How do you break up with a dog? You can’t whip out any classic excuse: “It’s not you, it’s me.” “I’m not looking for a boyfriend right now.” Dogs just don’t understand that stuff.
My parents had wanted a dog for about a year, and finally stopped their wishy-washiness about six weeks ago and got their pug, Cole. They saw him as some kind of savior, a lovable rascal who’d cure their empty nester syndrome and reenergize the house.
I certainly didn’t see him that way. I’m not much for animals, mostly because dogs’ constant motion startles me. Plus, I just wasn’t used to dogs—the only pet I ever had was Jellyroll, a snail I got at Girl Scout day camp that lived in a baby food jar. He (or she? I’m no scholar of snail anatomy) died the day after I brought him or her home.
Also, I was certain that my parents’ getting a dog meant we’d turn into “dog people.” I had this vision that we’d soon buy tiny capes and hats for a canine Halloween costume and hang up a Christmas stocking for our pet. After that, we’d head over to Kinko’s to get photos of the dog eating ice cream screened onto mugs and sweatshirts. A slippery slope, indeed.
But despite my reservations, my parents persisted. They instantly fell in love once they got him. They tried to sell me on the dog, so much so that I felt like I was being set up for a blind date. “You really will like him, he’s so nice and lovable,” my mom assured me. She kept emailing me updates with news about the dog. Today he sat next to me as I got ready for work. Yesterday he barked at the golden retriever across the street. Et cetera.
And she usually even began her sales pitch with the disclaimer, “I know you don’t like dogs, but…” It was the “but” that got me. In sitcoms, the characters are always discussing what their new date’s “but” is, as in, “He’s a great guy, but he’s got this weird love of asparagus,” or something else innocuous. Cole, though, couldn’t change his “but”—-I knew I wouldn’t like him just because of his species.
So when I came home for spring break, I didn’t have any time to prepare my big entrance, to craft my first impression. No, as I opened the door, there he was. We didn’t shake hands, or say hello, things you do on a first date. Instead, he just sniffed me. Smelled my legs. Licked my shoes. Stared at me with optimistic, glassy eyes. He seemed nice enough. I thought maybe we’d hit it off.
And for the next few days, our chemistry continued. We watched Jeopardy! together; Cole barked at Trebeck’s pretentious pronunciations the same time I’d ridicule Alex. Cole kept me company as I folded laundry. In fact, I was pretty sure he’d turned into the perfect companion: he didn’t even mind when I hummed bits of musical soundtracks as I went through my daily motions. Not many people have that kind of tolerance.
My parents were right. I did like the dog, after all. And I even began to waiver on my initial stereotype: maybe I wouldn’t start to spend all my disposable income on doggie sweaters. Maybe I’d just tape a photo of his scrunched-up face to my dorm room wall.
It didn’t work out that way. Our romance and chemistry fizzled. We spent too much time together. He got clingy, quickly. Soon, he didn’t just want to sit next to me while I watched TV; he wanted to sit on my lap as I enjoyed my morning cereal. He didn’t just tolerate my absent-minded humming (or my presence, for that matter); he actively whined when I left the house.
So on the last day of break, I knew what I had to do: break up with him. It wouldn’t be easy—-we’d shared quite the week. Cole followed me into the garage, whimpered as he saw me load my suitcase into the car. His once optimistic eyes now looked sad, even pathetic; he wasn’t the same dog I’d liked just a week earlier.
Unwilling to leave, he rooted himself to the concrete by my car. I ended up picking him up and sort of gently tossing him inside. It wasn’t how I planned it, but it was our break up. For now, at least.
Sorry Cole. It’s not me, it’s you.