Twenty years ago I owned my first dog. Two, in fact.
But I don’t own a dog now. And I won’t ever own one again.
Being a Dog Owner
When I read Alice Walker’s essay in The Bark’s Dog Is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendship, about bringing home her first dog, Marley, I got it. Deep in my bones, I felt the truth of her words.
Walker wrote about how she could not call herself Marley’s owner. Being the descendent of slaves, the idea of owning someone she was building a relationship with didn’t feel right.
And I don’t feel that “ownership” describes how I feel about Honey.
Yes, I know that legally I am her owner. That the rights I have under the law are property rights. But if I try to call myself her owner, the words stick in my throat.
These ideas make writing Something Wagging This Way Comes challenging at times. I struggle for words. I use the phrase “dogs we live with” or something like that instead of dog owner.
Is it important?
Honey doesn’t care. Most people I meet would wonder why I was making such a big deal over such a dumb thing. But words are important. And the words I use affect how I feel.
Honey Never Heels
Honey and I will never earn obedience trophies.
I admire teams that compete together. Rally and obedience work is a great way to build a bond and give a person and her dog skills to work on.
But I’m not into technical precision when Honey and I are walking. We just need to be paying enough attention to each other to have an enjoyable walk.
When I need her to come closer so we can pass an obstacle or give someone room on the sidewalk, I tell her “with me” and Honey walks alongside me. When I say, “go sniff,” she is free to leave my side and continue walking where she wishes.
What’s the difference between asking Honey to heel or saying “with me?”
I guess it comes down to tone. I can sing out “with me.” But heel always sounds like a command. Try it. Try saying “heel” in a friendly, lilting tone of voice. You can’t do it, can you?
It’s precise, it’s quick. It isn’t friendly.
And that’s okay. Once again, your dog doesn’t care what words you use.
But I feel like our walk is more fun if I use verbal cues that sound friendly.
Does anyone call their dog by his name?
When I need her to pay attention, I call my pup Honey. But the rest of the time, she’s H-Boo, Fuzzy, Pooder Girl, Wooly Boo, Sweetie, Lil Blonde Girl, Cutie Patootie, or something else.
When my husband is being affectionate with Honey, he calls her Dummy. I have no idea why.
He says it very gently and with a lot of love. But I don’t know why he has to use that word.
It reminds me of when my sister started dating the man she later married. After spending the weekend with my family, he told her, “Your family is mean.”
You see, I’m related to a bunch of “teasers.” We don’t hug and kiss and say “I love you” all the time. We show our affection by teasing. And we let someone know we consider them part of the family by including them in our teasing.
But hearing Bob’s comment, I knew he was right. And I thought back to times in my life when I could have used some comfort but was teased instead. Just because it’s meant with affection doesn’t mean it always feels good.
Once again, Honey doesn’t mind being called Dummy. She’s having fun with Mike and she’s happy for the attention. But I feel weird listening to it.
Words Have Power
Words define us. That’s why the U.S just elected 20 women to the Senate, not 20 girls or ladies.
And words can change our moods. I’ve learned to tell myself, “I feel sad” instead of “I am sad.” For some reason, “I feel sad” describes a temporary event. While “I am sad” is just the first statement followed by “I’m always sad,” “I never do anything right,” and “I’m such a loser.”
So even though Honey doesn’t care if I “own” her or if I ask her to “heel” or walk “with me,” it matters to me. It makes me feel differently depending on the words I’m using. And my feelings affect my relationship.
So you can own a dog if you want to. It doesn’t matter to me.
But I don’t own a dog. And I’ll never own one again.