I didn’t have dogs growing up. My younger siblings and I were on a near constant quest throughout our youth to have a dog as a pet. I don’t actually know how it became such a big deal, but I am sure that after the first few years of our parents saying no, it became the most enticing goal possible. Unfortunately for my parents we did not consider my sister’s stuffed Dalmatian “Doggie” a family pet, despite his constant presence on every family vacation and in several family photos.
This was not ordinary children nagging; this was a full on assault, a constant bombardment of pet requests. We cut out pictures of dogs from magazines and hung them all over the house. We asked to go into every pet store we passed. We would go through the classifieds in the newspaper every week and highlight all the free dogs and leave those ads on the counter and at the dinner table. When my sister was 7 her Christmas list that year said “A dog or nothing else”. Anytime a canine and their family were spotted, one or more children would immediately say “They have a dog.” in a particularly annoying whine and cadence. In fact, “They have a dog” was spoken so often, our parents started saying it as well.
At one point our parents must have claimed that a dog was expensive, because for several years we became incredible entrepreneurs, holding lemonade stands, washing cars, cutting grass and babysitting. We also did odd jobs for our neighbors that 9 and 11 year old children might be responsible for, such as watering plants and feeding their dogs. In fact, we raised and saved enough money that our mother convinced us to no longer keep it hidden in a box in our closets but to invest it into a savings account. Back in those days you could earn 5% interest on your money.
Sometime during the early 1990’s we started getting fish. I believe my parents thought if we had some sort of pet, we wouldn’t continue to ask for a dog. Well the joke was on them, because the fish actually compounded the situation; we didn’t stop asking for a dog, and now we also wanted more fish. Let’s just say there is a high turnover rate with goldfish. We started with three in one tank and each week the fish moved into another kid’s room and they would be in charge of feeding the fish that week. It did not take long until we were attending monthly fish funerals. We did have one fish, Spot, who lived for several years. He was my brother’s and lived in his room, because by this point my sister and I had progressed to hamsters.
One Christmas I was able to pick out a small hamster who I named Little Noel. She was a pooping machine! We used to set up these block mazes for her; you could always follow where she had been, because she left a trail. Very sanitary. Her cage was in my room, it was filled with fresh, soft wood cuttings, a food bowl and a water bottle that would hang on the side of her cage. She also had one of those big wheels, so she could play.
It turns out that hamsters are nocturnal; so she would sleep most of the day and be up in her cage scurrying about and playing in her wheel all night. After about a few weeks I went to my father and said “Daddy, I can’t sleep. Little Noel runs in her wheel all night and it squeaks and keeps me awake.” Of course I refused to allow her cage to be moved anyplace else, so my father put some rubber spacers on Little Noels hamster wheel so it would no longer squeak. The problem was solved, until about a week later when I woke up and discovered Little Noel had died in the night. She was right next to her hamster wheel, in the running position.
In 1999 my father moved us to more of a county/suburban setting. One night my family was out running errands and we went to the nearby grocery store. In the entryway they had a board where there were local ads and help wanted postings. On this particular evening there was a picture of a litter of mutt puppies and a sign saying FREE with a phone number. We spent the entire shopping trip making valid points, negotiating our reasons for getting a dog, then just flat out begging, but to no avail. On the way out we memorized the phone number, and wrote it down when we got home. That night we had a secret kid’s only meeting and decided we would call the number without telling Mom and Dad. Being the oldest, I was nominated. The next day after school I called the number but reached an answering machine. I knew it was the right number, because part of the message said please leave your name and number if you are calling about the puppies. I left a message, but was concerned we would be too late and all the puppies would be gone.
A few days later my mom approached us kids and said our father had received a very interesting phone call earlier that a lady had called saying she had two of the puppies left and asking if we were still interested. To this day I am convinced my father was temporarily insane, because not only did he not tell the lady we were no longer interested, but he took a message for us. After 13 years of adamant NO answers on this day he took a message! My mother drove us to look at the pups the next day, and that weekend we brought home our first family dog.
My dad claims he just didn’t want to die having never gotten his children a dog, because we would have “Did not get his kids a dog” engraved on his tombstone. As an adult looking back, my siblings and I learned many valuable life lessons in this process, we learned to be assertive and ask for what we want. We learned how to be entrepreneurs and to start and grow small business. We learned how to raise and save money. We learned that pets of any size require responsibility. We learned about death, that it is sad at first, but you will always have the good memories. We learned the perseverance pays off. If it is truly important to you, each day you will move one step closer to achieving your goal. And we learned that in the end, sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands, that you are in charge of your own destiny and the only person who can create your dream life, is you.