One of the first photos taken of me shows me in my dad’s arms. At his feet sits a puppy. Her name was Annie, and my parents adopted her from a shelter when I was born.
We were never without a dog: There was Annie the mutt, a Chow Chow named Honey Bear, an Australian Shepherd named Jasmine, and two Akitas — Pepper and Tobu. I fed them, I cleaned up after them, and I trained them, loving them as they taught me about responsibility and compassion. But as an adult, I am never, ever getting a dog.
In November I visited England on a whim to see my favorite band play. The moment the plane touched down in London, a grin split my face, and despite the anxiety of wondering when to tip, navigating unfamiliar public transit, and committing examples of linguistic faux pas, I came home chattering relentlessly about the people I’d met, the incredible things I saw in the museums, and the ecstasy of novelty. And the adventure was far from over! The weekend of my return, a friend invited me to a last minute concert, and within 20 minutes, I’d slipped into a fun dress, traced my eyes with liner, thrown on a coat, and was out the door. I danced the entire night and fell asleep grateful — that I didn’t have to worry about anyone else.
I took that trip because these are uncertain times, and it felt like now or never. I remember when my dad lost his job following a stay in the intensive care unit — it was like having the rug pulled out from under us. We were a family of six without our primary source of income, struggling to pay mounting medical bills, and the stress often erupted in screaming fights. After graduating from college, it took me three years to finally land a dependable paycheck. There were times when I had to stretch a dollar as far as it could go, imagining creative financial solutions in order to pay all my bills on time.
During that time I discovered that Los Angeles is actually a bikeable city, I gained new skills in odd jobs, I learned how to budget realistically, and I developed a sense of graceful humility. Living in West Hollywood meant I had access to many community resources. When I fell ill, I could visit a clinic for free aid, and I could depend on government benefits to help purchase food. Those benefits, however, do not extend to dogs. It’s easier to be resourceful when you’re the only one to care for.
One time I was baby-sitting a friend’s nearly year-old daughter, Leelu, and the little girl was being inexplicably fussy. I suspected it was time for bed, but neither a bottle nor a diaper change nor a soothing swaddling could ease her. She finally fell asleep in my arms, demonstrating that she merely wanted to be held. That’s when I began crying. Named after the Chinook word for wolf, this little human pup had put all her trust in me, her needs so primal and so free of shame that I felt overpowered by them, hardly worthy of such sacred responsibility. One day the little “wolf princess” — as I call her — will be an adult woman who will conquer the world. A dog, on the other hand, would always need me.
When I was about 9 years old, Annie — named for Little Orphan Annie — got out of the house, and despite our best efforts we never saw her again. I sat by the front door crying until my parents made me go to bed. Honey Bear died suddenly of a heart attack, and I remember the eerie circle of light the flashlight formed around her lifeless body when we found her. While I was away at college, my parents had to make the decision to let Jasmine, my best friend through my teens, die peacefully rather than languish as old age decimated her body. Dogs’ lives are just not as long as ours, and it is so painful that I still haven’t quite let go.
But dogs are also responsible for some of the most soaring moments of my life. I reconnected with canines when I was asked to look after three dogs in a beautiful, Spanish style home in the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu. Waking up at 6 a.m., I was greeted by a trio of smiles and wagging tails. With no one around for miles, I’d hike with the dogs off leash and gaze across the mountains at the ocean, the fog receding from the valleys to reveal a golden sunrise underneath. I pretended I was a wolf goddess and that the dogs were my enchanted packmates. It was a time of freedom and inspiration, and I loved the sounds of my nearby dozing pack, comforting me while I wrote or sat on the porch playing banjo. When I moved to San Francisco last year, dogs helped me through one of the greatest heartbreaks of my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Yet sometimes the most responsible dog owner is the one without a dog. Even though my heart stops with anticipation whenever I hear the jingle-jangle of tags at a jolly gait, I am never, ever getting a dog. I can see past the superficial high of an endearing dog face to the expense of vet bills and dog food; cold, wet morning walks; scrubbing vomit out of the carpet; and the dull, thin coat of an old dog who can no longer rise to greet me. And I don’t want it. If more people sat down with the realities of dog ownership, realizing that it’s not actually something their lives have room for, fewer dogs would end up neglected, abused, and discarded.
I don’t want children, but I absolutely love kids — other people’s kids, whom I can return to their parents when they begin misbehaving. And I don’t want a dog, but that doesn’t mean I love them any less. I am a dog ally and “Aunt Liz” to a couple of pooches, and I spoil them rotten — as any good aunt should. When people need a dog-sitter, they know who to call, and I get to temporarily experience the pleasure of canine companionship without having to foot the bill, rearrange my life, or make myself vulnerable.
Who else here loves dogs but doesn’t want one? Are you a dog aunt to friends’ pups?
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