cat, scratching it under the chin and appreciating the fact that I do not have to be at all charming. And all this gets 10 times worse if I've had any alcohol: most of my activities during Pride Week, for example, involved me chasing down the various homo-supportive canines I spotted on the parade circuit. I'm like the Hulk, if the Hulk were obsessed with Jack Russells.
I didn’t really realize this was a trait I looked for in partners until I actually found people who did the same thing. The first time my date Carlos spotted a dog before I did and urgently tugged at my hand, whispering, “PUPPY,” I felt all giddy and giggly. Turns out there’s little I find more attractive than someone who Instagrams dogs they don’t know.
Part of this is fairly straightforward: because of my brushes with abusive relationships in the past, I tend to keep an eye out for the warning signs of abusers, one of which is unnecessary cruelty to animals. This is not to say, of course, that people who don’t clap their hands together and trill at the sight of a Shiba Inu gif are abusive. But there’s a subconscious part of me, I think, that believes that a person who loves their dog can’t be all that dangerous.
If you have the patience, for example, to come hang out with my notoriously neurotic apartment Chihuahua until she decides you’re worth her trust, I think that’s a pretty significant window into your psyche. It’s the Pet the Dog trope exemplified, and I know it’s mostly a fallacy. It’s just one that’s hard to resist.
Now that psychologists have found that affection for animals is partially genetic and partially related to one’s environment, though, this preferential treatment for pet lovers seems a bit silly on my part. According to Psychology Today, roughly 35% of one’s natural affinity for animals is genetically inherited. Even if Faye weren’t allergic to dogs, it’s not her fault if her genetic code steered her down the road of preferring humans to animals. It’s one thing to know that academically, though, and another to realize that I will never be able to show her photos of the canine love of my life without her feeling obligated to make an interested face. I know I’m being unfair, but I can’t exactly help it. I find it genuinely disheartening.
Conversely, maybe there’s also a tendency on my part to seek out those who have inherited the positive animal gene. Much like some women (I hear) get all gushy-uterused over their men holding babies, there’s something about a dude or lady cuddling a kitten up to their chin that screams, “GOOD PARENT” to me. Even though I know the chances of my belly ever being home to anything more substantive than an Amy’s Cheeseless Veggie Pizza are pretty slim, I’d like any potential offspring I have to share my unfettered animal-related glee. So if my dates have the dog-stalking gene, so much the better.
At the very least, I’m evidently looking for someone who will be a good mother or father to my dog babies. I’m a helicopter parent when it comes to my animals: When I was a kid, I’d frequently wake up in the night to poke my dog and see if she was still breathing. I’d cry every time we went on vacation and left her at the kennel.
When I was 12, I got badly bitten by a big dog in my neighborhood because I threw myself between it and my own dog, which was, admittedly, being a little shit at the time. I know it’s kind of wacked out, but let’s be real: at the end of the day, I will probably choose my dog over anybody else. It’s just the way it’s gotta be.
If my partner understands and accepts that, they’re probably getting a ticket to my heart (and pants) for life. Otherwise, I look forward to my twilight years as an aging, extremely single dog hoarder.