Whenever I begin to reminisce about simpler times, when we had only one dog and my children were too young to care about designer clothing and the latest electronic gizmos, I remind myself that things weren't always rosy, even then.
Specifically, I am remembering a day I decided, against my better judgment, to take my children and the dog for a walk to the nearby park. It was the first nice day of spring, the muddy ground was just starting to dry up, and I was feeling a bit of cabin fever.
My daughter, who was 3, had been whining, interspersed with crying for the better part of the day. My son, who was 5, was bored, and couldn't seem to stop teasing her about everything.
Their ornery behavior was driving my crazy. Even Walter, our dachshund, seemed to be down in the dumps. We hadn't been out walking - no, we hadn't been outside in what seemed like such a long time, I thought the fresh air would do us all some good. What was I thinking?
After about an hour of trying to get everybody ready, I was determined to follow through. Leaving our house at what had now become dinnertime, with two hungry, emotionally exhausted children and one wound-up, hungry dog was like leaving the house with three loaded guns with the safety mechanisms switched off. Wyatt and Virgil, our cats, watched in silent wonder as my troupe of fools and I set out on our walk, which has become an hour that will live in infamy.
Warning signs should have alerted me to ditch the ill-fated venture, but I stupidly ignored them.
So that others may not endure the same torture, I have compiled a helpful list.
Reasons to leave the kids home and just take the dog for a walk:
1. It does not take half an hour to convince and cajole the dog to put his shoes on - he's already wearing them.
2. The dog will not hurl himself on the floor in a fit of angst over being asked to "start on empty" (a.k.a. use the bathroom) and will never be heard wailing, "But I don't have to go!" because it is perfectly acceptable for the dog to urinate outside.
3. It is impossible for the dog to soil his pants - he's not wearing pants.
4. A plastic bag and a leash are all the supplies needed for a walk with a dog.
5. A bag of snacks is optional, and if you forget it, a dog won't clutch his abdomen and feign weakness from hunger. He will be happy to eat whatever he finds on the ground, thank you very much.
6. When a dog does decide to relieve his bowels, although it may be mid-walk, and on someone's neatly manicured lawn, he generally does not require "privacy" and usually refrains from singing long songs and making everyone wait for ten minutes.
7. A dog is happy to go just about anywhere, and rarely is disappointed.
8. A dog does not need a 10-minute warning before heading toward home. He will not fling himself bodily on the ground, become hysterical or weep loudly and bitterly that he wanted to use the slide one last time. Most dogs don't really enjoy the slide.
9. A dog never will insist on using a compass to find the way to and from the park or anywhere. Besides, if you get lost, the dog never will panic - the walk suddenly becomes way-cooler, since it is way-longer and longer is almost always better in the eyes of the dog.
10. When the dog returns home and is exhausted from the walk, he quietly eats his dinner without criticizing your cooking and goes to sleep without requiring two bedtime stories and three lullabies.
On the flip side, there are a few reasons not to take the dog, which I'll let you deduce from the rest of this story.
We had a reasonably nice time at the park, the children played on the playground equipment while I tried to keep Walter from ingesting every discarded wad of used gum he could find. The kids played tag while I tried to keep Walter from scaring all the people away with his frantic barking. He so urgently wants to greet everyone and their dogs, but is frustrated at being reined in by his leash. So he barks as loudly and hysterically as he can.
After, now, seven years on the planet, and countless encounters with people and their pets at work with me, he still can't seem to grasp the concept that his barking turns people off.
The very children he so desperately wants to greet and lick, back away from him, cringing and crying. I tell people he's usually nice, but they clearly don't believe me. Who would? In this state, Walter could only be more fearsome if he also were frothing at the mouth. The fact that he's a 13-pound dachshund is irrelevant.
As if I'm transporting a murderous, 8-foot bear through the park AND I'm covered with bees, people make large circles around me and my dog, bravely shielding their children and pets as they clear the area. It's embarrassing.
But, it does have its advantages. For example, my children usually don't have to wait long to use the swings. When I decided it was time to return home, I made the announcement. This was received much as a death sentence is received by a convicted criminal. "Nooooooooooo!" came the hi-fidelity stereo reply.
I agreed to allow one more trip down the slide, which my son took advantage of, and my daughter did not. This created a problem that the entire neighborhood soon became woefully aware of within a very short time.
Thus began the horrible temper tantrum. My daughter actually cried (wee, wee, wee) all the way home. Afraid that in her intense grief she might actually run across the street to go back into the park, I was forced to carry her, kicking and screaming, most of the way home.
With my son forging ahead with the help of his compass, my daughter sitting on the sidewalk half a block behind me, screaming, and my dog barking his fool head off, I can honestly say I did not exactly feel in complete control of the situation.
When it came time for us to cross the busy intersection near our street, my daughter was sobbing in my arms, my dog was straining on his leash and barking at a terrified Bichon Frise so loudly, he was gagging himself, and I was yelling at my son to stay with us; we made quite a scene.
I am sure that if I had been wearing cymbals on my knees, a large base drum on my chest, tooting a kazoo and leading a live giraffe on a leash, I would not have attracted as much attention.
We ended our walk with my daughter refusing to walk and falling onto her face within half a block of our home. Exhausted physically and emotionally, carrying my injured daughter, holding back my newly hysterical dog (saw a stray cat) and reprimanding my son for yelling at his sister, we arrived home. It was not the rejuvenating walk I had imagined.
And even though I promised myself then that I would not embark on such a fiasco again for a long time, you know I have. Though, I don't have to walk far these days to raise a ruckus.
Ever try to load two grumpy pre-teen children, two 40-pound book bags, a guitar AND four dachshunds into the car as a rabbit hippity-hops by? Good times.
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.