Hey gang: This is a little essay that appeared in my local newspaper a few years ago. I wrote a number of these for the fun of it back in the day, so I thought I’d just repost a few. This one has been lightly edited to bring it up to date in some areas.
A few years ago, my wife was hit with a serious case of Puppy Madness. All day, every day, all I heard was her sincere desire to adopt a puppy. While grateful that her maternal instinct was manifesting in a way that wouldn’t require me to come to grips with my own mortality, I resisted this with every fiber of my being. I ignored her for as long as seemed safe—which isn’t very long—and prepared careful arguments against the idea using logic, reason, and incessant begging, occasionally augmented by that old standby, feigned unconsciousness. No one can argue about adopting a puppy when you’ve just collapsed on the floor, my friends.
I have nothing against puppies, or the idea of caring for a small furry animal. In fact, after I exhausted the wife on the puppy issue we ended up getting a kitten instead, which we named Pierre. Pierre has grown large and strong under our care and I have trained him to fetch bottles of beer from the kitchen, so all is well here in Hoboken. We subsequently acquired three more cats, meaning I have the same muscle mass as a Doberman running about the house. Cats are far superior to dogs because they are a) self-cleaning and require no walks and b) very quiet, requiring no effort to ignore completely, although care must be taken when walking to the bathroom late at night, lest you fall into the sitcom cliché of trying to purchase an identical cat before your wife wakes up in the morning. So, yes, cats are the low-maintenance choice, but the real reason I resisted the whole puppy issue is simple: I didn’t want to become one of those poor men you see around town. You know: Men with Little Dogs.
You see these poor guys on the street every morning or evening and you know the story instantly: Some woman in their lives, bursting with Puppy Madness, wanted or had a tiny little dog—the sort of dog you can stuff into a handbag for hours at a time, the sort of dog that shivers for no reason and which has to be carried most of the time because its tiny little legs can’t go very far, or very fast. Women with Puppy Madness tend to go for these tiny dogs because the dogs will resemble puppies pretty much their entire lives—it’s a Peter Pan syndrome afflicting dog owners. Despite declarations and promises to the contrary, it often—if not always—falls to the man in the relationship to walk the family dog, and the poor men, through no decision of their own, find themselves out in the rain at six in the morning with the tiniest rat-like dog possible on the other end of a leash.
I see them every day, and they are uniformly miserable. Ashamed, even. No self-respecting man wants a dog he can stuff into his pocket by accident. There’s nothing evil about toy dogs, and if the women want them they should certainly be allowed to have them—but put a grown man on the other end of those yelping, shivering beasts straining ineffectively against their leash and piddling every three feet, and you have a recipe for suicidal tendencies.
My wife tried to convince me this would not happen, that she’d happily walk the dog and take full responsibility for it, but I wisely didn’t believe her. I’m not indicating that she was lying to me, only that she was engaging in the traditional level of self-delusion when desire for a pet is involved. I remember when I was a kid and my brother and I wanted a pet—the lengths of self-deception we engaged in, all to convince our parents that we would care for that imagined pet as if it had been formed from one of our own ribs. The key to any deception, of course, is that you believe it. And I know my wife believed she would, indeed, walk that dog constantly. But I knew she wouldn’t. I knew I would end up walking it. And then I’d be yet another miserable grown man being led around Hoboken by some tiny dog—for about a block, at which point the genetically-inferior toy dog would give up, exhausted, and I’d end up having to carry it from tree to hydrant to other dogs, placing it gently on the ground so it could go to the bathroom. Not even giving the dog an ironic name like Bruiser or Sasquatch would save the situation.
So next time you see some guy hunched down in a raincoat one drizzly morning, attached by a leash to a yelping little rodent of a dog, don’t make eye contact. Have some pity and let him wallow in anonymity. As much as Men with Little Dogs are a part of the landscape and atmosphere of Hoboken, they should be pitied, and treated gently. Certainly pointing and laughing, like I do, is wrong.