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then morphed into a long discourse on what the meaning of what a "relationship" is has become. This column was never meant to be this long. My intention was too keep it short, but as usually happens, when writing on and off (adding a paragraph here and there), I sometimes go on a tandem, straying off course and delving into a deeper abyss. Fortunately, I have been able to wrap it up nicely. So, here it is. Enjoy. The world is changing, and in more ways than one. Relationships are not what they used to be, and neither are marriages. Couple's behavior has been steadily changing through the years, each passing generation bringing its own new set of modifications. Sure enough, by now it must be no surprise that some couples would rather own a dog than have children. I assume most people know one or two couples that make such a decision; either because they voluntarily choose not to or because they simply cannot. People that do not have kids out of choice are not the minority anymore. Childless couples like these are popping up worldwide, mostly specifically, in first world countries. In recent years, men and women have steadily and actively chosen not to partake in the reproduction process, and as a result, birth rates have been plummeting. There's obviously not just one reason for this decline. There's many. A simple one: some people might not really see themselves playing the "mother" or "father" role. Another: children could be seen as not being able to "fit into one's agenda". Then, by logic alone we can deduce that the thought of having a dog replace a child is not such a novel idea anymore. Now more than ever, people seem to be quite attached to canine companionship. Dog parks, dog hotels, dog shows, dog boutiques, dog everything. Even celebrities are tied in to their pets. The tinker bell-Paris Hilton relationship was certainly one for tabloid fodder. Considering the time and effort child rearing takes, it's no real shocker why couples aren't racing to conceive. To raise a child is an extremely
expensive ordeal. In the financial world, an investment is always more attractive when it assures a future return. If it would be possible to guarantee a return on a child investment (emotionally and otherwise), people might be more motivated to have one. Before (probably as early as thirty years ago, or less), the responsibility attributed to raising a family fell most exclusively (and thus heavily) on women's shoulders. The mother was supposed to keep house, whether she wanted to or not. Society would frown upon a woman not being able to take good care of her children (or husband). Now that the rules have changed, there's been a rise in dissatisfaction with this said "duty". This is one of the many reasons there has been a decline in childbirth. One of the many reasons, because it is not the sole reason, but can certainly be counted on as a historical one. People, have simply, throughout the years, sacrificed themselves less for the family unit and more for their own sakes. This is, however, not something to condemn. It is very important that people have the liberty to choose (with no pressure) how they want to live their lives, no matter what. Otherwise, what type of a world would we be living in, a world where people do what they're supposed to, because everyone else thinks so? Oh wait. We are living in that world. But, it's slowly changing. It scares us a bit. And it scares the hell out of the older generations. Now, how does one go on about quieting down insubordinate elements? Discipline. Training. It takes too much out of you, if what or whom you're trying to train is resisting your efforts to do so. Children, for example, can be quite resistant. But dogs? Dogs can be molded into obedient machines. Even if a dirty mutt failed to comply with the commands issued by its local authority, it would pose no problem. Won't comply? Off you go. That's what pounds are for; to harbor the undesirable elements, keep them out of sight and sound. No one likes a
disobedient dog. Now, what would the human equivalent for a pound be? A juvenile center? No, those wouldn't be any good. The kids would come crawling back once juvie detention is over. Dogs, however, wouldn't even try and look you up. So, dog training. That's what is done when one wants an obedient companion. Much less hassle than training a kid. Dog training has its own set of basic rules and regulations. I have become quite familiar with these rules for the past few weeks. The training has really struck me as being somewhat similar to the rules employed to discipline a human being. Is Dog Training much like Human Training then? Not exactly, but more similar than we would ever like to admit. The following narrative will explain how I came about wanting a pet, and how I chose my dog's breed. Also, how I ultimately came to realize that there's not much of a difference between dog training and "human training". I will also continue to discuss how dogs have become a symbol of a special type of companionship; a relationship that can be molded to one's preference, one that can in fact, be chosen. The Narrative: My last academic quarter at Northwestern was mostly focused on making my return home as smooth as possible. Nearly a month before graduation, I was busy preparing to make the big move out of my apartment. I was packing up my belongings during every spare moment I had, which were mostly in between, after and before my final exams. My goal was to leave nothing behind. This became an extremely difficult task. For anyone that's ever made a big move, it must be no secret that it's always stressful as hell to move out. Amongst your belongings, there's always possessions you have to give up and have a hard time doing so, and other junk you have to keep but don't want to. It's very tiresome to choose and distribute to the appropriate pile ("junk" or "not junk").
