While I was renaming and scanning in old family photos during September, I made a surprising discovery about myself and one of my strongest dislikes. I don’t like dogs. There, I said it. I never have liked them. I always came up with reasons to not like them, like they sniff your crotch, jump, bark loudly, track mud in the house, stink, etc. But I never understood why I disliked them so strongly. I had never been bit by one. I had a trusted dog named Scout when I was a teenager that went with me everywhere when I would ride my horse away from home.
Side note: Scout was a Wal-mart dog. No, Wal-mart doesn’t sell dogs now or in the past. Nor, does the Walton family have a breed of dogs. We picked him up in the Wal-mart parking lot and took him home. Scout threw up in the big box van almost as soon as we got him in. Whenever he was in a car or riding on the back of the hay wagon, he threw up. When the vet was out to do something with my horses, we would have him look at Scout if he had a problem. Scout looked like a black lab. I named him after a dog in one of my favorite childhood books, “Scout” about a lost dog who is a trained police dog who was left for dead in a river. Scout had a great life on the farm with all the kids and animals! He got cancer and we eventually had to put him to sleep. That was the only dog I ever liked and I don’t really know why. Maybe because he was quiet, calm and also watched out for me.
When I was renaming the scanned digital files, I came across a couple photos of me when I was 8 years old. I was suddenly triggered. In the picture, I’m holding a Dalmatian puppy. I look happy in the photo, but that’s not the truth. Like so many photos of me, I show what I want the viewer to see, not my own reality. During that time in my childhood, things in the family had gotten pretty bad. We had just moved to the country a year before. We lived isolated at the dead end of a dirt road. My ex-step-dad, The Jerk, decided that my older brother, Levi and I were good slave labor and my little half brothers where the apple of his eye. Especially, Daniel who was The Jerk’s first child and five years younger than me.
Here’s the story behind the photo that sent me in to shudders as I was triggered: Mom had a friend who was mentally unstable – we’ll call her May. May wanted a dog so badly but needed to check in to a mental hospital for a while. Instead of waiting to get a puppy after she was better, May bought a Dalmatian puppy and name it Blue after the Dodger Blues. Now, May had a puppy that couldn’t go in to the mental institution with her.
Since we had this home out in the country, May ask Mom if we would keep Blue while she went back in to the mental institution. Mom said yes and told her that Levi and I would take care of it. No one asked if we wanted to take care of a puppy on top of everything else we had to do. This dog was a couple months old with no training, not even potty training.
For the first day or two, we enjoyed the puppy. But that soon wore off when the dog went potty all over the floor ALL THE TIME. Levi and I would take the dog outside, but it wouldn’t potty out there. We’d bring it back in the house and it would pee or poop right on the floor. It was so frustrating. Mom set the timer and we had to take the dog out every 15 minutes to try to pee. Again and again, it wouldn’t pee or poop outside, but would go inside right after we brought it in. Levi and I tried everything to get it to potty outside but the dog just wouldn’t get the idea. Mom got angry with us because of all the messes in the house.
The biggest frustration came at night when The Jerk was home. He would yell at us when the dog went potty in the house. Levi and I had no control over the dog and didn’t have the know-how to make the dog potty outside. As an 8- and 9-year-old, this was a huge responsibility for us. To this day, I am amazed that Levi and I were made to potty train a puppy with no help or instruction from anyone knowledgeable on the topic. In addition, Levi and I had to sleep beside the dog cage on the dining room’s linoleum floor every night.
The dog also barked A LOT at night. We had to sleep next to the dog to make it be quiet so it wouldn’t wake The Jerk up. If it did wake him up, he would come in the dining room and yell at us for not keeping the dog quiet. Levi and I were so scared of him. He was so intimidating and got angry so often. Levi and I felt helpless. We couldn’t get the dog trained and we couldn’t ask for help from Mom or The Jerk. We felt saddled with something that was way beyond our years.
I was so mad at the situation. I began to hate the dog for all the trouble it was causing us. The Jerk treated us like we were deliberately making the dog bark at night and shirking our duty to take the dog out to potty. But we were working as hard as we knew how with the dog.
It was a hopeless situation, I thought, and it was all the dog’s fault. If the dog wasn’t there, I could sleep in my own bed at night, I wouldn’t have to get up many times a night to take it out side to TRY to get it to potty, I wouldn’t have to clean up dog pee and poop many times a day and I wouldn’t be yelled at every time that stupid dog did something it wasn’t supposed to do.
The hate started to fester and grow in my belly for dogs. All this frustration, anger, and mistreatment at the hands of The Jerk wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for May’s brainless purebred dog.
I felt stupid because we didn’t know how to get the dog potty trained. I felt worthless because everything we did try didn’t work. I was enraged that this animal was thrust upon Levi and I because a lady didn’t have the self-control to wait until SHE was able to take care of a dog properly. I felt trapped because I didn’t have any say in what was happening in my life. I didn’t ask for a puppy. I didn’t want a puppy. Yet, I had to do all the dirty work for this unwise lady. She should be the one teaching her in-bred dog how to use the bathroom correctly, not a little 8 year old girl. She should be the one lamenting the decision of a new puppy and its difficulties, not a couple of kids trying their best with no experience or education on dog training. Yet, Levi and I got the brunt of the work and all the mess. We got all the anger heaped on us for the dog’s problematic behavior.
I know you can hear it in my voice - how much the hate and inequality of the situation caused me emotional pain, frustration and distress.
Finally, after several months, May got out of the institution and picked up her dog. The dog was still not a pro at going outside to use the bathroom. I believe the dog was so in bred that its brains were bred out of it. I have seen this happen a lot in pure bred dogs. They are bred for physical characteristics at the cost of trainability and cognitive skill.
After those emotionally abusive and frustrating months with Blue, I never looked at a dog the same. Dogs were not an animal filled with joy and love. They were filled with poop and pee. And barked a lot. Dogs meant sleeping on the hard floor night after night. They meant I was too stupid to figure out how to train it. Dogs meant getting yelled at for something I had no control over. They meant I was going to be belittled, humiliated and treated like I was an idiot because I couldn’t train a dog. Dogs equaled so much hurt, shame and pain. I grew to hate dogs as I grew up and remembered the terrible situation I was shoved in to at the age of 8 years old.