Dogs and babies always stare at me. It’s not a loving or excited gaze. It’s more like they’re too stunned to look away.
Dogs rarely bark at me, so it’s not anger or hatred. They’re quiet, as though something about me is throwing them off.
My family went to Carmel, a very dog-friendly town, almost every weekend when I was 10. For a while dogs would tackle me at the Carmel Beach. I was fine with the little ones but not so much with the big ones (whose relatives have got to be horses or something). They’d come charging at me and take me down as if I were breaking parole.
As I got older, I think the species recognized I was too tall to be tussled with, but dogs are still wary of me and vice versa.
In middle school whenever I would sleep over at a friend’s house, I would avoid and suspiciously observe the movements of her dog. I did this mostly to amuse the other guests (I know her parents looked at each other with wide eyes and thought, “Did we really have to invite this kid?”). But there was undeniable tension. He went to a corner on the opposite side of the room and kept watch over me.
Late one night I got up to get some water in the kitchen. I heard some skittering across the floor, and then two shiny black spots appeared. I knew it was the dog. The dog must have deduced I was not someone to be trusted alone in his house at night. We circled each other, each giving the other a wide berth in case they lunged, until I was back in the hallway. I didn’t turn my back on the two shiny spots as I went back to my friend’s room.
So why the animosity?
My sister, junior Bianca, believes dogs sense something robotic about me because of the way I pet and hold them. While most people smooth a dog’s hair in one direction, I comb back and forth. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone asks, “Why are you touching my dog like that?” It just feels natural to me. I know that sounds creepy, but dogs and I have a creepy relationship already.
It could also be because I’m allergic to dogs. While my friends rush up to puppies on the street and coo and tickle them, I stand back with my hands in my pockets. The dog at the center of attention must be thinking “What’s this chick’s deal? Is she a cat person? Is she a dreaded bird person?”
Wrong on both accounts. I’m a Chia Pet person.
On Saturday I met 250 dogs at three different animal shelters with my sisters and mom as we looked for a dog for my dad’s birthday.
We came in with a few criteria: must be male, medium-sized, not too energetic, not a puppy and tolerant of our Cavalier King Charles, Abby. If Abby could talk, her most used phrase would be “No. And that’s that.” She came from a dog hoarder and is, in a word, picky. Her new roommate needs to be easygoing.
We were drawn to a few other residents. One of the fiercest was a pitbull with stitches on his eyelids. The thread was turquoise and poked out like he had eyelash implants. Another two were obviously from dogfights and had only holes where their ears used to be. They were clutching each other.
Half of the dogs we saw were pitbulls. A couple of volunteers told us that pitbulls are the most overbred and frequently brought in, but not too long ago Chihuahuas were in the same position, and now it looks like German Shepherds are next.
As sad as these images are, the shelters were packed like it was Black Friday. We’d find a potential candidate only to return five minutes later to find the animal already adopted.
We ended up with Bear, an awkward German Shepherd. He checked the perimeter of the meet-and-greet yard about 30 times and was pretty oblivious to our family until we broke out the treats. He’s extremely underweight and has been abandoned twice.
I think there’s a cue when a person knows that a dog is the one. Important moments come when it’s obvious you’re on the right path or made a good choice. I hadn’t felt that with Bear yet, maybe because of his standoffishness, maybe because we had seen so many dogs already and was thinking “What makes him any different?”
On Sunday we went back to make it official and introduce Abby and my dad to his present.
During the second meet-and-greet Abby peed, and Bear lapped it up. My dad said, “That’s a good sign.” I shrugged and told him “Waste not, want not.”
—By Sonja Hansen