Friday, November 27, 2009

Gigi and the Dog Eat Dog World

I just started reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, in part because I am once again a human ping pong ball. First, I was a vegetarian for 30 years, then I stopped for three weeks because Verna was worried about my health, then I jumped back on the meatless bandwagon three weeks later, then this summer I started eating sustainable chicken and fish. But about a month ago, I realized (yet again) that I am a vegetarian and that is how I want to live in this world, so…

Reading Safran Foer’s book will probably confirm my choice. Next up The Vegetarian Myth, once it becomes available from the library. This book says the real culprit is industrial agriculture and not eating animal flesh may actually be detrimental to one’s body.

So who knows where’ll I’ll be eating-wise in a few weeks, chomping on slabs on beef, wolfing down rotisserie barbecued chicken? Doubtful. But I close the door on nothing.

I see the parallels between Safran Foer and myself. Neither of us liked animals all that much even though we either rarely ate them or abandoned our omnivorous ways altogether. But Safran Foer, like me, became a dog lover later in life and that surprised him.

And me as well.

We had a pet for five days when I was a kid. A puppy my father brought home that barked through the night and peed everywhere and drove my mother crazy. She made us get rid of it, and I cried at having to lose the little fellow who slept in my room.

A former girlfriend and I bought a puppy on a total whim at a Farmer’s Market outside Vermont more than 30 years ago. We soon realized neither of us, both college students at the time, was equipped to care for it, so we gave it away.

So I grew up with very little contact with animals in my own home outside of the occasional run in with spiders, crickets, and ants. Maybe once we had a goldfish. But there were no hamsters, bunnies, kitties, or anything else. And I didn’t particularly like animals all that much anyway.

Now my sentimental or sense of justice side came out from time to time. The political action group I worked for in Hartford, CT, in the early 1980s always hosted a holiday fundraiser that featured a plethora of items on which people could bid and buy. Someone put up a sheep for auction and the buzz around the room was that Nick Nyhart and a few friends were going to buy it for slaughter and consumption.

I quickly ran up to my friend and housemate Georgette. “We can’t let them kill the sheep,” I said.

“No, we can’t,” she said.

“What if we were to get a group of people together to buy the sheep and save its life?”

So Georgette and I scoured the room for partners as the bidding began. We rounded up three more people and raised $120, enough to outbid Nick and his gang. Georgette made arrangements with farmer-homeowners in Eastern Connecticut, where our sheep presumably lived out its days in relative peace and tranquility.

But the sheep episode was easy. I never met the sheep, didn’t have to interact with it, bath it, or clean it after it got sick or soiled itself. Nothing. The fact is I didn’t like caring for animals. Poopy diapers, hysterical children? Yes, as long as they’re my own. Animals? No thanks.

I worked on a kibbutz for three weeks when I lived in Israel during my junior year in college in 1979-80. One of my jobs was to collect the eggs in the henhouse. I got so upset at the little buggers pecking at my fingers and hands that I sometimes threw their eggs back at them. I was cruel.

My attitude towards animals and animal care changed a little over a year ago when we got Gigi, a miniature poodle. Verna fell in love with her immediately after she wandered into a pet store in Pismo Beach with our sister-in-law and then 18-year old niece. Verna called me on my cell phone, for I was at an Arroyo Grande Park at the time with Miguel, Maya, another niece and nephew, and my mother-in-law.

“I can’t believe you’re asking me to make such a decision on a cell phone while I'm at the park,” I nearly shouted to Verna. “We have to agree right?”

“Yes,” she said.

“OK, then I don’t want a dog. I don’t want any pets. Too much work.”

Verna came home with pictures of the poodle on her cell phone. I said she was cute, but I didn’t want a dog. Verna returned to the store and snapped more photos with her digital camera. Yes, I agreed, she is very cute, but I still don’t want her. We had dinner plans that night with the kids (two of ours, four of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s) and the adults in San Luis Obispo, where we were to meet my brother-in-law after work and his eldest, Erik, and Erik’s very pregnant girlfriend. Verna made us stop, hungry, at the pet store to meet the puppy. Yes, I agreed again, she was very cute, but I don’t want a dog.

Then I turned down the aisle and found Maya on the floor with the dog rolling in her lap. That’s when I realized it wasn’t about me. The kids will love her, I knew, so I relented but not before exacting a few concessions from the peanut gallery:

1. I will not have to scoop her poop
2. Miguel will never ask us for another gift for at least a year
3. My eldest niece would quit smoking
4. Miguel will be the primary caretaker for the dog he named Gigi

So we brought Gigi home a couple of days later and I spent nearly a week stewing about the dog. “Why did we have to get her?” “How much money is this going to cost?” “Why did I let you talk me into this?”

Gigi was relatively quiet and passive, but I wasn’t used to the small mounds of poop or the tiny streams of piss she left as presents in the kitchen and living room. And I was taking her out at night.

Well, eventually I calmed down and grew to love Gigi. She is sweet and makes almost no demands on us. Yes, she wants to be fed and use the neighboring park to pee and poop, but she is pretty low maintenance. She is happiest when someone gently strokes her belly.

And what happened to me, the guy who never really liked animals even though I wouldn't eat them? I am the alpha male. Gigi will abandon just about everyone and everything to come over to me. I am her go-to guy and that has helped bond us together. She is a member of our family and I like having her around.

I guess I could say on this day after Thanksgiving that I am grateful she is in our lives. As for the “promises” made to me once I caved in about Gigi, not one has held up. I scoop poop all the time; Miguel helps but is certainly not the sole caretaker, and he still asks for presents, gifts, and assorted stuff all the time (hey, he's a kid). And my niece, well, we’re sort of, kind of working on that.

But it truly doesn’t matter. I love Gigi, she loves me, and we’re a happy family. Corny and true.

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