The Life I Never Intended to Love: Dog Owner

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From The Wall Street Journal:

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a dog person. One of my earliest memories of a dog is from when I was around 5 years old and a neighbor’s golden retriever knocked me face-first into the concrete.

As an adult, I harbored both a mild fear of dogs and a major irritation at their seemingly entitled owners who would bring them into places they don’t belong, let them invade my personal space and then say, “She’s friendly!”

This made it all the more curious that I should become, during the pandemic, the sole caretaker of a German shorthaired pointer named Bo. He has proved to be an inexhaustible and exhausting daredevil, prone to illness and injury, a chronic whiner who relentlessly demands my attention and takes up most of my time and energy—challenges I hadn’t considered or in some cases even knew existed. He cost me a fortune in medical bills and made me spend days disinfecting my apartment. Weirdly, he also turned out to be the surprising way I filled a hole in my life that I never knew existed.

A GSP, as they’re often called, isn’t a starter dog like a golden retriever or a bernedoodle. It’s a dog bred for hunting, with so much energy it’s hard to imagine it unless you’ve spent real time with one. A dog that during its adolescence, according to a popular meme, resembles the velociraptor portrayed in “Jurassic Park” as an absolute terror. The websites of rescue organizations looking to rehome GSPs describe them with words and phrases like “exuberant” or able to “sail over a 6-foot fence,” offering some clues as to what owners can be in for.

I read none of these cautions in the spring of 2020. San Francisco was under shelter-in-place orders, and as an avid runner who was single, living alone and going a little batty, I wanted to see how many days in a row I could run. On day 27, I was bored enough, despite my lifelong antipathy toward canines, to try running with my friend’s dog Edson, an impeccably trained GSP. That first day we ran together, I let him off leash amid the wooded trails of Presidio national park. I recognized that I felt joy watching that dog run.

A few months later, I was looking at litters of GSP puppies—just for fun, I told myself. Then I reached out to a breeder named Amelia Brockelbank in Alpharetta, Ga., and soon we were having regular phone conversations. I peppered her with questions and confessed my deepest fears. What if I don’t love him? She’d take him back, no questions asked. When I saw number 24 among her six-week-old puppies’ headshots, I knew my fate was sealed.

When I told my GSP-owning friend that I was getting one, he congratulated me. Then he texted me the GSP-as-velociraptor meme. Still, people said Bo would be a great fit for me and in many ways, they were right. The December before the pandemic hit, I had run a 50-kilometer trail race with more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain. I was surely active enough for this dog. Five days after I brought Bo home, and on the eve of my 39th birthday, he slept through the night. I had the perfect puppy.

The transition into full-on dog mom was swift. My Instagram feed was soon full of Bo’s antics: Bo asleep on the couch with his legs so straight I call it his rigor mortis pose; Bo tagging along while I clambered up Snowmass mountain on skis at sunrise; Bo leaping in the air with the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. I cuddled him; I coddled him; I made up rap songs for him.

The first signs of trouble came when Bo was around 8 months old. He jumped out the car window after getting a whiff of a milkshake on the side of the road, ran across four lanes of traffic and relieved himself at a gas station before I was able to get him back.

Then he started escaping the dog park and raiding nearby picnics. I’d chase him around, screaming his name, until some poor soul would tell me what he’d managed to steal: a pork bun here, some chicken wings there, a marzipan pastry that left him smelling like a French bakery. The $470 emergency room visit after he inhaled the better part of three slices of Indian-seasoned pizza was when I knew I was in over my head. Much of a dog’s behavior, of course, is a reflection on its owner, and I admit there was no shortage of mistakes I made.

Around the time that Bo hit adolescence and seemed to forget all the training we’d done, he started having consecutive bouts of a parasite, which required me to sanitize my entire apartment. I lost count of the vet trips, canceled vacations and the number of times I stood alone on the streets of San Francisco at 3 a.m. with him wondering why I had ruined my otherwise responsibility-free life. GSPs can be a “vocal” breed, and Bo whined constantly, no matter how much I seemed to do for him. Some nights the whining got so bad, I’d go sit in my car and cry.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal