Friday, April 3, 2009

Dog Love

We have dog walkers, dog groomers, dog parks and dog-friendly hotels. We buy organic dog food, put our pets on puppy Prozac and dress them up in costumes for Halloween. In the last 15 years, the amount of money spent on pets in the U.S. jumped from $17 billion to $43 billion. The role of dogs has changed, and journalist Michael Schaffer decided to find out why- (

Guilty me and loving the dog love!

When I was a kid and HBO was my default channel, I've been accustomed to watching movies that show various participation of dogs. They may just be an accessory, a contributor to shaping the movie's background or they have specific airtime or roles as well. In those movies it so common to incorporate dogs into the picture. Every family almost has a dog and the difference of how they treat those dogs compared to how we treat our own pooch at the backyard is so glaring. I remember my father laughing about how dogs can pretty much have their own way inside the house. His laugh is with threat because he would never let it happen in his own house. As a kid, I could not relate to other dog's needs except for food, a decent shelter and an occasional petting. I grew up in this country knowing that dogs are always tied on the leash and they are not some animal you would heavily spend for (except for shots of course). You get attached to them, but not in the way Filipinos are usually accustomed to. Sure, you buy them dog food, but at least here we train them to eat leftover food.

Before it was very rare for me to see Filipino families treating dogs as how Americans treat theirs. Watching the movie Beethoven and looking at our previous dog "Switchie" a Japanese Spitz on the leash made me wonder if I was indeed cruel. I even thought if dogs are naturally smarter in the States because our previous dogs cannot obey rules and do tricks. They do what they do best: bark, sleep and mess around. Of course it was our fault. The thought of seeing and treating dogs as "part of the family" or your alternative for a "baby" to the point of matching the needs of humans to theirs seem so amusing and funny to me. Well, that was before.

Now I understand why people, specifically Filipinos, are morphing into being more knowledgeable pet owners. American culture is slowly being embedded in ours. No longer do we see dogs as merely guard dogs, but now their role as genuine part of any family is strongly felt. Thanks to the accessibility of information and the avenues that make owning pets a breeze.

And in a modern busy world where everything's gone virtual, more complicated and to some degree more jaded, owning a pet for that matter tends to "uncomplicate" things. We go back to basics. Most of us crave for connection and dogs are good with establishing that. Not sounding to be sick here but dogs are certified creatures that respond to you unconditionally. They would love unconditionally and nowadays it's hard to feel that. Dogs are not bothered by the complexities of the modern world. They remind you that you are the master and that you are needed.

I've recently spoken with my boss who is a career woman, single and very much independent. She owns three Shih Tzus whom she cares for tremendously. She confesses that she treats them as "babies." At home with her dogs she feels needed and relaxed just like the feeling of having a baby perhaps. It somehow fills the gap of social longing. She doesn't feel incomplete.

I slightly got dazed with her level of attachment to her dogs, but she immediately noted that it's still different from human relationships. But at the end of the day, she wouldn't feel the need of it anyways. Err is it because she likes the master and slave relationship? No. She clarified she doesn't treat her dogs as slaves. She treats them as her "babies." Groomed, well fed with organic food, creatures she talks to and brings to different places.

Well, I must admit that I can relate with her. Probably if I don't have Harvey, I would just try to understand her at a superficial level. I might not even notice the mushrooming pet clinics and houses that focus on grooming, training and other stuff I never thought would click in the first place.

The very first time I got Harvey, I was so excited that I felt scared at the same time. I don't know if I have the proper instincts of a pet owner (more of like a mother). I only initially bought essential things for him, the best quality there is. I began doing stupid gestures like cuddling him and buying a small piece of comforter. Do dogs need a comforter in the first place? I wouldn't know but my instinct popped in.

Slowly I started to see myself going to Pet stores, roaming around searching for something to buy whether it may be a toy, a new leash or treats. Aside from groceries, appliance stores and bookstores, pet stores and grooming centers have been included in my list. When I feel guilty for not spending time with Harvey, I buy him a gift. When I go out of the house I suddenly miss him and bring him "pasalubong." In every activity that I could think of I try to connect Harvey. Mitch sometimes gets annoyed if I always talk about Harvey and the endless connections. My office mates already feel that Harvey is a live walking human with birthdates, moods and humanly demands. And his full name of Harvey Elizander is something, I admit, people find very very weird.

But for me it comes naturally. He has become a part of me. I don't know if culture has something to do with it or "deciding to own a dog" triggers something in the personality. In a nutshell I know that owning a dog is not a joke. It is a big responsibility. Others might see them as a "practice zone" for nesting, but others just think that they provide something more genuine that we would ever see in humans.

Having Harvey in my life made everything more expensive for me, that is true. A chunk of my earnings automatically goes to his "needs." But just like what my boss said, their returns are priceless. They love unconditionally and they "uncomplicate" things in your life. I would have more reason to laugh and smile after a shitty day.

Most of the times I miss Harvey with more intensity than how I should miss people. I've been more caring to Harvey than I should be with my loved ones. They say that it's obvious that I love my dog more. I find Harvey cuter than babies. People think I'm over the top attached to Harvey when they know I don't really get ultimately attached to anything or anyone easily. They don't get it and they say that there's something already wrong with it. They continue to point that out, but most of the times I don't object.

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