Regular Tonic readers know that we got a dog, Ellie, back in December. One of the best things about Ellie is that twice a day I get off my ass and take her for a walk. We go for an hour-long tour of the neighbourhood in the morning, stopping by the off-leash enclosure and then on to the “sshh-we-let-our-dog-off-the-leash-but-technically-we’re-not-supposed-to” park behind a school. In the afternoon, Ellie serves as my bodyguard as I do the daily bank deposit (although she’s more capable of finding garbage to eat than protecting me).
Of course, during our travels we meet lots of dogs and their accompanying owners. Which in turn has required me to learn (or perhaps re-learn from my days as a young parent) certain etiquette. You see, Ellie garners a lot (and I mean A LOT) of attention. Now I happen to think she’s cute, but of course I’m biased. But every single time I take her out, no exaggeration, somebody will tell me that she’s “beautiful” or that she’s a “gorgeous” dog.
Which I find really really awkward. Because, I never know exactly how to respond. She’s not my child. I didn’t make her. We “adopted” her from the breeder [in exchange for money] after playing with her and her sister for about an hour. “Thank you?”
Some of the other dog owners started referring to me as Ellie’s “Daddy”. Which I understand logically but emotionally still find creepy and wrong. It did, however, drive home that many owners see themselves as parents and their pets as kids – so “thank you” isn’t enough. Like doting parents, they want compliments back.
The problem is that I’m not so much of a dog person as I am an Ellie person – it doesn’t come naturally to me. So after being told that Ellie should be a model (really), I responded with “Your dog is so well behaved.” Other gems include “What a nice colour.” or “He’s getting so big.” When the dog is particularly unattractive and ill-tempered, I opt with the Seinfeldian response, “your dog is breathtaking.”
For many dog parents owners that I meet, their idea of interesting conversation tends to be dog-focused. Which is fine at first. But when you see the same people every day, I think we should be able to move on from “look how nicely they’re playing together.” Of course I’ve had great talks and gotten to know many neighbours much better. But, I’ve also been subjected to endless dissertations on hot spots, skin irritations, matted fur and the like – for which I can barely feign interest. Or more insidious, dog gossip. “That ____ is poorly behaved.” or “Watch out for ____’s owner, she makes fake calls to Animal Control.” I fear that when we’re not at the park, it’s “that Ellie is cute, but she seems a little full of herself.” And I’m resigned to the fact that it’s only a matter of time before I refer to myself as Ellie’s Dad.