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This Dog’s Life
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We blinked. We smiled nervously. “But she likes the furniture,” we said. “We like her on the furniture.”

He explained to us the basic principles of dog training. She has to learn to listen. She must learn parameters and the concept of no. He tied a piece of cotton rope to her collar and demonstrated how we were to yank her off the sofa cushion with a sharp tug. Our dog went flying through the air. She looked up at us from the floor, more bewildered than offended. “She doesn’t sleep with you, does she?” the trainer asked.

“Sure,” I said, reaching down to rub her neck reassuringly. She slept under the covers, her head on my pillow, her muzzle on my shoulder. “What’s the point of having a twelve-pound dog if she doesn’t sleep with you?”

He made a note in a folder. “You’ll have to stop that.”

I considered this for all of five seconds. “No,” I said. “I’ll do anything else, but the dog sleeps with me.”

After some back-and-forth on this subject, he relented, making it clear that it was against his better judgment. For the duration of the ten-week program, either I sat on the floor with Rose or we stayed in bed. We celebrated graduation by letting her back up on the couch.

I went to see my friend Warren, who, handily, is also a psychologist, to ask him if he thought things had gotten out of hand. Maybe I have a obsessive-compulsive disorder concerning my dog.

“You have to be doing something to be obsessive-compulsive,” he said. “Are you washing her all the time? Or do you think about washing her all the time?”

I shook my head.

“It could be codependency, then. Animals are by nature very codependent.”

I wasn’t sure I liked this. Codependency felt too trendy. Warren’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Kate, came in, and I asked her if she wanted to see the studio portraits I had taken of Rose for my Christmas cards. She studied the pictures from my wallet for a minute and then handed them back to me. “Gee,” she said. “You really want to have a baby, don’t you?”

I went home to my dog. I rubbed her pink stomach until we were both sleepy. We’ve had Rose a year now, and there has never been a cold and rainy night when I’ve resented having to take her outside. I have never wished I didn’t have a dog, while she sniffed at each individual blade of grass, even as my hands were freezing up around the leash. I imagine there are people out there who got a dog when what they wanted was a baby, but I wonder if there aren’t other people who had a baby when all they really needed was a dog.

This story first appeared in Vogue, March 1997, and is also included in Dog Is My Co-Pilot, an anthology compiled by the Editors of Bark and published by Crown. © Ann Patchett; used by permission of the author.
 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 15: Summer 2001
Ann Patchett is the author of five novels: The Patron Saint of Liars; Taft; The Magician's Assistant; Bel Canto, which was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction; and Run.

Photo by Neil Beckerman

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