Should I Get a Dog?

I got a letter from a boy named Jason, in Albuquerque, who asked if I think he should adopt a puppy. He’s got his eye on a border collie mix from a shelter. Jason wants to name this dog Teddy. Or possibly Frank.

First off, Jason, thank you for the message. Fuzzy puppies are exactly what I need to be thinking about tonight. I’m grateful you brought up the subject. The world is an ever-loving mess right now, and canines are good medicine.

So to give you the short answer in case you’re pressed for time: Yes. Get the puppy.

Now here’s a longer answer:

A puppy is not a puppy. A puppy is a baby. A real, living, breathing, delicate infant. True, it’s a dog-baby, but it’s still a baby. This baby requires your whole heart. Not just half.

Now before you nod your head and agree with me, I want you to think about this for a second. You’re a 13-year-old kid. Are you ready to raise a real baby?

Having an infant in the house is not easy. Ask any saggy-eyed parent of a newborn. Being a parent is a full-time, round-the-clock, lifetime gig. You do not get time off. There is going to be a lot of pee involved.

Border collies can live 17 years. This means you could be a dog daddy until you are 30 years old. By then you might be married and have a big fat adjustable-rate mortgage.

If you decide you are ready, are you prepared to say goodbye to things like free time, peace and quiet, and regular sleep?

Because your dog will sleep on your bed. Always. End of story. There is nothing you can do to stop a dog from claiming your bed. All night he will constantly be readjusting himself, engaging in acts of personal hygiene, keeping you awake, and nudging you off your mattress. And if you’d prefer for your dog to sleep on a doggie bed, please read this paragraph again.

Secondly, a dog will ruin your stuff. I currently have two dogs named Thelma Lou and Otis Campbell. If you were to visit my house in the middle of the day you’d find it very tranquil and serene, with floppy-eared dogs snoring all day.

Why are they sleeping in the middle of the afternoon? How are they so tired when all they do is eat and poop? I will tell you why. Because at bedtime their bodies become inhabited by nocturnal demons.

At night my dogs go slap crazy and try to destroy our house. They conduct WWF Smackdown wrestling matches in the living room. We often hear furniture getting rearranged and 90-pound bodies slamming into walls.

Many times I have woken up to find broken lamps, gas stoves on fire, vomit-soaked shoes, chewed eyeglasses, and wee wee on books I authored.

Even so, having a dog is pure joy. Namely, because dogs see this world differently than we do, and it’s wonderful.

Mankind views this world as something to conquer; to fight over; to gripe about; to own. A dog sees this world as a multi-sensory fiesta of experiences. To a dog, Earth is smells, tastes, sounds, good friends, squirrels, and endless opportunities to beg for food.

A dog “gets it,” Jason. Far better than we do. Dogs aren’t as simple minded as some make them out to be.

Recently, some neuroscientists in Loránd University in Budapest scanned the brains of 13 dogs with MRI machines and discovered that dogs actually understand our words.

During this study, dog trainers spoke common phrases to their dogs, using no particular intonation. And do you know what happened next? You probably already guessed. That’s right. The dogs peed on the MRI machines.

No. I’m only kidding! Kind of!

What really happened was that the dogs’ brains lit up like aircraft landing lights. Especially in the left hemisphere regions. Which is just a fancy way of saying that dog brains process spoken words nearly the same way human brains process words.

What does this mean? It means that your dog understands what’s being said. It means that having a dog is not merely owning a pet. You are dealing with a creature that feels, thinks, and is capable of feeling rejection, neglect, disappointment, sadness, and the sting of harsh words.

It’s going to take a lot of kindness, patience, and plenty of plain old love to raise this puppy. Come to think of it, this whole world could use those virtues right about now.

That said, there is nothing better than having a dog. I have had the pleasure of loving several. And every dog I ever knew burrowed its way into my soul and taught me to be a nicer person.

A few days ago, for instance, I went through a very rough personal moment that upset me. It doesn’t matter what happened, but something put me in a crummy mood. I went into our backyard to pout for a little bit. But I was followed by a 90-pound animal who refused to let me be in a funk.

This creature leapt into my lap, cut off my circulation, and licked my face until I was laughing so hard my abdominal muscles burned. And when my sadness had dissipated, I looked this dog in her eyes and realized that this creature is a true gift. She is my daughter.

So do I think you should do it? Yes.

