On Becoming a Dog Person

My family was a cat family. Our first cats I knew were Watson* and Kritter. We found Kritter outside, her tail had been cut short, and she became my cat. Our cats which followed were Lucy Woo** and Bing Clawsby***.

*Watson, as in, assistant to Sherlock Holmes. And yes, my parents had a cat named Sherlock whose death predated my birth.

**Perhaps you’re catching a theme here? Apparently, we named most of our animals off of movie characters. Lucy for I Love Lucy and Woo for filmmaker, John Woo.

***Bing Clawsby had big, round, blue eyes just like Bing Crosby.

You don’t need to do much for cats. Provide a litter box, food, a cozy home atmosphere, and you’re set. Even so, when I first moved into my own home, I was content with not having animals.

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No, I didn’t need to use this desk, you can totally sit there.

The month Stitch came into our lives is a complete blur. If not for a notebook I kept along the way, I might not remember the moments I sat by the crate thinking, What did I get myself into? I’m not made for this. I am not a dog person. Or that we had started watching the show Genius about Albert Einstein and every night as I avoided Stitch’s relentless biting attacks, I thought to myself, I’ll bet Albert Einstein never had a dog.

Growing up, I wanted to be a dog person. But I was not. A month into owning a dog, again, I wanted to be a dog person. But I was not.

Nearly a year later, I became a dog person. While each day spent with Stitch made me more and more a dog person, I know the exact moment I realized I was a dog person.

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When I visited my brother and sister-in-law, in Rome, Italy we took a day trip to Naples. A day trip to any city in Italy was a definite yes on my part, but going to Naples had been a trip Joel and Mallory hadn’t been too interested in and had waited to go to with me. Apparently, there’s a saying: See Napoli and die! but no one is quite sure if it means you’ll die because it was such a wonderful place to go you won’t need to go anywhere else in the world, or if it is because it was such a horrible place you might meet your end there*.

*Spoiler alert: In location, it was my least favorite place we visited (based on cleanliness and the insanity of Vespa drivers), but regardless, we were surrounded by beauty by way of views overlooking Napoli and Mount Vesuvius. Not only that, Napoli** is a connecting point to so many other beautiful locations.

**And, best pizza ever. Enough said.

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To further drive home my initial dislike of Naples, this is where my dog person truth was revealed in a not so wonderful way.

While searching for the funicular, a railway which would take us up a steep slope, we passed a church. Standing off to the side at the top platform of the entryway was a mother dog who had clearly just given birth. She was unavoidable, yet we seemed to be the only ones to take notice. Her bark was persistent as she aimed it towards a box on a desk chair on ground level several feet away from her.

We came a little closer and noticed she was chained to a railing and that in the box were her puppies. She had clearly been barking for hours because her bark had turned from loud and boisterous to a hoarse high pitch noise of desperation.

No one stopped. No one did anything. Pitched only a few feet away from her was a police tent with several armed policemen.

Watching the helpless mother dog, I felt as helpless as she. But, what could we do? The language and cultural barriers prevented us from being able to act. I couldn’t break my gaze from her, and her yip could be heard through the streets, even when we were far away.

I broke down when we stopped into a store a distance away; thinking of how cruel it was to keep this mother separated from her pups, to leave her, begging for them to be brought to her, I wanted to go back and release her or bring her babies close so she could nurture them.

I knew then I had become a dog person. I’d never hurt so deeply for animal before. This was the inciting action from which there was no turning back. I thought about Stitch an ocean away from me at home and how he had been neglected for the first year of his life and how our choosing him, I believe, wasn’t accidental. He was the dog I needed, the one who could show me dogs are much more than four paws and a wagging tail.

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There’s so much we can learn from dogs: The importance of rest. How to thoroughly enjoy food. Learning the intricacies of your surroundings by sight and smell. How to protect what is most important. How to make new friends. Trust. And love. Unconditional love.

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