“Dad, can we get a pet weasel?”
“What?” I look at Noah’s hopeful face, and for a brief second find myself giving the matter serious consideration.
Then I come to my senses. “No! Don’t be ridiculous. Of course, we can’t have a weasel.”
Noah looks crestfallen for a moment, then brightens.
“Oh well, we’ll just have to get a dog then.”
I should have scented danger, should have known I was walking into a trap. The Weasel Maneuver was just the latest ploy in what I think of as the Dog Wars.
My boys have made clear their desire for a pet dog ever since they could say the word “dog”. In the UK, they had a book of dog pictures which they would pore over for hours, selecting their favorite breed and inventing names for their imaginary pets. When we went to Joseph’s school for his first parents’ evening, his teacher showed us a picture he’d drawn of his family: mom, dad, brother, and Oscar the dog. I’m not sure the teacher believed us when we said Oscar didn’t exist.
“Really?” she said. “But he talks about him all the time…”
Even the walk to school was canine-centered, as every dog along the way had to be stroked and fussed over. (Don’t worry, they always asked the owner first.)
I’m sure some people reading this – OK, most people – will now be thinking “Then why don’t you just get them one, you miserable old git?” Like the woman in the park to whom I cheerfully admitted to not being a “dog person,” only for her face to sour as though I’d just confessed to drowning puppies.
It’s true that I prefer cats, because they’re smarter, more independent, and generally more dignified. (Like me. Ahem.) But that’s not the reason I won’t get my kids a dog.
Nor is it because of my concerns about our living arrangements. In England we had a house, and a garden, and a park nearby; now we live on the fourth floor with no elevator. As international nomads, we’d face the complication of putting the animal through quarantine if we decided to move. And it would make it more difficult for us to travel and explore, while we are here. But none of those perfectly good reasons is the deciding factor.
It’s because I know, with grim certainty, that once the novelty has worn off, it’ll be me that will be left to take the dog for walks and clean up its mess. The problem with working from home is that nobody ever believes you’re really working, and they assume that your day can be filled up with minor tasks. After all, who ended up looking after the stick insects? (Actually, that was my wife, but hey, let’s not quibble over details.)
But maybe they deserve a chance to prove me wrong. From Beijing’s essential international family resource (that’s the beijingkids website, in case you weren’t aware,) I heard about Spare Leash, a scheme which offers pet sitters for people going on holiday. Since we’re going nowhere over Chunjie, we’ve discussed signing up as sitters, and trying out pet ownership for a couple of weeks. Perhaps 2018 will turn out to be the Year of the Dog for us too.
About the Writer
Andrew Killeen is a novelist and creative writing teacher. Originally from Birmingham, England, he studied at Cambridge University and now lives in Beijing with his wife and two crazy boys, Noah (age 12) and Joseph (age 9). In between he was at various times a DJ, festival director, positive parenting practitioner, and homeless support worker. His critically acclaimed historical novels are available from Dedalus Books.