My daughter has been asking me if we can get a dog since she was a toddler. I took her trick or treating when she was four—she was dressed as Tinkerbell—and she realized that even better than houses with candy, are houses with dogs, or houses that at least have a cat. We have candy at home, but what we don’t have at our boring-ass place is any pets whatsoever. After the third house, she stopped saying “trick or treat” and started asking, “Do you have any pets?”
At one house, an older woman came to the door and acted as if she has been waiting her whole life for someone to ask this question. She let my daughter come inside to find her cat, Catfish. I stood by the curb under the yellow light of the street lamp and waited, wondering, what is the correct amount of time to let your tiny daughter go into a stranger’s house at night to find a cat? Eventually, I went inside and found Tinkerbell under the kitchen table with Catfish. The next house, my daughter saw a dog toy barely appearing above the blades of grass—in the dark—and she started running to the door, “Can I pet your dog?”
Since I have understood her love of animals from this early age, when she would ask me if we can get a dog, I would tell her that she can get a dog when she moves out of my house. It was not that I did not want to fulfill her dreams, but I would look at our lives and note that neither one of my kids could even remember to flush the toilet. It did not seem like we were ready for a pet.
Then we found ourselves in the black hole of a pandemic. We went from school drop offs, appointments, meetings, lessons, and events to this odd little group of shut-ins, some of us adjusting better than others. For my daughter, we transitioned from “Let’s look at art schools!” to “Maybe if you could just walk to the mailbox and back today?”
She is in middle school, and she went from being an elementary school girl to a young woman, while trapped at home with just me and her brother. We started going to therapy and after a few meetings the therapist asked to speak to me privately. She very carefully told me that my daughter is lonely.
She suggested that I try to do things with her. I told her that after this session, we were going to the grocery store together and that yesterday we went to get coffee. In my head, I was thinking that these choices were better than some of my childhood outings, like to pick up women at the dive bar with my dad or to sit on a curb for four to six hours braiding Bahia grass while my mother and stepfather worked on an old boat—that we never actually sailed. The therapist smiled and looked down at her hands folded simply in her lap, then back at me, “What about things she likes to do?”
It was not long after this session that I decided we should consider getting a dog. Within about a month—after corresponding with some area shelters—we met a yellow lab mix named Bella. She dashed to greet each of the kids and then me, the room overflowing with awes and squeals of laughter, and then she promptly crawled up on the bench between my two kids and turned around as if to say, look at your three beautiful children. We took her home that same day.
Within the first few hours, Bella did a quick scan of our household members and realized that I am the only one who knows how to drive a car and to flush the toilets. She was attached to me right away, even though I am not the kindest or the most playful option, and even though I am not the one who leaves my dishes on the coffee table or drops ice cubes from the freezer and just walks away.
My daughter started taking her on walks, even out past the mailbox, and my son formed a connection with her that is endearing. He has never asked me for a dog, maybe because he was born with wisdom beyond his years and must have known that it would take an apocalypse for me to agree to this. Bella is one thing that brings us all together. We all love her and take care of her, and after being asked multiple times, the kids pitch in to do their share, just as long as after I go in and have a talk with them I shut their door, and “Can you get Bella out of here?”
Bella sleeps in the bed with me, with her head on the other pillow. I hope that when I find my next boyfriend he likes to sleep curled up at the foot of the bed. Bella also goes with me to the bathroom and stares at me the entire time, which seemed odd until I realized I do the same to her. She must have learned this by watching me. She also watches me exercise, occasionally trotting over to stick her nose in my face, are you dying? We go for long walks on the beach and enjoy fine dining.
Bella thinks I am smart, capable, and has the mistaken impression that I am in charge, something my kids have never been naïve enough to believe.