Anything that brings more love into this tired and lonely world is highly needed right now.

23 comments

  1. Jane Elder - September 30, 2020 11:16 am

    Well said. And they truly become family members.

    Reply
  2. Mindy - September 30, 2020 12:00 pm

    Love this. Get the dog. My coonhound Lilly is my light and my soul dog who knows the real me and still loves me unconditionally. We could all use that.

    Reply
  3. Chester Norton - September 30, 2020 12:27 pm

    Sean, I am Rose Marie Martin’s 92 year old father. Your article about Bear Bryant several days ago was hilarious as well as heart warming. I loved your last sentence punch line. I forwarded it to ROSE MARIE who in turn forwarded it to her twin sons who are seniors this year at ALABAMA. It just simply thrilled all of us. Keep up the good work !
    Chester Norton

    Reply
  4. JoAnn Lunch - September 30, 2020 12:31 pm

    Absolutely adopt that puppy! There is nothing like the love between a boy and the dog who owns him!

    Reply
  5. Jan - September 30, 2020 1:17 pm

    I am a cat person myself but animals can be such a comfort and pleasure. They look into your eyes and see your soul. They give and receive love so generously.

    Reply
  6. Dianne - September 30, 2020 1:28 pm

    Yes, by all means, he should get the dog. We’ve had three during our 45 years of marriage, and they bring so much into your home, your lives, and your world. I can’t imagine not having a fur baby in my home!

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  7. Charlie Mathers - September 30, 2020 1:44 pm

    Truer words were never written or spoken. Buddy says you got it right, Sean! I do too!

    Reply
  8. Retired Ol' Geezer - September 30, 2020 1:51 pm

    This is all absolutely true, every word. Yet some folks may want to consider an older dog. Shelters have a lot of them. Maybe their owners have moved and can’t/won’t take them along. Some are brought in because the owner(s) cannot take care of them any more due to aging, serious illness, or financial difficulties. Yes, puppies are cute, and Sean, you have, in a humorous way, outlined the great amount of work involved in raising one. Older dogs don’t need the kinds of training and upbringing puppies require. Just wish more folks would give those older dogs a home too.

    Reply
  9. Judy - September 30, 2020 2:27 pm

    Amen. But I have a problem now. Stage 4 lung cancer. I am do worried about my babuu

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  10. nebraskannie - September 30, 2020 3:10 pm

    Love your column! Get the dog, maybe you’ll learn something important! I only wish I wasn’t too old and sick to take on another dog at this point. There is nothing better IMO

    Reply
  11. Margaret - September 30, 2020 3:45 pm

    Yea Jason! Get a dog ‘cause every single word in this log is the God’s honest truth! I needed to hear that this morning,Sean!

    Reply
  12. Steph Jewell - September 30, 2020 3:56 pm

    Jason – an older dog from a shelter is the most loving animal you’ll ever own. You can give that dog the gift of a forever home.

    Reply
  13. cronkitesue - September 30, 2020 4:06 pm

    Right on the spot!

    Reply
  14. Linda Moon - September 30, 2020 4:32 pm

    I’ve told you about our border collie mix who understood American Sign Language. He lived to be 18. So, yes, I agree that Jason should get the puppy, but I hope he doesn’t name him Frank. My two eight-pounder kitties plus their combined 2,008 pounds of fluffy fur won’t let me stay in personal funks. Your rough personal moment matters, and I hope I’m bringing some love into your world right now, Sean Paul!

    Reply
  15. Patricia Gibson - September 30, 2020 5:53 pm

    Amen Sean! I love my two furry kids and they are my children. They give me happiness and love and loyalty while they pee on everything. ❤️😂

    Reply
  16. Christopher Spencer - September 30, 2020 5:57 pm

    I am 66 years old and feel like somewhat of a rarity in that I have owned only one dog my entire life, and that was for the last 12 1/2 years.

    My bestest old buddy and sweetest old baby Ben crossed Rainbow Bridge on September 1, 2020. My heart is broken. He was the best friend I ever had. Those 12 1/2 years together were just me and him. He was full grown when I got him and the vets at Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Health Clinic estimated his age as 15.

    Not sure I will ever get another one. It is too soon, my pain is still too raw. But I find peace in knowing he is in Heaven, is healthy and happy and running and playing and making new friends. And one day I will be with him again.

