my roommate and i dog sat last week. and not just any dog. Watson is a Briard, a breed of ancient French hunting dog. although Briard isn’t French for anxiety-inducing beast, it should be.
his head was the size of a basketball.
his eyes looked glazed and he didn’t blink enough, making it seem like he’d already visited the taxidermist.
suddenly, an amalgamation of Beowulf, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and each shaggy dog belonging to every farmer in all children’s movies since the start of cinema was panting non-stop in our apartment.
which meant we were soon obsessing over his preferences, theorizing about potential needs, and wondering why he wouldn’t stop looking at us.
“mom,” i wailed in a voicemail, “i’m calling to tell you i feel like a parent. and it’s terrible.”
but it was worse.
because the bonding wasn’t instantaneous. for a while, it felt like i’d assumed the responsibilities of keeping a creature alive without any attachment hormones to seal the deal. as though i was the last entry on a list of potential legal guardians for an orphan and the dreaded call finally came.
another worry was how wolf care taking would affect my relationship with my roommate, which for years has sustained itself through respectful, detached coexistence. suddenly we were micromanaging the other's daily life to squeeze in Watson’s walks, meals, and “masculine energy time,” where dog and roommate wrestled. essentially, we swapped roles of parole officer and assigned ex con.
“where are you going?” “how long will you be gone?” “can you stop by in between to check on him?” “text me either way so i know…”
and it wouldn’t be dog sitting if i glossed over the texting and live discussion about Watson’s poop status: if it happened, when it was anticipated, preferred locales. “i cannot wait to never talk to you about dog shit again,” i told my roommate. “it’ll be wonderful,” he agreed.
apart from sheer size, what made this dog such an aesthetic nightmare was the packaging. it was all wrong. he was the canine version of Linus from Peanuts. in addition to a dirt cloud, he trailed hair for days, shedding like gangbusters. it formed tumbleweeds under every table. i wish we could’ve spun it into gold, like in Rumpelstiltskin. we could’ve been millionaires (billionaires?).
in short, there was a lot to begrudge were i in the mood. but i didn’t want to indulge that way of thinking. luckily, around the same time, i discovered this anonymous quote: “most events in life can be categorized in one of two ways: a good time, or a good story.”
it’s a helpful perspective, and instead of fantasizing about weaving dog hair into gold, i chose to spin differently, to transform the challenge of dog sitting into a good story.
the challenge, though, is making sure the good story arrives completely instead of getting waylaid in “it’s not funny yet” city or the principality of “i don’t want to talk about it.” here are some suggestions for making the shift:
don’t pretend everything’s fine if it’s not. be flexible enough to adjust your expectations and say, i thought this would be fun but instead it’s…different. this experience is teetering on the edge of misery and needs my help.
acceptance frees you to see the absurdity and humor, making the transition from “that damn dog being gigantic in my apartment and staring” to “my week with the hound of the Baskervilles” that much easier.
brand it to yourself as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “so this is what’s it’s like to have a pony in the apartment.” “who knew canned dog food smelled so disgusting? not me!” “how can so much hair come off a single animal’s body?”
think about how you’ll tell this story once it’s over. doing so gives you distance from the less-than-amazing reality and lets you focus on aspects like, what should i include? how could i elaborate? which details are relevant?
the sooner you start looking for the good, the sooner you find it. personally, dog sitting drove home how much i value my freedom and independence. also, i’d be an awful parolee.
you’ll become a better storyteller by collecting and revising these tales. eventually you’ll amass a treasure trove of narratives, with more stories than heads of state, former Marines, and circus performers…combined. you’ll be the best person to be stranded with on a deserted island.
tune in next week for the positive side of having Watson around...
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