When Going it Alone, Choose the Dog

It’s statistically possible that you, even you, will some day be living utterly alone. It happened to me—the team player, the Tuesday carpool driver, the walking-group instigator, the perfect-attendance Rotarian, the habitual board member. Suddenly, so suddenly, it came to be that I was planning to pack my necessities into a minivan and move across a state line to a town where I knew not one soul. And the budgetary decision came down to this:

I could buy a TV and commit to a cable/internet contract, or I could insure my rescue dog and buy kibble, but I couldn’t afford to do both. I chose the dog – how could I possibly abandon the dog? It was the right decision.

The TV Will Keep You Inside; the Dog Will Get You Out of the House

I parked the car in view of the lake and toted my sewing machine up three flights of stairs into a by-the-month furnished rental, a condo surrounded by often-vacant vacation places. The dog was a constant comfort. She’d focus those brown eye-beams on me and say, “It’s just you and me, Boss Lady, and that’s fine. How ‘bout I bring you that ball and you pitch it, and then we’ll do it again. I’ll act goofy and you’ll smile. Then we’ll eat supper.”

The euphoria from making a decision, planning the move, and executing the plan lasted for a while. Then there were days I did not want to get out of bed. But I had to. Either I got dressed and walked the dog, or I got dressed and drove to the store to rent the carpet-cleaner machine. Either way, I had to go out the door. Every day but one I chose the better option.

I joined the Y because it had a members’ lounge with wifi. If I’m walking into the Y with a laptop, I’d best be wearing workout clothes. Since I’m dressed out, I might as well use the rowing machine and join that barre class. And before I knew it, I’d made gym friends. I got a library card because the library loans movies and Downton Abbey DVDs. The check-out period is short and they only allow four DVDs at a time, so I became a regular at the library. Which is how I noticed that a knitting group meets there. Before I knew it, I had yarn buddies.

I was no longer a total stranger in this town where I knew nobody, all because I chose the dog.

The Dog Will Meet People for You

Sit alone in a church pew and the greeting committee is extremely cordial, folks whose mamas raised them right will chat you up at coffee hour. But if you take a mannerly dog to the Blessing of the Animals service, you’re quickly recruited by the chalice bearers and the gardening group. If you belong to that dog, well then you’re a safer bet.

Walk around alone, and folks nod and maybe even say Hi. Walk with a well-trained dog, and people will tell you their dog stories, direct you to the dog park, recommend a vet, even suggest going to lunch at the café with sidewalk tables.

Walk down to the dock alone, and boaters are too busy to notice you. Walk down to the dock with a retriever wearing a life-preserver, and people will fawn on the dog, recommend dog-suitable swimming coves, invite both of you onto their pontoon boats.

Go boating with a dog and you’re a local legend. At the What-a-Burger one noon I waved to the water-taxi driver and heard him say to his booth mates, “You know her, that’s the blonde lady in the rowboat with the little poodle dog.” Hey, it’s a canoe with a cocker spaniel, mister, are you sure your vision is good enough to be driving that water taxi? Oh my gosh, he’s right, the years and the sun have faded the strawberry right out of my blonde.

Even in a Veterinary Disaster, the Dog Will Connect You to the World

I thought it was a severe allergic reaction—that made sense, the ground was yellow with pollen. Nope, said the emergency vet, Biscotti’s been bitten by something venomous and the wound is infected. Probably a spider, could have been a snake.

Did you say SNAKE? Thank goodness I bought that pet insurance. Thank goodness this little dog’s one tough cookie.

While she dressed the wound and administered antibiotics and steroids, the vet and I discovered that we went to the same school, and she roped me in. Soon I’m going to alumni dinners, reconnecting with my old classmates, even my brother’s and dad’s old classmates. In the piedmont area of North Carolina, I’m now in with the in-crowd. We’re the red and white from State and we know we are the best/With one hand behind our backs we can take on all the rest/Over the hill, Caroline/Devils and Deacs stand in line/red and white from NC State . . . I’m walking a little taller, venturing a little farther, wearing a Wolfpack sweatshirt.

One hot day, Biscotti, wearing stitches in her tail feathers and a fetching marine-blue E-collar, stopped at the water dish outside Athleta. A kindly clerk invited us to come on inside where there’s AC. Retail therapy opportunity! I bought compression tights and within the month I’m scanning Running Journal for dog-friendly races. Because women runners my age are scarce, I accumulate technical tees with printing on the back, trophies, and even medals. Because Biscotti struts, not slinks, across the finish line, I gather running buddies. “You know her, she came in third in the Spooky Sprint 5K. With that darlin’ little dog.”

A Cat Won’t Do

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a purring Persian. A cat can be an enormous comfort, when she chooses to be, but a cat won’t drag you out into the world. If you’re going it alone, it’s best to go with a dog.

Barbara Smith | Aiken Prep Celebrates 100 Years | Aiken Bella Magazine

Barbara Smith, a technical writer, lives on Lake Norman with her spaniel, Biscotti.