For the week of March 17, 1999  thru March 23, 1999  

 

Dog gone, it’s time for DogAnon

Commentary by JOELLEN COLLINS


Let me begin by telling you I deeply respect the concept and results of 12-step recovery programs. But when I heard that there are now more than 200 such groups dealing with a great variety of human frailties, I couldn’t help but think of one perhaps not yet formed: DogAnon.

This program would be designed for enabling and co-dependent dog owners like myself.

I know many others who might wish to join, like my friend who lies every night in a particularly uncomfortable sleeping position so as not to disturb the sleep of his golden retriever at the bottom of the bed covers. He suffers this even when it’s not a "three-dog night."

Then there is the family who decided to be firm in not allowing their new black lab access to their bed. For two weeks their daughter slept on the floor with the puppy so his cries wouldn’t be disruptive. The outcome? Scarlet, the dog, now sleeps on the family’s beds.

For these dog owners and for me it may be time for "tough love," another staple of many self-help groups.

We might define "co-dependence" as behavior that nurtures or excuses the bad habits or addictions of someone we love or on whom we depend. Thus a wife who consistently calls an employer to say her husband has the flu when indeed he has an all too frequent hangover is considered co-dependent and enabling.

I’m afraid if behavior like that of the unhappy wife qualifies one for a 12-step group like AlAnon (for those who love someone who is an alcoholic) or CODA (for those who are co-dependent), then I need to go to meetings of DogAnon.

Yes, I qualify. I often excused the reprehensible puppy behavior of my dog Oscar when I should have been tougher. Oscar failed dog obedience school because I gave in at every limpid puppy glance. I still haven’t decided whether we spoil our dogs because we think they are so like people or because they really are, but I admit I need something to help me.

I remember announcing to my friends at a dinner party that Oscar really was usually very good about staying off the furniture or jumping up on guests. While I was uttering these words, he had leapt up on my sofa, climbed onto the lap of my friend Rosemary, and was licking her neck. We could hardly stop laughing long enough to pry him off her shoulders.

I can just picture myself at a DogAnon meeting. First I would introduce myself in this manner: "Hi, I’m JoEllen. I’m a dogaholic." Later in the meeting I would share my experience, hope, and strength in dealing with this overwhelming dependence on my canines. I would admit that I’m hopelessly addicted to the big brown eyes of my two pooches, Oscar and Olivia. I would confess that my dogs are out of control and my life is unmanageable.

Yes, I am powerless over their behavior and give in to their whims and bad habits. When Oscar, true to his Jack Russell nature, occasionally escapes and stays out all night, I’m so glad to see him return alive that I don’t feel I can punish him.

Once I received a phone call at about 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. Oscar had escaped from me and headed toward the Elkhorn parking lot and grounds, a favorite haunt. He somehow wound up inside Elkhorn’s Saloon. After that drive to rescue him from a bar, I really felt the need for a 12-step group. This was accentuated later when he got out and spent the night playing with a wild fox.

I’m not too removed from my friend who, when her dog became too aged to walk, took her on trips in the car around Elkhorn to revisit old haunts. Emma, the dog, would stick her nose out the window, doggy fashion, bark at other critters on the road, and wag her tail. Her owner performed the daily chauffeuring, she claims, because without this stimulation and daily adventure, Emma would get constipated and have to visit the doctor for an enema.

I can see many 12-step slogans that apply to the members of DogAnon. Just as Adult Children of Alcoholics learn to nurture their inner child, we might need, for example, to nurture the "inner puppy" of our canine friend. Or, AA’s wonderful philosophy of "Let go, let God" could, to a dyslexic doggie become "Let go, let Dog." How about "One dog at a time?"

Actually, dogs already have one of AA’s tenets down pat.

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous try to live each day anew, a step at a time. Dogs are blessed with the ability to put one foot in front of the other and not spend any time dwelling on past mistakes.

They always wake up each day with a wag of the tail and a lick or two, ready to start over. Unlike humans, doggies forget what went on yesterday and they aren’t worrying about tomorrow. When they get into my car, they aren’t thinking about their destination. Their tails are wagging only with anticipation of the next immediate moment.

I often wish I could awaken with the same eagerness and happy expectation. Oh, for good old dog days, dog gone it!

 

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