I didn’t think my son was ready. “You’re only 24!” I said to him. “You’re not ready for a responsibility this big. You travel for work, you live in a tiny apartment and you can barely feed yourself!” No, I wasn’t talking about him having a baby. I was talking about him wanting a dog. And he wanted a big dog like the one he grew up.
This was four years ago, just a few months after our much-loved dog, Chappy, whom we adopted when she was four months old, died at age 17. Now, my children had moved out of the house and I announced that I was done with the responsibilities of day-to-day care of any living thing, and that included plants. This was my chance to be free to do … well, I wasn’t quite certain what I was going to be free to do, but I knew it didn’t include being available every time my barely adult son needed help with a dog.
“I know how much you miss Chappy. We all do. But this doesn’t seem like the right time for you to take this on,” I said. “There’s a lot to consider.”
The next morning, my son called me and said the words every parent longs to hear.
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“I thought about what you said, and you’re right.”
There was a short pause, enough to give me a moment for a silent “hallelujah.”
“Thanks for helping me think that through. I can never replace Chappy. And my place is small.”
“Of course,” I said, a little self-satisfied that I had done such a good job.
“So I’m going to adopt a small dog.”
Enter what looked like a little black Lab mix, around five months old.
Our son brought her over the day after he picked her up, and I resisted bonding with her in any way. I was still miffed that my best advice had been ignored, and more annoyed that my son’s father, brother and sister so joyfully embraced this mutt and had no sympathy for my dissention. I had hoped my family would pick up on my opposition and at least acknowledge how I felt, but I suppose when they saw the expensive dog bed, the large crate with a fluffy cushion and the basket of toys I bought for her, they were confused about my position .
The puppy came without a name, so the family gathered around our kitchen table to come up with one for her.
“Mom,” my son said, “why are you standing by the stove?”
“I’m standing by the stove because naming this dog is not my business. She’s your dog and it’s up to you to name her.”
“What about Annie?” my son said to the family at the table.
“No!” I said.
“What?” said my daughter. “I thought you weren’t getting involved.”
“I’m not. But my friend is named Annie and I don’t need to be confused every time someone says something about Annie.”
“She’s so sweet,” my husband said. “What about Sweetie?”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “I refuse to sound like a Hollywood agent every time I have to call the dog.”
This went on for a while, with me standing resolutely by the stove, refusing to get involved except when absolutely necessary, which happened next.
In what seemed to me a random pronouncement of words that rhymed with Beau, a name my son liked but was more for a boy dog than a girl, he said, “Moe! That’s it. I like it. Moe.”
I tried to tell him that we would damage the pup by confusing her with this name—Moe with the word “no”—and therefore dooming her forever. She wouldn’t know whether to come or to stop. But for whatever reason, this only seemed to encourage him, and so Moe was a done deal.
For a while, it worked out well. Then my son met a girl. She’s lovely in every way except that the building she lives in doesn’t allow dogs. So when he calls, I know what’s coming.
“Hi, Mom, how’s it going?”
“All good,” I say. “What’s up?”
And what’s up is that he’s going out of town or staying at his girlfriend’s or not going to be home for eight or 10 hours for one reason or another and can he drop Moe off.
For a long time, it felt like an obligation. Guilt kept me from saying no; I couldn’t stand the thought of the dog being alone in my son’s apartment when I was home and available and unable to come up with a concrete reason not to take her. Annoyingly, she never seemed to want to leave my side. When my husband and I were eating dinner, she would sit at my feet and look at me with an irritating optimism. I’d tell her, “Panko-crusted salmon is toxic for dogs,” or “Carrot soup turns your fur orange,” figuring, what did she know. But she was never dissuaded and would sit there quietly, judging me for hoarding.
I teetered between resentment and a twinge of joy as she bounded into the yard when my son dropped her off, and went wild with elation at seeing me. I continued to play hard to get, but Moe would have none of it. To put it simply, she wore me down. Whenever I walked her, people would stop and fuss over how darn cute she was, and I found myself preening a little bit over that. When my husband came home from work, he was happier to see Moe than to see me, even if I had greeted him wearing a cocktail waitress outfit and holding a chilled martini.
Finally, when I realized that she was not to be an addendum to my life but a frequent part of it, we had a talk.
“Moe,” I said, “I cannot plan my life around your needs. I have needs, too.”
She sat there and stared at me, her little white soul patch visible under her chin as she lifted her head and brushed her tail in a semi-circle across the floor. Clearly, she was thrilled we were having this conversation.
“I mean, I want to go to lunch with friends, I want to go to a movie. You cannot join me in those activities.”
I knew what she was thinking.
“Okay, yes it’s true that sometimes I can take you with me to lunch if it’s a place that has outdoor seating. But you see what I mean? Sometimes, I don’t want to sit outside and you have to be all right with that.”
She lay down, so I supposed she was mulling this over.
I don’t know about Moe, but for me, this was a turning point. I believed we had an understanding, although when I say “bye-bye” as I go out in the world on my own, she still looks at me with a mix of hope that I’ll change my mind and betrayal when she sees I won’t.
I’ll admit I often miss her when she’s with my son. But, that said, remember how I didn’t want to care for any living thing on a daily basis? Because I know me. So now I have a drawer filled with seven different colors of collars and leashes; I bought her a raincoat that clearly humiliates her; I cook for her, something I was bad at doing for my own children; I talk to my friends with human grandchildren about all the irresistible things she does and constantly show them adorable pictures of her sleeping in different positions.
“Moe,” I said the other day as we were both lounging on the couch in our den. “I have a good idea. I’m going out for a little while to get a much-needed manicure.”
She lifted herself from the prone position she was in, stretched and shook her fuzzy, floppy ears as though she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Then she slithered over to my spot on the couch and nuzzled my neck with that little wet nose of hers. I knew what she was doing.
“Oh, wait,” I said. “Maybe that’s not such a good idea. Maybe a good idea is you get a ball and we’ll go out in the back yard and I’ll throw that ball and you’ll bring it back to me about a hundred times.”
Of course, that’s what we did because, although I absolutely didn’t want a dog, that was before I met Moe. It turns out that freedom’s just another word for having time to love a dog again.