I am sorry to disappoint the cat lovers of the world: I just don’t love cats as much as I love dogs. I’m not drawn to felines until I get to know them, but dogs need only wag their tail to garner my attention.
The truth is, I’ve always been a dog person. As a child, I did everything within my power to get one. Besides asking for one every Christmas, my strategy was to learn everything I could about dogs. I read about dog behavior and the types of breeds, deciding that I didn’t want a toy dog, but a Golden Retriever or a Labrador. I figured that if my mom could only see how devoted I was to the topic, she would one day relent.
Alas, the dog books just piled up in my room. Dad was not against the idea, but it was vetoed by Mom, who doesn’t mind dogs – just as long as they come with a restraining order of ten feet.
Her answer to my question, “Can we have a dog?” was to have goldfish and hermit crabs. I wanted something soft, cuddly and huggable, but all I got were pets with scales and claws.
I took good care of my fish and land-locked crustaceans, but they were no replacement for a four-legged friend.
In lieu of a real dog, I also had Mutsy – a Christmas gift from my brother. Mutsy was a floppy, light brown stuffed dog, who came in a red square box under the tree.
“Oh, good,” my mom said. “I like this dog. He doesn’t shed, bark or make a mess in the house.”
From then on, Mutsy went everywhere with me – on ski trips to Vermont, camping trips to Maine, and summer trips to Maryland. He was beloved.
Yet my fervor did not fade as I still craved a living, beathing canine companion. I became completely attached to any dog that crossed my path: from Dandy the Shetland Sheepdog to Buffy the Golden Retriever mix and Socks the Akita mix – all owned by my friends Christina, Kristen and Emily, respectively.
My love of dogs was not limited to those in the neighborhood either. When I met my brother’s roommate’s dog Sting in Michigan, I was smitten. And in my 8-year-old adoration, I took a photo of the Labrador and carried it in my wallet for years.
Then, two years ago, on a summer afternoon in Beijing, I got a phone call from a friend.
“I found a cute puppy. Do you want to watch him for a week? I’ll help you find him a good home. He’s reaaally cute.”
Without hesitation, my first and only question was, “Where are you?”
He was a white 3-month-old stray puppy with floppy ears and a scruffy beard. He was cute, but I was unsure if I had the means to raise him on my own.
I did not intend to keep him, but the longer he stayed at my house, the harder it was to resist his charm. After researching how to bring him to the US (for when the time came) and considering the time needed to train him properly, I finally named him Rivers – an affirmation that I was keeping him.
At first, my parents were not thrilled about the adoption, but soon they were calling me to inquire about his well-being and share their concern whenever they learned something new about dogs: “Did you know that dogs can get ingrown nails if you don’t trim them?”
If you have the time and money (and you really do need both), I highly recommend giving a home to an animal in need. In this month’s feature, find out how to adopt your own cat or dog, learn the basics of owning a pet in Beijing and pick up tips on how to train your dog. The responsibility is great, as most families know, but any pet owner will also tell you that it’s absolutely worth it.
Sometimes after sitting in a two-hour traffic jam, fighting for a spot in line at the supermarket, and breathing in questionably toxic air, I come home to a small terrier, who knows nothing of bad China days; he’s just happy I’m home.