You Think You Want a Pet?
There’s something about carrying a puppy mid-pee to the designated spot that shows you the kind of person you are — or could be.
Where I was born and raised, pets — especially dogs — were not exactly part of the family: they’d have their own wooden (or iron) crate out of the main building. They’d feed mainly on leftovers.
Don’t even think about the dog park, veterinary visits, vitamins, exercise, etc.
I know there was/is a variation of this: many Cameroonians cared for their pets as part of the family. But, the majority of dogs I came across were either stray or chained. Not leashed — chained, with actual chains.
That’s why when I moved to the US, part of me understood that this narrative would be different and that maybe — maybe — I’ll be able to make one of my childhood dreams come true.
When I got here and my wife’s dog — Jake — passed, it solidified my idea of what a pet could mean to another human.
It made me reconsider my decision: was I willing to spend 12–15 years with a friend who likely leaves me because of his life expectancy? I even talked about it in a video.
As impactful as Jake’s passing was, I didn’t do my research properly. Or rather, I was stalled by Jake’s loss and weighing between my desire to get a pet and the hole that would never be replaced in my wife’s heart.
After months of considering, convincing, and basically saying I’d take care of the dog by myself (bad idea in retrospect), we swung by the mall on a whim and a Westie melted my wife’s heart.
At some point, I decided for us to walk away from the room full of cuteness so we could think objectively about the decision we were making.
Of course, my wife won.
I must tell you that I didn’t like this dog at first sight. In fact, that was the first day that I had heard ‘West Highland Terrier’. Plus, he didn’t look like he liked me very much.
Remember, I’ve never cared for a dog in my life and I had no idea how the relationship needed to be built. If I had simply considered how friendships were built, I would have saved myself a lot of temporary anguish.
Scottie had been at the mall for months; 2 months after he was born. He’d been initially priced at $1500 but for some reason, he was now at nearly 10 times below that. All he knew was that glass crate and the thousands of people who had probably touched him and said ‘No’ to giving him a home.
From my wife’s perspective, the fact that I had given him a name accidentally was a sign from heaven.
When they were telling us about his breed, the friendly lady must have said ‘similar to Scottish terrier’ and I heard ‘Scottie’. I started calling him Scottie only to be asked ‘Is his name scottie?’ and I was like ‘Er, isn’t that what she said?’.
‘You can’t give him a name and not take him home’, my wife said.
‘I can’ I thought to myself.
You should have seen me carrying this 5-month-old Westie: I had no idea what to do with my hands or his hind legs.
When he got home that night and his shyness rubbed away, the real deal started.
As he barked and whined, I suddenly had this image of the quiet life had ruined for myself.
Scottie has changed our lives. I cannot say if it has been for the best or worst, but nothing has been the same since we got him in March.
I’ve considered writing a longer piece focused on the pros and cons. Let me highlight them here for you.
Increased sense of responsibility, discipline, accountability, organization, and scheduling. Opportunity for life long learning. And most importantly, I’ve had to become more patient.
Getting a pet might seem like a productivity hack, doesn’t it?
But, here are the cons.
Sleep deprivation. Financial and time cost. Peer Pressure.
Side note: I’m quite aware of the privilege I have to own a pet. It never leaves me.
In Cameroon, before feeding a pet, most people have to feed themselves. But those who can afford to feed themselves 10 times over send the money overseas. But that’s another story.
Having Scottie around has given me an insight into what it takes to care for other than self. I can even go as far as to say this: if you’re not sure you want to have children, having a pet, especially a demanding puppy of any kind, can show you in real time if you’re willing to go through the necessary evolution.
I am not comparing parenting to having a pet. I’m all too aware of the differences. But I see the similarities in providing for someone who can’t speak your language; someone you need to teach communication to; someone who won’t forgive the mistake of forgetting when to feed, when to take him or her to bed; someone who will wake you in the middle of the night simply because they’re bored.
Dogs, especially puppies, have needs that require a certain amount of personal development.
Just writing this down, I can feel the peer pressure I mentioned above from a typical Cameroonian who will gasp in horror at this article.
“Why would I use money to care for a…dog?” he gasped angrily and slapped his forehead.
By the time I get to vet visits, the walks, the training sessions I’ve had to learn from books and YouTube, or the routine I’ve had to develop to make sure Scottie has what he needs…by the time I express the vault of actions I carry daily because I own a pet, this typical Cameroonian might wonder if I was really born in Cameroon.
I love dogs. I didn’t know I did until I had to wake up at 3 am to clean a messy crate, walk him in the night cold, or fall sick because I stressed every day for a week if I was doing it right.
Yes. You read that right. I was down with a fever from the stress of caring for Scottie two weeks after we got him. In retrospect, I was overwhelmed, over-excited and exhausted from trying too hard. I’m learning recently that not only is my introversion getting worse, but sensory and information overload has a physical toll on me. It’s something I will have to get better at.
Now, I want to get a second dog. (Don’t tell my wife yet!) I enjoy his company and I even have a working draft on how having this white bundle of energy has improved my routine.
My assumption, in this whole piece, is that you’re the kind of person who wants a loving, fruitful relationship with a pet, not an aggressive fear based one.
My research points to two major classes of trainers: the first class believes in dominance, punishment, and that dogs descended from Wolves so they can’t be trusted. The latter class believes in reward-based training, emphasis on what we want from the dog, not what we don’t want. Teaching them to communicate and building trust in both parties. Zak George’s book has been an eye-opener for me. His YouTube channel as well.
I’m of the latter school. I learn every day that not only does this kind of relationship take time, but it requires commitment and consistency on the trainer’s part.
You can’t train a dog well without being …well yourself. And ‘well’ in your case simply means being reliable: Doing what you are supposed to do, when you’re supposed to. Especially when no one is watching.
Scottie still has accidents at home. He still pulls on his leash occasionally; still barks when he gets anxious. Yet, I now ‘know’ when he’s hungry or needs to go out. I know when he'll wake. I know how much he needs to play to fall asleep. He sits and stays and runs on command.
The only reward to caring for a pet — I feel — is being able to watch your work over time and realize that after everything you may have gone through in life, another being filled with life and love relies on you to be okay.
Life can hit hard every so often. We all need a little encouragement, don’t you think?
Maybe that’s validation seeking. But Scottie will never write on Medium about what a great parent I am. I already know.
And that feels pretty damn good.