My Dog Is My Boyfriend?!

Musings on a close relationship.
By Kerry Quinn, January 2019
Photographs courtesy of Kerry Quinn

Photographs courtesy of Kerry Quinn

He says he’s bored with his food. He wants salmon. Also, he’s telling me he’s your boyfriend,” said the animal communicator, gently touching my dog’s hips.

My Wheaten Terrier, Lincoln, and I were seated at a table on the patio of a coffee shop that was hosting a psychic fair to raise money for a cat rescue. For $20, I got 15 minutes’ worth of insight.

“Tell him that he turned his nose up at salmon too many times for me to keep offering it to him,” I said.

She kept looking at me, waiting for me to acknowledge my dog’s declaration of our relationship status. “As for my boyfriend …” I laughed awkwardly and made an “eeesh” face, the kind where you rear your head back and show your gritted teeth—like a horse running into a mountain lion. It felt weirdly inappropriate to agree with him.

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Luckily, I’d already asked my probing questions about his food, day care situation, walking schedule and general happiness. I let my phone’s voice-memo app capture the rest of Lincoln’s musings, including his inability to understand cats, while I wondered why it felt so icky to have my dog think he was my boyfriend.

For starters, I’m a commitment-phobe, so it seemed like a predictable reaction. But since we spend almost every minute of every day together, the commitment ship may have sailed five years ago when he chose me to be his guardian. Yes, he picked me by jumping into my lap, putting his puppy paws around my neck, and smiling as I silently panicked and whispered, “Slow your roll, dude!”

On another level, I refer to myself as “Mama” to him, as in, “Want to come with Mama to the coffee store?” As his primary caregiver, bather, feeder and poop-picker-upper, I’ve exercised my maternal instincts on him, doing a far better job of keeping him alive than all those expired plants now in the great compost pile in the sky. He is pure and sweet like a toddler, and I love him as though he is my child. The word “boyfriend” conjures images of passion, fighting, dining and compromising—not the sweet innocent love I feel for Lincoln.

Despite being a fiercely independent single woman, I still have visions of a handsome soul mate who’ll totally understand me at a deep level and convince me to take the rest of my life’s journey with him. We’ll challenge each other to be our best selves while often evoking the worst in each other. Did I also mention there’d be lots of sex? In my mind, he’s a little hairy, definitely stands on two feet, is probably human and doesn’t sneakily try to eat trash.

If I take species and sex out of the mix, Lincoln understands me better than most people. His emotional intelligence is remarkable, and he has a knack for pulling me in the direction of people I need to meet. He’s a protector who turns into a hellhound whenever anyone dicey gets within five feet of me. He rushes to my side before a single tear breaks free of a duct. He sleeps next to me, resting his head on the pillow while stretched out like a person.

He’s my adventure partner, always up to explore somewhere new with as much mischief and joy in his eyes as in my own. Most importantly, he loves me when I’m at my worst, when we’re disagreeing and when he doesn’t get his way. Perhaps because I haven’t always experienced this unconditional love, it’s given me a steadiness that feels new.

Recently, Lincoln woke in the middle of the night and had trouble walking. He stumbled around like he was drunk, causing me to panic and rush him to the veterinary ER at four in the morning. Despite a thorough examination and follow-up visit with our vet, the cause was unclear; he “may have licked a neurotoxin,” I was told.

I was instructed to watch him and, if another episode occurred, to take him to a neurologist. It sounded scary, and when paired with two separate veterinarian “eesh” faces, it was all I could do to hold back a Category 5 hurricane of tears. The thought of losing my best friend/dog son was more than my brain could handle.

While sitting over him like a stalker in a 1990s thriller, watching him sleep, I cursed the animal communicator for not sensing a major problem. Then I did what I needed to do, which was to comfort and care for him. After weeks of being smothered with attention, enduring the burning of a special animal-protection candle and licking only his food and me, he’s back to his rascally self. I’m grateful that he seems to be past whatever caused his crisis. I also now view our relationship with fresh eyes.

Yes, I’m his mother, adventure partner, constant companion and best friend. He’s better than the fantasy I have of my boyfriend/ husband/soul mate because he loves me for who I am all the time. There aren’t many boundaries in a canine/human relationship, and it’s more than okay for a dog to fill many chambers of your heart.

I told Lincoln that I’d upgraded him from boyfriend to life partner. He gave me his megawatt smile, even though I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what the words “life partner” meant. One day, he’ll reluctantly make room for a lowly human boyfriend, assuming, of course, that said boyfriend gives him treats (always grease the paw).

And in nothing short of a miracle, with the addition of salmon to his food, he’s finally back to devouring every meal. Cheers to animal communicators!

Kerry Quinn is a writer in Los Angeles. She’s been published in The LA Times, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. Connect at KerryLQuinn.com and @KerryLQuinn on Instagram and Twitter.

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