“Can Fido and Whiskers Enrich Children’s Lives?” my pediatrician-writer daughter, Perri Klass, asked recently in her column “18 and Under” in the NY Times http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04E7D91531F933A25757C0A9649D8B63.
The column was sensible, unexceptionable and judicious, but a veritable army of loyal sentimental parents responded praising their pets and singing the joys of animal ownership. There were few complainers or dissenters. If I may be allowed a premature pun, it was a paean to pets!
I wish Perri had asked me. But, of course, she knew better. Did Bingo enrich our children’s lives? Perhaps; certainly they learned useful and drastic techniques for coping with a distraught mother.
It all began in the 1960’s when we were an academic family squeezed into Columbia University housing in Manhattan. Suddenly the unrest in the city seemed threatening and suburban fever infected us; it was immediately imperative that we buy a house in a nearby New Jersey town. Thus two full-time working parents with three young children elected an exile where there would be lots of room, a garden, and a safe environment. My husband, an anthropologist, never once mentioned a dog. He just took it for granted that everyone knew that suburban households include pets. He really did; anthropologists always look at the bigger cultural picture. Their wives are too busy to look at anything.
Once installed in this Garden of Eden, my family happily tripped off to the local pound and chose a puppy. I came home to find a deceptively cute creature, black with white markings. “Bingo,” they had playfully named him. He was winsome, frisky and totally stupid.
Hard days and nights then followed for weeks and then months and then years; indeed, for decades. I thought Bingo might outlive me, but I hung on desperately.
Bingo’s tragic flaw was that he thought he was a Roman fountain; he perpetually spouted. He chewed exotic objects particularly favoring those of great sentimental value.
He was duly enrolled in the local dog obedience school. His master graduated knowing every trick and command. Bingo flunked.
We’d bought a new living room rug in the early suburban weeks, which we desperately and continually sponged off and deodorized. Finally we gave up. We rolled it up tightly and put it aside except for state occasions. If we used the rug, the puppy was banished. That was the rule. Puppy and rug could not co-exist.
Young Bingo was cute but he was an utter nuisance. The grown dog was not even cute and remained a nuisance.
Worst of all – I was the first up mornings and the first to return evenings, so walking Bingo became MY chore. I tried to be a good sport; I whistled, while I walked him, I hummed; the Grand March from AIDA was my favorite; I read Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem as I strolled artfully trying not to pay attention to what I was about. But I was never able to forget my mission and I detested it.
I cannot think of any chore in my whole life I despised more than marching along in the gutters of Sylvan Avenue – ah yes, that truly was its lyrical name – behind that dog.
Oddly, there weren’t any really embittered responses to my daughter’s column. Can it be that I am the only virulent anti-pet adult? Was Bingo an aberration? How can you really love a fuzzy, smelly, non-verbal creature that is continually needy – and has to be walked for unmentionable reasons?
Someone should research the long-term deleterious effects of children’s pets on parents.
Just come around any time and ask me.