Dog days of summer

How I learned to stop griping and accept my love-struck shelter dog

Alison Rood is a local freelance writer and cat person who has one foot tentatively planted in the dog-person world.

When I was considering adopting a shelter dog, my Sacramento dog-owner friends gave me a collective thumbs up. In fact, they raved about their pets as though dogs were a therapy solution to relationship problems. My hairdresser repeated the words “unconditional love” like a mantra.

I like to think I don’t require a form of love that’s completely free from conditions. I hope my husband hasn’t stuck with me out of obligation to our marriage vows, and I hope I didn’t automatically earn my children’s affection just because I gave birth to them. Although I’d never owned a dog, rescuing a homeless mutt seemed like a good idea. Acquiring mindless devotion wasn’t part of my plan.

Several months have passed since we brought home Charlie, a terrier mix we adopted from a shelter where he’d been living for several weeks. It was a “kill” shelter, so it’s possible we saved his life. I like to think so, anyway.

But at my next appointment, when my hairdresser asked me about our new dog, I was honest. “I’m having a hard time. He follows me everywhere, and I’m the kind of person who needs her space.”

She stared at me in disbelief. “Even from a dog?”

I tried to tell her Charlie is relentless. His nails click on the floor behind me from the laundry room to the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom. If I retrace my steps from one room to another, I almost trip over him. I think it’s terrible to be so emotionally dependent. I remembered those T-shirts I used to see years ago, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Dogs clearly need a similar epiphany.

A few days later, my hairdresser sent me an e-mail, with a photo attached. It showed her at the computer with her dog Harvey sitting in her chair directly behind her. They seemed to be attached at the spine. “I didn’t even realize he was there,” she wrote. “I’ve only started noticing how much my dogs follow me around since you mentioned your phobia.”

Oh, so my need to be alone, without a love-struck dog glued to my side, was suddenly a symptom of an irrational mind.

Years ago, when my oldest son started kindergarten, I got to know the mother of another kindergartener when we became classroom volunteers. We were close, but according to her, our relationship was far from ideal. “I was hoping for a real girlfriend,” she complained. “Someone who’d want to go shopping and out to lunch.” Instead, she had befriended someone who could only conform to the suburban mother formula to a point.

Despite our differences, we reached a mutual understanding and we’ve remained friends. I think the dog and I will eventually forge the same bond. I’ll be firm about my occasional need for absolute solitude.

But right now I have to close my laptop and gently peel him off my back.