Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pets and Practicality

My sister and I begged for a pet dog through most of our childhood. We were denied each time. I think perhaps my mom would have caved in eventually if we had asked for a cat instead, but my father was resolute and immovable. He had no problem letting us cry in pet stores, making fools of ourselves as we left the mall weeping. They didn't believe we would care for it adequately, and they're right. When people throw up I run the other way, so I am certainly not going to comfort a dog during a distressing digestive episode.

In a small moment of sympathy, or more likely snarky humor, my dad instead bought me an encyclopedia about canines and a ceramic dog that he placed outside the the front door of our home. Foolish, foolish idea on his part. I read the whole thing several times. I was now armed with stories of dogs throughout history that loyally stood by their masters, even dying for them. I studied all the various breeds, trying to decide objectively which would be the best fit for our family. I even read all the sections on specific training tips and was certain I could have any dog following my commands within a day or so. How could he say no now? No longer was I simply a crying kid, but I was now armed with facts and logic.

He still did not buy us a dog.

What made this even worse was that fact that both my parents grew up with several dogs! And cats! And birds, goats, and chickens! That's how they roll back in the motherland. The hypocrisy made me want to cry! And so I did. He still didn't budge.

Now my dad is not some cold, animal-hating, PETA-bashing guy, but he takes a much more practical view when it comes to pets. The dogs he had in India, while loved and well cared for, had a job. These dogs were there to protect the family home and to bite any crazies that may make it past the gates. And trust me, there were crazies. These dogs stayed outside and had plenty of land to run around. While today pets are often treated as luxury items, they were an essential form of income and protection to many families of prior generations.

In fact, I realized that my dad respects dogs much more than I do. He thinks they should be able to run around. He thinks they should bark, as it shows spirit and serves as a warning to intruders. His dogs had roles to play, and thus were not lazy or spoiled. And to him, if dogs could not have the freedom to be dogs because of lack of space or noise-sensitive neighbors, it would be cruel to bring one into the family. And you know what, I think dogs want to be useful and treated like an animal, not a child. Have you seen those dogs that women carry around in expensive bags? Their eyes cry out for rescue. You can sense they feel shame at being treated like a toy. Dogs, even small dogs, can serve a practical purpose.

Has a pug ever stood prouder?

In the end we never did get a dog. I guess my dad was looking out for them. My sister managed to whine often enough and loudly enough to score a few hamsters that she sometimes walked around the neighborhood. And that ceramic dog, it still sits outside their front door, protecting them from intruders.

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