When I was deciding whether or not to take Hitch home with me from the dachshund rescue, my coworkers weighed in. I was in a new town, living in the hotel that taught me what meth actually smells like (like someone cleaned a truck stop toilet with regret and third-hand bleach), and more than a bit scared that I had made a terrible mistake in coming here.
Everyone at the office was very supportive about the pup (named "Casper" at the time, ill-fitting a dog that was neither white nor a ghost nor a town in Wyoming). The only hesitant advice I was given came from a teammate who said "Just know that having a dog is just like having a child."
I'd heard this before, but it struck me. I've always wanted kids--good Lord, I've always wanted them--and rather than worry that having a four-legged dog child (laziest SNL character ever) was a premature toe in the water of parenthood, I was excited at the prospect of having a child-like figure without either having someone see me naked or spontaneously growing a uterus (the latter scenario I'd rather not extrapolate, for reasons both sexual and cinematic).
Things were rough at first; Hitch's output of the often ungodly, frequently explosive bodily trinity (vomit/urine/poops) was exacerbated by the stresses of home transfer, a new owner, and presumably the crack fumes still lodged into the carpet of our hotel room. He leapt off of both his potty pad and the bed I got him like they were the subject of a childhood IT'S-MADE-OF-LAVAAAAAAA game, and was so terrified by whatever his previous owner(s) had done to him that he'd cower in the corner or hide under the bed whenever I'd so much as stand up.
When my car broke down in Cuba, NM, a place that people want to leave so quickly that the highway just goes through it instead of around it, on December 23rd, we stayed the night at a motel even more terrifying than our Albuquerque home base. And that night, when I accepted that we'd actually miss Christmas with my family in Utah, he licked the tears from under my eyes and fell asleep on the pillow next to mine.
Last week, my first relationship in a some time ended, and while it was the right thing for both of us, it's never easy, and Hitch and I had a replay of our Christmas Eve-eve moment when I got home from what ended up being the breakup talk. I got back inside the apartment, took him to the bathroom, refreshed his food/water, and went right to sleep. I slept as poorly as you can imagine, but whenever I'd be startled upright, he'd jump up to me from under the covers and nuzzle his cold nose against my shoulder. When I'd shoot out of bed after hearing the coyotes outside, he'd run to my windowed door and stand between my feet. And when I'd get back to bed, shaking from anxiety or fear or loneliness, he'd get back on the adjacent pillow into which he'd made his bed, take and sigh out a deep breath, and rest his paw on my chest.
After a few days, a few drinks, a few walks around town, and (more than) a few re-viewings of The Iron Giant, I'm feeling better. The clouds have lifted a bit, and perspective, energy levels, and sound slumber are returning, and days are coalescing back into days.
Earlier today, after going on a two-mile stroll through our new hometown, I was fixing a big pot of chili for the week's lunches, and Hitch sat, as he often does, on guard duty by the door, staring outside, past our untamed backyard and toward the Rio Grande and the Sandia mountains. Our northern neighbor dogs began to bark, which incensed our southern neighbor dogs, who followed suit. Hitch, caught in the middle of the volleying crossfire, joined in. I put the ladle down to see what he was barking at, and went down on a knee at his side.
"Don't worry," I told him, "you don't want friends like that. Them barking at you just means they're insecure with themselves." I returned to the stew pot and went back to stirring. "But if they ever give you any real trouble, God help them."
When the noise increased to an unbearable level, he ran to my feet and whimpered. I dolloped a small spoonful of chili into a small dish and put it next to his food bowl, and he devoured it quickly.
And I thought, I hope I'll be a good dad.