“If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”
Our neighbors down the hall have recently acquired a puppy. They have named her Chanel. Yes, as in Mademoiselle Coco Chanel, founder of the House of Chanel, famous for Chanel #5, the Chanel suit, and the Chanel purse. Given that we live in Vancouver, and in Yaletown no less, it’s a given that the dog is a purebred (though shockingly one of the rare breeds not small enough to fit into it’s namesake handbag); I suspect her name is an homage to the sacrifice made by her owner in choosing to spend a months rent on this new addition to the family rather than a piece from this season’s ready-to-wear collection. Though groundbreaking in it’s innovativeness, I don’t have the heart to tell the new parents that their choice of names isn’t winning them any friends on the strata. Comfortably nestled in their 17th floor unit they simply aren’t witness to the confusion and possessive purse clutching provoked in the neighborhood women as their private ‘dog whisperer’ hollers “Chanel” repeatedly during obedience drills designed to whip their new puppy into enviable submission.
I know what you’re thinking. That I sound sarcastic, judgmental, or even contemptuous. And you’re right. But if you know me personally or have read some of my blog posts you likely know that I also suffer from a much more fatal flaw: I am a hypocrite. For I myself am the proud owner of a 4 year-old purebred French Bulldog named Oscar, who while at 22 pounds full-grown certainly cannot fit into even my largest of purses, sure does look cute in a bike basket.
I still maintain that my becoming a dog owner (particularly a purebred dog owner) occurred somewhat unwittingly. I have never been a dog person, so when my husband (then live-in-boyfriend) said to me almost 4 years ago “Let’s get a dog!” I was less than enthusiastic. I believe my reply was: “How about a hairless cat?” He eventually sold me on the virtues of dog ownership (namely undying devotion), but I was determined that we would do the only conscionable thing and adopt a rescue mutt with one foot out the door. We certainly weren’t going to become one of those people, the ones we sneered at, proudly parading our purebred Labradoodle or Chihuahua around the neighborhoods in their tutus, booties and strollers. We would have a real dog, a BIG one, with indiscernible heritage, socialization problems, two different colored eyes and fleas. Unfortunately, once we started doing our research we quickly realized that there is a paucity of quality rescue dogs in the greater Vancouver area. There is also a surprisingly high demand for free dogs. Most of the desirable pups, such as those saved from the horrible conditions they are exposed to in ‘puppy mills’, where they are not fed organic kibble or Evian water, are snatched up immediately. The ones who are not, along with the majority of other dogs being given away for free just weren’t cute at all. We really had no choice but to go the purebred route. Getting a French Bulldog was my husband’s idea, the breed has been his favorite for years. And I must admit that when I laid my eyes on our little guy it was love at first sight. And at least we had enough respect for Oscar to give him a real name, a man’s name. Because that’s what he is. He’s my liddle, widdle man.
I knew that when we got a dog our lives would change. What I wasn’t counting on was how quickly Oscar would capture our unyielding love and affection. Or how quickly he would strip me of all sensibility and self-respect. When we first got Oscar, he slept on the floor. Now I regularly wake up stiff because he and I share my side of the bed and he likes to spread out. When I get home from work I kiss my dog before my husband. There is often tongue involved, and it’s not always just his. My husband and I used to take long, romantic showers together. This is still the case, however the mojo has been off since we have decided to use these opportunities to give Oscar his weekly baths, spending the time scrubbing him down while the squirms and scratches at our wet, naked bodies. I used to scoff at the people whose dogs were on unnecessarily restrictive and expensive diets: hypoallergenic diets, raw food diets, boiled tripe diets. Then I realized that Oscar is eating better than I am on his all organic diet consisting of $5 cans of food with names such as ‘Granny’s Pot Pie’, ‘Cowboy Cookout’, and ‘Turducken’. I promised myself there would be no clothes for my dog. He now has a Tupperware bin full of apparel for every occasion, including a raincoat, an impressive collection of Christmas sweaters and an adorable Santa hat. I have attended 2 doggie Halloween parties. Oscar was an ‘Orca Whale’ the first year and a ‘Scarecrow’ the next. At this party I met a woman who’s dog was dressed as a spider. She had sewn the costume herself, all 8 legs. I actually rolled my eyes while thinking about how pathetic she was as I chowed down on the refreshments, ghost-shaped cookies that were edible for both humans and dogs. I now know better after a recent incident in which Oscar slipped a disc in his back and I actually found myself sitting in a doggie neurologist’s office and then subsequently purchasing a convertible stair/ramp combination to assist him in getting on and off the bed.
I have finally accepted that my dignity is gone. What I have found harder to accept is the loss of identity that has come with owning a dog. Because more than anything, I have learned that getting a dog is like acquiring a membership to a club you didn’t ask to join. As soon as I got a dog I was suddenly thrust into the category of ‘dog owner’ and expected to act accordingly. People started stopping me on the street with Oscar and asking me questions that I didn’t have the answer to, questions about diet, grooming, breeding and training. People began to recognize my dog and call him by name as we walked down the street each day, often offering him treats such as dog biscuits, Hot Rods, or Ritz Crackers. When I waved to the same people when running errands without Oscar they would stare at me blankly despite my platinum blonde hair and signature stiletto heels. The other tenants in our building have also come to know and love Oscar. Every morning when we get in the elevator I hear greetings of “Hi Oscar!” from our neighbors. Once in a while I get a nod or even a “Hello.” But it’s the neighbor’s children, unaware of social etiquette (or the canine reproductive cycle) who really call it like they see it: “Hi Oscar’s Mom!” they will sing at me, clearly unable or unwilling to separate me from my pet. I don’t really mind. I’m fully aware that he’s the bigger draw, though he can’t do a single trick and he farts a lot. But I can’t help but feel somewhat inclined to warn our neighbors down the hall what they are getting themselves into before it’s too late. So I think I might just knock on their door tonight and have a little chat with, oh, what’s her name again? Oh yeah, Chanel’s mom.
Update: Since the time I started writing this blog post (3 weeks ago) and today I must report that our neighbors decided that they were not equipped to take care of Chanel and have since given her to some friends. Also, I accidentally got some of their mail and I now know their real names.