Owning A Dog Now Is Different Than In The '80s

by Amy Rodriguez
Originally Published: 
Image via Amy Rodriguez

I had a dog in the ’80s. Her name was Molly. She was a Border Collie-something-something mix. I loved her to pieces. As an only child, I considered her my best friend and sister.

Here’s what I remember about her:

– In the warm months, my parents let her out after breakfast, and she roamed the neighborhood till dinnertime.

– Occasionally, I’d see her head pop out of the bushes down near the marsh after she chased ducks.

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– She swam in the stream in back of our house.

– She chased the mail truck.

– She chased Mr. Robichaud’s camper.

– At 6:00, she came in for dinner. She had Alpo.

– My parents let her out before bed to “do her business.”

– I never picked up any poop, and strangely, I don’t remember ever seeing any poop.

– She went to the vet maybe six times in her 14 years.

– We rode together in the back of my dad’s pickup truck.

That was life with a dog in the ’80s. We all know that raising kids was different in the ’80s; parenting has changed. The ante has been upped. The bar has been raised as it has also been, apparently, for dogs. I have a dog now. I live this difference every day.

Before we got Guapo, I knew things were different. I knew about leash laws and pooper-scooper laws. I was not aware of everything else. At Guapo’s first well visit, the vet checked his ears, his teeth, his belly. She then asked me in-depth questions about his psychological and emotional state. Had he been socialized yet? With big dogs? Little dogs? Other animals? Children? How did he react? Did he show signs of imprinting upon me? Did he seem attached? Did he see me as the alpha? Did he understand his place in the family hierarchy? Did he exhibit any fears or anxieties?

“Well, strangely, he does seem afraid of the wind. When the wind howls, he barks.”

“Ok. Here’s where you have to be careful to separate your fears from his. Dogs pick up on your anxieties.”

I am anxious about many things, but not wind. Geez! I worry enough about messing up my kids, but now I was supposed to worry about messing up my dog’s mental health? I took Guapo to puppy kindergarten, hoping I could teach him to 1) not bite and 2) not poop in the house. The instructor had nobler goals for her dog students: to have them living alongside us. She wanted them to be fully functional members of society. She stressed the importance of agility, obedience and manners.

She told us that under no circumstances should we play with our dog if our dog approached us with a toy. Our dog could play when we decided we wanted to play. No more of this, “Look at me, bringing you a ball.”

What? Huh.

She encouraged us to bake our own canine snacks so that they would be salt-free. “Store-bought dog treats are full of sodium! Not good,” she warned.

Each week, I brought Guapo to puppy class. Most times, he ran into the middle of the room and pooped. Other owners clucked at me as I knelt on the ground, cleaning up after him: “Oh, he’ll learn.” But I could sense their smugness. There was a palpable undercurrent of competitive puppy-raising.

“Oh, Frank has been house-trained for weeks.”

“Lola never nips.”

“We only feed Maggie raw food.”

Then, there is the fact that I always seem to be carrying a bag of dog poop with me.

I asked my mom, “Where did Molly poop?”

She looked up. She was silent for a moment. “I don’t know.”

“Right?” I said. “Did you ever see poop in our yard? Ever?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, “I didn’t.”

So we had a dog for 14 years, and my parents never had poop in their yard and never picked up any poop. But somehow, there was never any poop on our street, either. It was as if there was some sort of mystical poop fairy. Those were the days, the days of innocence and dogs with magical, disappearing poop.

I have also learned about car safety for dogs. Apparently, Guapo can’t ride in the front seat of my car. “What if the air bag goes off?” a woman in a parking lot scolded me.

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” I cringed.

Guapo likes to swim. He can swim when he walks in slowly. We realized, however, that he cannot swim when he jumps in over his head. Last summer, he ran across the neighbor’s yard and jumped into the deep end of their pool. He thrashed about, sinking slowly. We jumped in and hauled him out. Now Guapo has a life vest for when he swims: Outward Hound. I also bought him a kiddie pool because the vet warned me that he could overheat in the high temps of summer.

Guapo has a number of allergies. The vet tells me that she sees more and more allergies in dogs and that more and more dogs are requiring a diet of “rare” protein. He now eats gluten-free dog food that contains New Zealand venison. He has eyedrops and ear drops too. I wash his blankets in scent-free detergent. His organic, hypoallergenic shampoo costs more than my shampoo.

In December, I called the vet because Guapo was vomiting and not eating. They told me that he was probably feeling “unsettled by the holidays” and “stressed by all of the extra activity.” Join the club.

He had a bark collar to get him to stop sounding like an attack pug. It sprayed citronella when he barked; it worked incredibly well. Then, he fell asleep and snored the great snore of pugs and set off the citronella spray, leading him to jump up and search for whomever had just attacked him. We took the collar off. He didn’t sleep for two days. We could either have a barking dog or a quiet dog with anxious insomnia. So, he still barks.

The vet said we should get him a rolled Italian leather dog collar because the skin on his neck was irritated. He now has a collar that is nicer than any belt I own.

The vet also recommended that we get him booties to wear in the winter because the salt and ice melt was bothering the pads on his feet. We bought him little brown sherpa boots that look like the Uggs that Tom Brady advertises. We could not get four sherpa boots on a wiggling meatball of a pug, but we tried. We tried to put booties on our dog. Who have I become?

I miss the days of letting Molly out to run through the neighborhood. I wonder if Guapo senses he’s missing something. Is he tired of being trained and watched and leashed? Does he dream of the glory days for dogs in the ’80s, or am I just projecting my dreams onto him?

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