We might be getting a dog … or a turkey or something

Emotional Support Animal - Midlife Sentence

Ladies and gentlemen, an announcement: we’re getting an emotional support dog.

I know. This is a big deal. We already have Penny the Wonder Dog. Why would we want another? I’ve been told she’ll be our last dog, and I’m pretty sure she thinks the same, or at least the only dog we’ll have while she’s around. So, like I said, a big deal.

There are a number of factors that play into deciding the kind of dog. Allergies are top of mind. There’s one particular member of our household (ahem: Mike) with an allergy to dogs (as well as to almost everything else) and he has taken to emphatically announcing–at random points without having to be asked–that the dog we have is it. As in THE LAST ONE.

You can see how Penny the Wonder Dog and I may have picked up this idea.

The allergy thing is something we discovered after a lifetime of dog ownership and fortunately just after we brought home Penny the Wonder Dog who, it turns out, makes Mike’s hands itch and his throat swell. That was the beginning of our new and very strict routine of air filtration, regular dog baths, carpet cleaning, and Mike’s embarking on a year’s-long series of shots.

(Most of which is a lie, of course, except the shots part. We did, however, buy fancy, lavender-smelling dog shampoo–which would probably work better if we bathed her regularly–multiple air filters, and expensive dog food that’s supposed to help in some way. I don’t know how, but it makes her breath smell like a beachside dump at low tide, so maybe that’s part of it?)

(Side note unrelated to dogs: Since this allergies-thing cropped up a few years ago, Mike has developed the notion that I sometimes purposely experiment with food allergens for–I don’t know–fun or something. I think this has something to do with The Great Capers Caper(s), an incident [or two] we can chalk up to thoughtlessness on my part [who knew capers are a legume?] paired with a love of pickled foodstuffs)

(… I’d also like to acknowledge my poor timing in wondering aloud about life insurance payouts on the heels of his comment on how my lemon sauce for the schnitzel seemed very much like a clumsy assassination attempt)

(… gosh, I’m sorry for all the parenthetical asides. It’s important to catch you all up, though)

Anyhow, Mike actually really likes dogs and his undergoing five years of shots just so we could keep Penny the Wonder Dog kind of proves that point. In fact, the only one who doesn’t really like dogs around here is Penny the Wonder Dog. She’s kind of an asshole around most other four-legged, furry creatures.

Which brings us around to another factor in the emotional support dog decision tree: temperament. We have to be careful to get just the right kind of dog that won’t (a) make Mike’s throat close up and (b) irritate Penny the Wonder Dog.

Then there’s my personal preference for shelter dogs, which limits our choices even further.

I was trying to figure out where these parameters converge and what that means in terms of breed, so I sketched out a diagram. I was very proud of my work until I realize the finished product was going to be less helpful than I’d envisioned.

So, the shelter dog criterion seems to be a hard one to meet, without dumping the others. With that in mind, I gave the question of breed my trademark thirty-second internet research effort and came up with a few options:

Portuguese Water Dog. The potential five-figure price tag of the PWD, as its known by aficionados, is pretty deflating. But who wouldn’t want the same kind of pet as the Obama family? Even as bougie an idea as that may seem for a person with a shelter-dog ethic? Given that the person with the shelter-dog ethic recently dropped a c-note to learn her own wonder dog’s DNA just to confirm whether said animal is the lab mix the shelter led them to believe (which she isn’t), shouldn’t the PWD have a spot on the list regardless of price?

However hypoallergenic they may be, unfortunately, PWDs are also known as “mostly assholes,” even among their biggest fans. I don’t need to drop big money on a “mostly asshole” to know what that’s like. I got kids.

Idaho Shaggy. My friend Hilarie suggested this Airedale/Border Collie mix which looks like a Muppet. Very cute, but they’re also bonafide ranch dogs with a temperament which surely wouldn’t mix well with our couch potato lifestyle. I’m not convinced Hilarie didn’t steal my signature move and under-research this option. Or maybe she thinks we have livestock. I don’t know. You’ve seen my backyard, Hil. Where would we put cows?

Another option is the Wire-Haired Griffon, another adorable Muppet-look-alike, so cute I may have already picked out a couple of obscure Tolkien wizard names for one. AND there are actual breeders in this area, which is not the case for PWDs.

I am, however, a little put off after an initial search that uncovered mostly breeders who want their precious pups to go to “hunting families only,” a criterion we fit only if you expand the term “hunting” to include mismatched socks or lost iPhones.

Remarkably, an option the internet unironically offers up time and time again as a hypoallergenic emotional support breed is the Chihuahua. Weird. Most chihuahuas I’ve encountered are equal parts perpetual fury and unrelenting angst. If ever an anxious person felt the need to be one-upped over and over by the canine equivalent of a murder hornet crossed with a honey badger, the chihuahua might be your best bet. In fact, I can’t think of a being itself more in need of an emotional support companion than that rage-fueled, quivering little handbag-stuffer of a breed.

Thanks Google. I think you misread my question.

Beyond the breed, I’m wondering what kind of training an emotional support dog needs? Does such an animal anticipate a need for snuggles when encountering signs of anxiety just by pure instinct? Until Penny the Wonder Dog came along, I’ve never known a dog that needs to be taught to snuggle, but now I know they exist.

The snuggle thing would seem to be a low bar considering my kid will hug a snake if the mood strikes him, but snakes aren’t known as being helpful in the therapy world. Although some ARE known for hugging, it’s only to suffocate and eat you, so that would seem to indicate they’re kind of assholes as well, wouldn’t it?

Colin’s brother Jack recently suggested a cockatiel, which is a pet Colin has mentioned wanting on and off again for years, but I think a bird that’s going to be around for something like 30 years sounds like a bigger commitment than I’m up for. Even if that animal has a job. Mike’s only input on this option was that a cockatiel wouldn’t make much of a meal if we ended up needing to eat it (always a mind for the apocalypse, that one), in which case we should be thinking bigger, he said. Like maybe a turkey.

So now we’re talking about emotional support poultry, always a good indicator that a conversation has gone off the rail.

I deal with ridiculous people, you guys.

Meanwhile, as I’ve been pondering the notion of emotional support animals of any kind, it appears our son has taken the matter into his own hands. And it’s not even a dog.

It’s bees.

Huh. Bees weren’t even on my list, although I guess they meet a few of our criteria. They’re a good distraction for someone who leans on activity to stave off anxiety and depression. They’re furry. They’re apparently pretty mellow if you’re not flailing around in their general proximity like a nitwit. They’re not going to trigger any allergies for us.

AND there’s the undeniable bonus of a lot less slobber or poop than a dog, and the added possibility of a jar of honey once in a while.

Still, if you have any suggestions other than the pencil stub or pet rock my diagram pointed to, I’d appreciate the input. I have no idea how long the bees are going to last given that my kid appears to be trying to set them on fire.

Bees as Emotional Support Animals - Midlife Sentence

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