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I've been obsessed with animals for as long as I can remember. I’m sure you’ve seen me (or one of my ubiquitous, 30-something single-lady soul twins, perpetually emitting twee-voiced animal baby-talk while ensconced in an inch-thick resin of cat hair). As a child, I was the annoying, overly sensitive, bleeding-heart kid who orchestrated elaborate funerals for dead squirrels in the backyard; cried as her parents explained why birds kept dying by blindly flying into the oversize windows of our sunroom; and went vegetarian-and-proud (hi, obligatory PETA membership) at age 14 when I could no longer stomach the idea of having animal flesh anywhere near my own, er, animal flesh.
Lots of years have rolled by since then, but I’m still an oversensitive, dyed-in-the-wool creature-lover. So, obviously I’ve always had pets — cats, to be specific. I grew up with a calico named Trouble, then took in Jobie in college, and adopted Joon during my crazy twenties. My animal family has expanded over time, as families are wont to do, and now I play mom to Joon, another cat named Batman, and a dog called Hennessy (aka Henny, pictured above). I love all my animals, of course. But I need to be honest: my dog is … a lot. More than I was expecting, at any rate.
When I first spotted her gentle chow-mix mug on Petfinder one winter day four years ago, I knew I wanted to adopt her. It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision — I was settled and stable and had been planning, for months, to adopt a dog buddy (despite the fact that I’d never had one in the past). I ignored the Petfinder post’s small print about Henny having separation anxiety, and I brought her home, waiting for her to transform from freaked-out death-row dog to a cuddly mound of lovable loyalty.
Long story short: that didn’t happen. At least not right away. Her anxiety issues got increasingly overwhelming, then she developed incontinence to the point that she had to wear dog diapers (unless I wanted to step in the stinky puddles of dog pee scattered throughout my living room). She also began developing kidney troubles last year (she’s 10 now, so she’s getting slightly senior). Like I said, I loved her, but sometimes I felt like I’d inadvertently adopted the canine equivalent of a lemon.
Over time I found, though, that taking breaks from pup-parenthood helped a lot in dealing with my frustrations. That fun little cliche about how absence makes the heart grow fonder is true. Two years ago, I took an animal-free summer vacation. My pets had stayed behind with a house-sitter, while I went out of town for two months. When I came back, I felt primed — even eager — to get back to my dysfunctional animal family, dog pee and all. By the end of my stay, I discovered that I actually missed Henny’s doleful looks, ear-splitting barks, and following-me-aimlessly-around the house shenanigans. While I didn’t necessarily love returning to her world of incontinence and anxiety, that extended break truly helped reinvigorate my commitment to dog-rearing.
Another reason I value taking a break from my pets — even just for a night or two — is to help dissolve some of the petty irritations, frustrations, and even resentments that may have accumulated in my relationship with them. I feel like a bit of an asshole saying it, but sometimes my dog just … annoys me. Whether it’s her constant insistence that I entertain her, or her penchant for eating other dogs’ poop whenever I glance in the other direction during one of her walks, I experience flashes of canine-related “AGGHHH!” on a regular basis. Some time and space away from those feelings is a relief and it lets my snappishness settle back into what it truly is: a petty, fleeting, formless sensation that doesn’t truly mean much of anything.
Last month my mom — who’s obsessed with Henny; fortunately, the feeling is mutual — drove down to Georgia to visit her family for a week. When she asked if she could take my dog with her, I felt an unabashed flood of calm overtake me. A whole week of zero dog duties? No getting up at 7a.m. every damn day, no matter what, because I felt too guilty to loll about in bed while Henny holds her bladder? No more changing diapers, doling out meds, or feeling silently pressured by the oversized bear-like creature who constantly trailed me around my apartment staring at me? YES PLEASE, I’LL TAKE IT.
My most recent break from pup parenting was everything I dreamed it’d be, and I relished staying in bed until 10a.m. whenever I felt the urge. And aside from the relatively minor requirements involved in cat-caretaking, I freely allowed myself to focus solely on my work and my relaxation — a lovely little expanse of me time. And again I was pleased to find that I felt ready to rejoin the Land of Dog when Henny finally got home from her week in the South. All petty pup irritations cured, at least temporarily! And judging by the smile on her face and the fervor of her tail-wag, I’d say she was pretty excited to see me, too.
Henny will probably never miraculously shapeshift into my Fantasy Cuddling Fur Machine, but she has plenty of awesome qualities: she’s profoundly mellow, she doesn’t jump on you OR do that gross crotch-sniffing thing, and she’s good around cats. We’ve grown to trust and love each other, growing pains and all. I have zero doubt that all those mushy feelings will only keep growing as she enters her twilight years … especially if I’m feeling them from a tropical mini-vacation a thousand miles away.
Reprinted with permission from The Frisky. Want more?