Sunday, October 23, 2011

even less a dog lover

Ozzie, the four-year-old pitbull mix we adopted from a shelter, has now been with us for three and a half weeks. He's fit into our household smoothly with no housetraining, chewing or barking problems. He doesn't get anxious when left alone and is always affectionate and happy to see us. He loves other dogs, children and animals and is remarkably happy. Even the vet was impressed with how he has no aggression, food or anxiety issues. He doesn't even shed hardly any hair and the only difference to our apartment is that the floors need to be swept more often (no scratching or other destruction to our property).

So my ongoing discomfort is purely a personal problem and has nothing to do with what a great dog he is. I'm just NOT a dog person. I don't like being outside and this animal has to be taken out several times a day. I particularly hate being in direct sunlight because it causes me rashes, but when you have to walk a dog during a bright day, there's no avoiding sunlight. Sunscreen makes no difference. I used to just stay indoors on bright days, but now I walk around with a rash. Also, the charm of walking a dog is over for me. I'm bored by it.

When we're home, I'm emotionally uncomfortable with how much he stares at me and follows me around. People keep telling me, "That's just how dogs are," but this gives me no comfort because it hardly matters what Ozzie's motivation is. He reminds me of bad relationships where the other person clung to me every minute and craved my constant attention and made me feel suffocated. These relationships made me feel inadequate. I felt guilty for not fulfilling the other person's needs and constantly anxious that I was handling things badly. I felt like I was constantly letting the other person down.

Can you see how having a dog that's always eager for playtime, walktime, snacktime and cuddling might evoke my lifelong fears of having the life sucked out of me by someone who is too "loving?"

I was talking to someone about religion recently (it fits in, just stay with me). She couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to be a part of something that promises constant attention from a loving God. I told her that it's been found that a person's concept of "God" is hugely influenced by their childhood. Children with nurturing, supportive, unconditionally loving parents tend to believe in a benevolent spiritual presence. Children with abusive, violent or emotionally unpredictable parents tend not to believe in a benevolent spiritual presence, or to at least be suspicious of what that means.

My companion was baffled by this. She said, "God is love." I said, "Yes, but when a child's parents teach him that love is yelling and abandonment and fear, then that child does not grow up believing that love is necessarily good. To such a person, the statement God is love can even sound sinister."

This is my problem when people tell me that I should relax because no matter what I do, Ozzie will love me anyway. I don't want Ozzie to love me anyway. It took a very long time for me to become comfortable with platonic friendship. It took me decades to make peace with the idea that a person could be in love with me just for who I am. It took me quite a while to finally accept the level of generosity and support that my husband gives me. To tell you the truth, I'm still working on the concept that Bob loves me unconditionally. Unconditional love? What??

Yes, love and intimacy have always been very scary to me. I have always needed to take things slowly, but there's no going slow with a dog. In just three and a half weeks, Ozzie acts like he's glommed onto me for life and it's freakin me the hell out. He smells doggy, he licks me too much, he makes me feel guilty every second that I'm not focused on him. I find tug-of-war, squeaky toys and throwing the ball boring and refuse to do it.

Bob is baffled and disappointed by my response. He adores Ozzie and is much happier with him in our lives. Bob knew I wasn't an animal person, but he's surprised that I'm responding this badly. I'm depressed and hitting the carbs hard again. I feel drained from taking care of this animal. I don't enjoy my weekends anymore because I'm on dog duty. In fact, my most relaxed days have become Tuesdays and Wednesdays because those are Bob's days off, when he takes responsibility for the dog.

I know, I'm pathetic. It's ridiculous to be whining about a dog when others are dealing with a death in the family or financial catastrophe or raising children, or all three at once, but it indicates how bad I am at life. I've always known I wasn't cut out for parenthood or family obligations and I have wisely avoided them. Foolishly, I didn't realize that even a nice dog would bring up my emotional baggage, turning me into a basket case, again.

I want to enjoy Ozzie more than I dread him. I want to enjoy my weekends again. I've got to pull out of the depression that dog ownership has sunk me back into. Time to see both therapists this week.


Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Today Ozzie had just dropped one and I was unenthusiastically stooping to scrape his feces into a small plastic bag. The grimace frozen on my face, I noticed a young woman walking by, pushing a stroller with two infants. My facial expression softened as I told myself, "Okay, I would rather be doing this than THAT."

Mick said...

Oh dear, its a shame you haven't taken to be a dog owner but you never know Ozzie may grow on you given time.
Just make sure Bob is the one that feeds him then most of Ozzies afecion will be towards im.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Thanks, Mick. I'm ashamed to be thinking of this dog as a human that's perpetually disappointed in me and is going to get angry at me for not attending to his needs. Talk about imposing my emotional baggage on a poor animal! It's completely stupid, but I can't stop. I'm in great need of more EMDR therapy and I'll be getting it soon.

Richard said...

You should learn to love Ozzie, as your own. Did it ever cross your mind why other people treat their pets like their own kids? Pets are affectionate, they can show you love, aren't you happy when you come home and ozzie will see you wiggling her/his tail?

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Richard - am I happy when I come home and Ozzie is all happy and wagging his tail? No. And I never wanted kids, which is why I didn't have them. I'm getting used to the dog now, but not by imagining him as a human-like being who is capable of love and affection. Quite the opposite.