During all the packing and preparing for the voyage home, I often daydreamed of what it would be like once I would be back home. I asked myself: What do I want to come home to? The same house I left four years ago? Or something new? Maybe something was missing, I thought. I wasn't missing anything, but I did need a change. I've always welcomed change. Any change is fine. A dog suddenly struck me as a good idea. I hadn't owned one in years, and I had never had an indoors dog. It would be good company. The more I thought about it, the more determined I became on making it a reality. This is how I came upon the desire to get a dog. Now, all I had to do was choose the perfect one. First, I had to find the right breed. Any dog would not do, I needed to find the perfect match for my future living situation. There are so many dogs to choose from. There are herding dogs, like the Border collie, which need plenty of space and exercise, and there's also hounds, like the basset hound, which are somewhat disobedient and tend to follow their own path. I wouldn't be able to handle the former or the latter (and I didn't want to either). My requirements for the dog were simple. I wanted a dog I could easily housetrain, with a polite demeanor and mild temperament, for it to be playful yet serious when required, and for it to possess a high level of intelligence. At first I assumed that a smart dog was bound to be a good, obedient dog. So I thought. It turns out that a damn dog might turn out to be too smart for it's own good. This makes it paramount to take obedience into account. Most people though, often wrongly assume that a disobedient dog is dumb, or "not as smart" as obedient dogs. This is completely wrong. Intelligence does not always go hand in hand with obedience. One might say a truly obedient dog might not be too intelligent. Wouldn't an increased intelligence just spurt a sense of independence? "Screw this, I'm leaving". After looking up a few breeds, and buying one of those cheap "for sale" Barnes and noble special interest books (on Dogs), I started the selection process. Belligerent dogs, and hyperactive dogs were quickly
discarded as a choice, as were most other specific dog breeds with behavioral problems. It quickly started to feel like every dog I was considering was either too big, or shed too much, or needed to much exercise or just didn't look the part. After some research, I quickly settled on the Golden Retriever. The easiest dog to live with. But then I changed my mind and chose the Bichon Frisé. I won't make the story too long, suffice to say that the Bichon is easier to handle, makes less of a mess and is as intelligent as any top dog. This is where my story on how I chose my dog ends, and the point of this column begins. I just summarized the whole dog choosing process. It was actually a lot more complicated in real life than I made it look just now, and choosing the Bichon over the Goldie wasn't as quick as that. I did do my research, and I did ask dog experts what they thought would be the best choice for me (taking my living arrangement into account). As is the case, most people choose whatever dog they fall in love with, and then if it becomes a problem, quickly tie it up to the tree in the back yard, never to be remembered again. I didn't want that. Why get the damn dog in the first place? What a waste. So, you choose a dog carefully. You get the right breed for you. The dog with the right temperament, so it could accommodate your busy/not so busy lifestyle, and basically be an additional source of happiness in your life, and not a nuisance. So there it is, there's a choice. A choice in what dog you want to bring in to your life. You get to choose your dog. So now I ask you this one question: Did you get to choose your family? No. It's an extremely difficult thing to admit to, but we all know that at one point we've all thought the same thing: If I had the possibility of choosing whom I wanted to be brother, sister, father, mother, son or
daughter to, I would definitely pause and reflect, to be able to carefully consider choosing the best option. If choosing a parent or sibling were possible, there would certainly be a long list of people (probably choosing secretly) that would want to do so. Why play the lottery? Why risk an ungrateful son or a crazy sister? Choose the perfect parent or sibling for you. Perfect. Makes your life easier, wouldn't it? A dog is loved because there's no obligation towards it. There's no strings attached. Certainly, if the dog ever bothers you, you can quickly make it disappear, or just put it in the back yard, which might make you feel less guilty than sending it to the pound (because it's all about feeling at ease, who cares about the dog, right?). Unless it deserved to be sent to the pound, that is. If the dog turns out to be everything one wants it to be, its owner, without a doubt, will adore it. A dog that's obedient, does what its told, and on top of that doesn't bitch (pun intended) at its owner when not receiving enough attention? Perfect. A dog sounds like a miracle companion. It can be trained to perfection, enough so that its obedience overshadows any potential blunder it might cause in the future. Is this why we love dogs so much? Because they're o.k. company, and do as we say if we train them to? Seems like it. No evidence points against this argument. Now back to humans. Children, as is commonly known, tend to become more of a burden, obedience-wise. Once they reach the teenage years, it's like the discipline instilled from day one starts disintegrating slowly (or rapidly, depending on the case). Some images come to mind, when thinking about unruly kids: snot-nosed runts running amok, disobedience and insubordination demonstrated by spoiled high schoolers and a general disrespect for authority that one might see in a street gang. Makes you feel like getting a dog, and leaving the kid problem for someone else to bear. We, as loving siblings, parents and children, mask our guilt-ridden
consciences (the guilt coming from wanting our children/sibling/parent to disappear) by employing unconditional love. This type of love primarily exists because people, unlike animals, have the capacity to sacrifice their well being for others, up to the point of sacrificing themselves. It's not always survival of the fittest, and it’s not instinct. It's a voluntary act, and a beautiful one too. Unconditional love makes it possible to love while we hate at the same time. To love someone no matter what they do to you, no matter what they make you feel, or how ungrateful they are with you. Curiously enough, a mother holds much more unconditional love than does a father. By logic and common sense, one might deduce that this is the case because a mother and its offspring were once one and the same, while the father only played a small part in the reproduction process. We live in a time where everything is a quick fix. Children are steadily becoming obese, partly because of this. Nobody needs to go outside and kick a ball anymore, there's a computer to entertain at home. People rarely meet up in person; the telecommunications business has certainly taken care of that. Relationships have thus entered a new realm. People don't relate to each other like before, and this has changed the whole spectrum. It begs the question: What will happen when everything becomes easy, when everything we ever wanted is at our disposal? Will be satisfied then? In the meantime, a whole new generation of people just plain succumbed to the temptation for the "easy life" and will then pay the consequences later. A life without problems is so boring. Even the perfect dog is annoying. Everyone always remembers the incident where Fido poops at the thanksgiving dinner. Who really cares about all the times Fido fetched and sat on command, anyways? Imperfection is beauty. Being perfect is like reaching the end, where else is there to go?
So is the definition of a good relationship one that's "easy"? Or is it one where there's love, no matter the problems? I'd choose love over practicality anytime.
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