    I put together two photo albums I wanted to share with you all.

    This first album is many photos from his past but mainly they are from our last day together. The pics were taken by a vet school student named Annaka.

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10222098938155532&type=3

    This second album is pics of a Memorial Table in my home that I have been putting together for the month of September. I got the finishing pieces yesterday as I had to order a lot of it online. I also had a photo album created which you will see in the photos.

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10222093709304814&type=3

    I pray that Jason brings home Teddy/Frank with him and that they have a long happy life together of making great memories together. And I pray that Jason grows to know that one day Teddy/Frank will cross Rainbow Bridge and tries to prepare himself for it.

    But I have learned that even when we know it is coming and try to prepare as best we can, when it happens is a pain more powerful than any physical pain possible. It is the price we pay for loving.

    But Jason, prepare yourself to one day go home to Heaven where you will be with Teddy/Frank for eternity.

    Love to you all,
    Chris

    Reply
  17. kathleenivy - September 30, 2020 6:07 pm

    Hi Sean, First … sending a virtual hug for your rough personal moment. Second, thank you for bringing up and explaining a bit that a puppy is a baby. Too many hold the belief that dogs (and other animals) are more like things than living beings. A lot is going to depend on this boy’s parents, or friends and family, in teaching him how to parent effectively. How to be firm and consistent not abusive and reactionary. How to use teachable moments and communication that a dog can understand (not puzzle over wondering why their human is so upset) so the dog can learn how to live in a human world. We, as humans, tend to neglect teaching how to parent to ourselves and others. We tend to believe the myth that it will come naturally if you love your infant. That is a destructive myth … for the parent who does indeed love their infant (human or animal) and still does not know what to do, for the infant (human or animal) and for the society which is left with damaged, and sometimes destructive, poorly parented/poorly parenting individuals. It is an amazing blessing that we have been gifted with dogs (and other animals) that remain messengers of love, forgiveness, and joy regardless of our too often reactive and violent methods. It is amazing that people can heal and also be messengers of love, hope, healing, forgiveness, and joy regardless of hurts sustained during life (I am especially thinking of you). Love you Sean (and dogs and so much else.)

    Reply
  18. MAM - September 30, 2020 6:56 pm

    I vote for the older animals. Every dog we have ever had came from a shelter or a distressed situation. Puppies are cute and fluffy, but they grow up to be dogs. And their adulthood absolutely depends on your training work. We all miss our fur babies when they cross the Rainbow Bridge, but they give us great memories. Sean, you absolutely nailed this one!

    Reply
  19. Lanni Fish - September 30, 2020 8:16 pm

    Sean, thank you. I am an 81-yr old widow, “mom” to a sassy 17 month old Maltese, who has no idea she is a dog. She thinks she’s a child, and I would never burst her balloon. She is the most recent of a life-long parade of spoiled canines. There were only about four years out of my life when I did not have a dog, and that was because my husband was in the Air Force during that time and we were unable to have dogs where we were. Every word you wrote to Jason was the truth. Good, bad or indifferent, dogs bring a dimension to our lives that everyone should know, but sadly, some choose not to do so. I feel sorry for them. My children were raised with dogs, all of them have at least one, and when we’re together, it’s a motley crew indeed, but they’re fun. Big and little, puppies and seniors, purebreds and mutts, they’re all sweet, funny and loving, because they are loved. God was having a good day when He created canines. He created wolves, put something in their hearts that at some point reached out to us, and we have modified them into Maltese and Chihuahuas and Great Danes and such, but they’re all the same beneath the fur. Amazing! Next to His Son, I think dogs were His greatest gift to us.

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  20. Christopher Spencer - September 30, 2020 9:51 pm

    Amen Lanni Fish!!

    Reply
  21. DiAn - October 2, 2020 4:15 pm

    Truer words have ne’er been spoken! Thank you, once again, Sean!

    Reply
  22. Nancy Nestor Johnson - October 5, 2020 8:40 pm

    good feelings just reading!

    Reply
  23. James Moore - October 12, 2020 10:47 am

    That tradition is slowly going away here in North Carolina. I can remember family reunions where tables were full of all kinds of southern goodies. From fried chicken to green bean and squash casseroles to ever kind of dessert you could imagine. Sadly we no longer have those family get-togethers. I guess when the old guard passed away we just stopped for some reason. I miss being 10 years old.

    Reply

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