Whenever I’m particularly stressed or sit for too long, a disc in my lower back begins to ache, then throb, then scream. Sometimes it becomes so painful I can’t walk without wincing or yelping. The injury originated in 2012 when I lifted a small but sturdy Shih Tzu out of a bathtub and, wet dog in hand, felt a horrible twinge. The alarming kind of twinge. The kind that demands you freeze and consider your mortality. My back’s been fucked up ever since, and I’ve never, not once, wished I didn’t give that little doggy a bath. In fact I continued giving them for years.
His name was Walker, and whenever I looked at him my eyes would pool with affection. How I became his nanny in San Francisco is a tale as old as time: My roommate Alice was dog-sitting him, I stole him out from under her within hours of his arrival and proclaimed myself his sitter instead. She couldn’t argue: We were perfect together; we even had the same haircut. I was his sitter for a few years after that, sometimes keeping him for weeks at a time, taking him on trips with me, going on adventures around the city. I had magnets of him on my fridge and still do five years later, which isn’t weird, so.
Around that time I signed up to be a professional dog-sitter online, a title I claimed simply by making a profile and saying I loved paws. To fill the void in my life left by Walker’s mother not being on vacation, I’d bring all kinds of dogs into my six-bedroom railroad apartment on Haight Street which housed seven people and had plenty of room for more if you ask me.
There was Roux, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who licked my walls like a maniac. There was Jax, the giant Wheaten Terrier who had a yellow feather tied in his hair; Jumbo, the tiny sweatshirted Chihuahua whose tongue permanently stuck out; Giblet, the Bichon Frise who ate a bagel right out of my hands; Doogie and Simon, the Poodle brothers who peed all over my carpets. Literally don’t get me started on Freeman the brown Pomeranian or I’ll cry. I was running a serious operation. I was better than ever.
I eventually moved and had to give up my side-gig, except for the occasional drop-by at the local Shih Tzu meetup group, which met the first Saturday of the month and didn’t mind that I came without one of my own. To be clear, I would drain my savings to see Walker again if he hadn’t been passed off to the owner’s ex-husband who didn’t know who the hell I was. I’m still angry about that and I still Gchat his mom occasionally to ask how he’s doing. She never responds but, to be fair, she’s an executive at Google and doesn’t really know who I am either. I was just some weirdo who was obsessed with her dog, who stares at his photo every day on her fridge. It’s fine, I feel fine about it.
What I’m saying is my world starts and stops with dogs, and I don’t want to be dramatic or insult my loved ones or cat who doesn’t even like me, but I’m pretty sure my life won’t begin until I have a dog of my own. Despite living in an almost-windowless basement with no yard, the question of when I’ll be ready is one I ask myself every day, maybe every hour, in the hopes of finding a different answer. Until then, everything is basically window-dressing.
Disclaimer: I wrote this while in a fight with my cat; we’ve since made up.
Photo by BOTTI/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images.