Asking for a Friend: Pondering Puppy Love

Dear Olive, 

Should I get a dog? I want one. I am a very solitary creature and I crave the nonjudgmental loyalty of canine companionship. But what if I want to move to Australia or become an astronaut…what would the pup do then? Is it too big of a commitment for someone who doesn’t have their life figured out one bit? Help!

-Dogless and Dithering

Dear Dogless,

The real answer to your question depends on a lot of very boring practical factors, like your access to a steady paycheck, your tolerance for poop-related mishaps, and your capacity to offer nonjudgmental loyalty, not only to receive it. You already know, I hope, that dog companionship isn’t only about Instagram followers and slobbery snuggles; it’s also about daily chores, pet insurance, and a new barrier for those spontaneous international getaways. Can you give your dog the best dog life possible, or are you just looking for an accessory that you don’t have to dry-clean?

Consider whether you can offer the dog something above the first layer of Maslow’s pyramid, assess whether you have enough cash for a midnight visit to the emergency room, and take it from there.

However, the tone of your letter makes me wonder if the dog is really what you’re asking about. You fling out space flight and Australia as though they might surprise you tomorrow. You wonder about making a commitment when you have nothing figured out. You crave companionship. It’s all understandable, but the vagueness with which you present these concerns makes them sound no more real to you than a distant projection of what adult possibility — and adult responsibilities — might look like. And if that’s the case, maybe you’re interested less in the dog and more in what having a dog would mean.

What would it be like if the reason you couldn’t stay out all night were another creature and not your own sour mood pulling you back to your apartment? What if you finally had to abandon that Fulbright application because of your pet, and not your unyielding procrastination? What if you had certainty in canine form when your job trajectory or relationship or aspirations weren’t offering anything like it?

I wouldn’t blame you. The unknown makes room for a lot of wonderful things to happen, but it shoves everything rather carelessly out of the way to do it. A dog is less shovable than most things.

But I suspect there may be less dramatic ways to answer some of these piled-up questions. (Especially if you suspect that your current curiosity about living abroad might accumulate into a return trip to the animal shelter to drop your dog back into a cage.)

What would it take to cultivate a little more clarity about what the future looks like before you roll into the dog sweater aisle? Maybe you do want to move to someplace exciting, with possibly lethal wildlife. Have you figured out what it would take to make that happen? Maybe you’re really eager to amp your job responsibilities up a notch. Have you looked for more challenging opportunities or sent an awkward email to a college professor? Maybe you really want answers about what the next year or two or 10 are going to look like, and getting a dog sounds easier than getting a Passion Planner.

Or, okay, maybe you just want a dog. People get dogs all the time. And the good news there is twofold: it means there are a lot of people to guide you through it, and it means that lots of other people who don’t know what they’re doing have gotten dogs too. You wouldn’t be the first or last or most confused to order custom collar tags and start calling an animal your “furbaby.” (Although I really wish you wouldn’t do that last one.)

You don’t have to be certain about the whole future to make a choice about it. You don’t even have to be that certain about the present. What you do have to be is certain that you’re ready to prioritize the choice you’re making. We’re talking about another living being here, one who can’t advocate for itself or make its own PB&J when you’re busy. That means you have to commit harder than you might if it were just a job or international move you were considering.

Making a commitment is tough, but it can also feel awesome, especially when so much else feels nebulous and insecure. As long as you want the dog more than the title of “dog-owner” — and as long as you have enough resources to share with someone who won’t chip in for the toilet paper they eat — then get thee to a pet sweater aisle and go for it. Please send pictures.

Love,
Olive

 

For a little unprofessional advice in these uncertain times, send your questions to yourfriendolive@gmail.com or to our anonymous portal. We want it all: the embarrassing, the baffling, the epistemological. Check back in two weeks from now for another dose of aggressively earnest advice, next time on Asking For a Friend.

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