The last great wall of adulthood: Do we or don't we become parents — of a dog?

“We always wanted one,” she tells me over the phone. “I just wanted to wait until we moved into a bigger place.”


It’s the question that gets batted around a great deal with married couples, as it represents the big, life-altering decision. We have been asked about it at parties, outings and visits, and we always say we will when we are ready. But are we emotionally ready to deal with this? Are we ready for this kind of adult responsibility?


I hesitate. “So, if we did this…”


“Yes?”


“…then we would be…”


“That’s right,” she says, a hint of maternal pride in her voice. “We’d be dog owners.”


After having been with each other for a time, couples sometimes begin to feel the urge to love something more than themselves, to care for someone else and to raise them in a better world. These people, author Dave Barry once wrote, promptly go out and buy Labrador retrievers, and that seems to solve the problem. Other people decide to have babies instead, which is also acceptable.


For childless adults, dogs seem to be the closest they can get to having someone in their lives that requires care and attention without requiring them to also change diapers or spy on Facebook accounts. Cats, gerbils, ferrets and numerous reptiles do fine by themselves as long as they get food, water and someplace to use as a bathroom. Dogs, on the other hand, require registration, affection, exercise, training and things to chase with wild abandon, like rubber balls and squirrels. And they need all this on a regular and constant basis lest they do something like get into the cupboard and eat a box of Bisquick.


Apparently, my wife’s co-worker had approached her during a break and offered her a free 4-month-old English pointer puppy. The co-worker could not afford the dog any longer and didn’t want to surrender it to the Humane Society out of fear the dog would be euthanized before it could find a good home.


“What do you want to do?”


She wants the dog. “I don’t know,” she says, “but free dogs don’t get offered to you every day.”


Since we started living together, my wife and I have been content with housecats and the occasional visit from the unwashed horde of nieces, nephews, godchildren and assorted other moppets that have peripherally come into our lives in the last five years. I say peripherally because, unless you’re looking right at them, the smaller children tend to disappear from view long enough for you to trip over them.


Parenthood has been the last great wall of adulthood that, while so many of our friends began scaling it years ago, we have willfully ignored in favor of metaphorically camping at the base of said parenting wall, drinking beer and occasionally pouring lighter fluid on a camp fire. We are not by any means anti-child, but both of us work with children in varying capacities during the week and we generally prefer to sleep in on Sunday mornings. The question of when we plan to start a family has been raised many times by our friends, typically in conversational or teasing terms. My friend, who has three children, likes to say he is up 3-0 against me; I like to point out that I don’t have to send them to college, a counter argument that sometimes makes his eye twitch.


Before we get to the kids, we had planned to get a dog, mostly because we wanted to have one before the children start arriving. We do not view the raising of a dog to be the equivalent or even an acceptable test run to raising a child. Comparing raising a dog to raising a child, in addition to being unfair and inaccurate, undercuts the sheer difficulty of parenthood. In addition to the multitude of questions about raising the child, all of which can be subject to change on an annual, if not daily, basis (diet, values, education, culture, television programming, acceptable activities on prom night), parents have to constantly assess their own methods and responsibilities in dealing with these changes. Dog owners, by comparison, have the relatively simple task of making sure their pets don’t destroy the house, stay away from moving vehicles and don’t consume anything bad for them (like mailmen).


And the rules for the raising of one set do not apply to the other. One cannot, for example, catch a child stealing a cookie and punish them by locking them in a crate or squirting them with a spray bottle. Conversely, dog owners cannot sit the dog down when it turns 21 (only 3 in human years) and tell them the time has come for them to move out of the house and get a job.


Ultimately, the only thing that matters is the decision to accept the responsibilities that come with parenting while still dealing with the other, relatively easier decisions lobbed at us every day: chicken or beef, cable or satellite, Stewart or Colbert, Democrat or Republican (not so much a choice as it is the Great American Catch-22, but what can you do?)


Pets come and go, but parenthood is fo-evah. Once you start scaling that wall, you don’t get to jump off.


“There is the problem of space in the apartment,” my wife concedes. “We could just wait.”


“Maybe,” I agree. “But it would be cool to have one, wouldn’t it?”

I had been minding my own business, always a sure sign of trouble, when a life-altering decision came into view and stood in the middle of the highway of my life. My wife called me just after she had learned of it, and she wanted to know what we should do.

We have technically been adults for more than 10 years now, during which time we’ve made decisions big (getting married, moving, purchasing vehicles) and small (scrambled eggs or omelets on Sunday mornings) and have made a mostly comfortable life for ourselves in the sleepy metropolis that is Tampa. Her question, however, now threatens all of this with its sheer magnitude of life-changing possibilities.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I suppose we could.”

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