Just under a year ago, the teenager brought back a Jack Russell terrier from a shelter in Lexington, KY. There had been periods in my life where I'd wanted a dog before, but I was not at all excited about it. For one, I wasn't choosing the dog. The dog was technically not going to be mine. This made me nervous the dog was going to be territorial, hate me, bark at me, and otherwise make my time in the apartment, of which I was not yet a full-time resident, rather difficult.
But then there was Cody: a six-year-old rescue, who was remarkably well trained, extremely skittish out on the Brooklyn streets, but exceptionally loving and sweet. We didn't know much about his history, other than some notion he was in a puppy mill and may have also been obese from eating too much people food.
Suffice it to say, nothing was as bad as I thought it was going to be. The biggest challenge was simply that a dog is a lot of responsibility and when a teenager is supposed to be the one responsible for the dog, that means your responsibility is to keep the teenager on task. Nothing new there.
Somewhere along the line though, Cody became mine too. Probably because I was the one who gave him baths, trimmed his nails, and researched the right food to give him. I'd never actually had a dog before, so these pursuits were heavily tied up in a existential quest to understand the quality and meaning of Cody's life. The very fact of his being a rescue had shaped my perception of him. His life before now must not have been great—someone gave him up. Did he remember his old life? Was he happy now? Was I doing right by him? I'd ask my friends these questions, and they'd look at me like I was crazy.
While this was happening, I was also refusing outright to say I loved him, in spite of the fact he had clearly accepted me as pack-leader and was following me everywhere. I'd cite the fact that he was most likely going to die in a few short years, so I didn't want to get attached. I also didn't want to become the person who is obsessed with her dog, constantly tweeting pictures, and talking about him like he's a human child.
I have to tell you, it's a very weird thing to love a dog. We weren't pet people growing up, except for a parakeet that lived too long and a guinea pig who lasted just a few months. Neither of them were particularly exceptional, so I never had a meaningful relationship with any non-human being. A dog is this creature who can't talk to you, but stares at you and seems to have so much to tell you. And then you realize how you're getting as much comfort out of petting him as he is. Or you take him to the vet, and the prescription for his medication comes back in the name of Cody Roth, and you're done. You can't help but feel protective and disciplinary and maternal all at once.
So I've come around over the past year and am now only slightly that person. I've grown accustomed to the small, 18-pound creature that roams around the apartment to see where everyone is, always finds the softest thing in the room to nest on, and only eats his dinner when we're is eating. He is not a person exactly, but he is a member of the family. And while I have not yet come to any philosophical conclusions about Cody's existence, and I might never, I love him anyway.