An Unnatural Dog?

IMG_4040I just finished listening to Ann Patchett reading her 2013 collection of essays This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Although many of her essays have nothing to do with her dog Rose, I am hung up by the one in which she explains that she chose to have a dog rather than children because dogs give unconditional love.


She writes, “Babies, for all their charms, will not run with you in the park, or wait by the door for your return, and they know absolutely nothing of unconditional love.” And about canine devotion she adds, “I want to learn to love people like this, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults. To love others the way my dog loves me.”

Is Pettigrew an unnatural dog?

While I believe he loves me, he is hardly blind to my faults. And he seems to feel no compunction in letting me know when I’ve let him down or inconvenienced him.

Take the door. Pettigrew is not the kind of dog who greets you, tail wagging, when you come home. If he acknowledges you at all, it is often by inclining his head on the sofa armrest and rolling his eyes far back in his head so he can see who is arriving. You’re lucky if he thumps his tail.

The only times he comes to the door are when we are returning from a multi-day trip, someone he doesn’t know well is entering, or when his grandparents come. In these cases he whimpers, jumps up to look out the window, and rushes into the yard to greet everyone.

For strangers, I assume he feels responsible for vetting the arrivals. His grandfather always brings him a rawhide bone, which, I believe, has a lot to do with the enthusiasm with which Pettigrew welcomes him.

Back to the sofa. If one of us decides to sit down, Pettigrew looks over with dismay and has been known to stretch out a paw or his tail, not in friendly welcome, but to claim as much space as possible.

If several of us sit, we have to give him a gentle push to make room. However, once forced to share, he makes the best of it and will rest a paw or his head on my knee.

Except for NFL Sundays. When he sees my husband and boys approaching, he slinks away, wanting no part of the shouting and jumping that he knows, from past experience, are part of watching the game. My family roots for the Patriots and the emotions accompanying those Tom Brady end-of-game drives are too much for him.

The list of ways we let him down could go on.

  • The food scraps we don’t share.
  • The bowls we put away without giving him a chance to lick.
  • The dishwasher we close before his can taste the food on the dishes.
  • The walks that occur at a less than optimal time.
  • And, of course, the gate at the bottom of the stairs.

But, I don’t need unconditional love. I chose to have kids and I chose to bring Pettigrew into our family. I know they love me as I love them and I know I get under their skin sometimes. That’s OK with me.

Ann Patchett’s essay was first published with the title, First person: ‘I have no memory of ever wanting a baby. I always wanted a dog’ October 19, 2013 in the Daily Mail. Read more:

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