I love my dog as much as my child

We are not allowed to say this, but sometimes it is true. We connect with animals as deeply as our own offspring

Published November 10, 2012 5:00PM (EST)

Excerpted from "The $60,000 Dog: My Life With Animals"

Although he is usually a kind man, a man, we now know, who lets his children race their tiny cars around the road ring called his bald spot, my husband nevertheless insists, as he always has, that an animal’s worth is roughly equivalent to its edibility. If you can carve, slice, boil, or bake the beast, then it is generally welcome in our home, packaged and frozen or live and wild; but if the animal presents no potential for consumption of the gastrointestinal sort, then in my husband’s mind the life form is an excess weight on the world, an evolutionary glitch that serves no purpose except to clutter our already jam-packed planet.

Recently I’ve begun to think his attitude has something to do with the fact that, as a child, he watched his scientist mother drain the blood from rabbits regularly sacrificed for experiments, the soft carcasses tossed away in a floppy heap. As a seven-year-old child, I had a white rabbit, an enormous overgrown rabbit with pale pink eyes and a quashed nose that continuously quivered in response to the scents around her. I named my rabbit Boul de Neige, which means “snowball” in French, and this rabbit became a companion more important to me than any human at the time. Boul de Neige rode in my bike basket when I pedaled or in the baby carriage when I was in a maternal mood, a bonnet on her head and a blanket over her hunched form. Boul de Neige learned to take a collar and a leash, and hopped alongside me on the sidewalks of the Golden Ghetto, and although it seems impossible to believe now, she also learned a few commands, like “Sit!” and “Come!” which she did, bounding to me when I called from across our lawn, her ears streaming backwards like braids, her huge floppy paws uplifted so I could see their undersides as she galloped, thick and soft as slippers.

Boul de Neige got to know her name, and when tired, she lay her fragile bony head in my lap, and I would stroke her skull and feel what a rabbit felt like; the head hard underneath the fluff of white fur, the seams where the plates had fused. Long after Boul de Neige died, I saw a picture of a rabbit’s brain hanging in a hall at Harvard; it was so tiny, truly a pea on a slender stem, barely big enough for dreams, never mind love. And yet, the rabbit had loved me, loved me largely and well.

Over the years, as I grew up, I came to understand that this was not the point. Whether animals can love, or grieve, or hope, is far less important than the fact that they elicit these emotions in us. What I learned from Boul de Neige was that I can love, and grieve, and hope, and so it was that I grew into my humanity, traveling the tunnels dug for me by some small, dumb beast. I am an animal lover. I say this in no small way. I don’t mean I enjoy animals, or find them entertaining, or cute. Nor do I mean that I care for animals as accessories, a peripheral part of a well-lived life. What I mean is that animals—especially mammals, and not especially insects—enchant me and inhabit me.

I understand that I speak from a position of privilege. I understand that if I were a struggling farmer whose chickens were always swallowed by coyotes, or a villager in Africa, hunted regularly by hungry lions, I might feel quite differently on the subject; I perhaps would be singing, as they say, a new tune. I am thankful for the simplicity of this song. I am also aware that its simplicity is in its surface. Underneath lurk a million dilemmas. Is my attachment to animals a sign of some pathology, a flawed capacity for human intimacy? What is the difference between love and sentimentality? What would it mean if I actually care as much for the family dogs as I do for my husband, or, worse, my ... children? Do I perhaps lack the very humanity I just claimed was mine? Am I a wolf dressed up as a lover, a mother? As I write this I can hear, downstairs, the dogs as they awaken. Their collars jangle; their claws click on the floor. The younger dog is blind. She has glaucoma. It’s been four years now since she lost her sight completely, and much has come from the dark swamp of her unseeing, things for my husband and also for me, things we never expected. The blind dog’s name is Lila Tov, which means good night in Hebrew. I hope, for her unseeing sake, that this is so.

If you are a middle-aged woman living in a suburb or a city in the United States of America, then chances are good that your chosen animal of adoration will be a dog. I met my husband before I met my dogs, Lila and Musashi, and my husband’s soothing ways gave me no reason to think he was one of those speciesists, so aptly named by Peter Singer, boxed in by his own human brain.

It was easy to fall in love with Benjamin; he made the world seem elfin with his curious assortment of facts about plants and animals and star-shaped molecules he made from marshmallows and toothpicks so we could eat estrogen and air.  I met him in the wet, humid summer of 1990, the summer Nelson Mandela came to Boston and preached peace and everywhere the domed caps of mushrooms were popping up in the rain-fed fields. He was, as I’ve said, a kind man.

And yet, if that is so, then why is it so difficult for me now to recollect the forms his caring took? What makes a man gentle? Why are some beings so easy to love, while others feel so serrated? And if love is easy—as in the love one woman has for her copper-colored dogs—is it love she in fact feels or something simpler, like affection? What I question is the question: Why the need to define love in the first place? I suppose it proves that I am human.

Where was I? Digressions, I suppose, are also uniquely human. Can you imagine a cat digressing from his mouse? Gentle. My husband was gentle when we first met, although the particularities—the proof—escapes me now. Benjamin chose the winter solstice as our wedding day; December 21, dark by 4 p.m., the trees jeweled with ice. I loved our wedding. We had a chuppa and fat white flowers in bouquets tied with blue ribbons of silk. When the guests left, Benjamin and I drove together in his tiny dinged-up car—a car he still owns today, fifteen years later—to a hotel, where we feasted on leftover root vegetables and drank cheap champagne foaming with fizz. We made love, more out of obligation than desire; but still, it was sweet. Four weeks later, while walking up a hill, my legs went oddly weak. The angle of ascent seemed suddenly unreasonably steep. I began gasping for breath. Collapsed on the curb, head in my hands, I knew I was pregnant. At home, the plastic test wand showed the palest plus, tentative but definite at the same time. We aborted that baby—too soon; it was just too soon.

* * *

A few weeks after that terminated pregnancy, I announced to my newlywed Benjamin that I thought we should get an animal. As a girl I had read Gerald Durrell’s "My Family and Other Animals." In Durrell’s world, birds perched on shoulders and spoke a language that was and was not human; if birds could talk, than who—or what—else could know our words? Might I wake up one night to the moon telling its celestial news? Might the rocks have speakable stories? Animals sit on the edge of possibility. They imply—no, prove—that there are worlds outside our world, or worlds within our world—but beyond our grasp—and this fact is fantastic, and all one needs in order to experience enchantment.

And it was for the love of enchantment that I wanted an animal other than my husband in the home we were now making. I didn’t want a human infant—that much was clear to me—so what was I thinking about? “A monkey,” I said one morning to Benjamin over coffee. “Why not get a monkey?”

“An iguana,” he said to me. “If we’re going to have a beast in this house, then it has to be a reptile.”

“Cold blooded,” I said. “Who wants cold blood?”

“Monkeys bite,” he said. “They’re not necessarily nice.”

“We could get a dog,” I said.

“Foul hounds,” he said. “Dogs have no dignity.”

“And people?” I said.

“The only animals I want in my home are those that can fit in a soup pot,” my husband said. “A beast must be fit to eat.” He smiled then, took a bite of his cinnamon toast.

I knew he was half joking, but I could also see, and for the first time, something wicked in Benjamin’s smile. I could suddenly see he had a second smile, different from the first one, which was, until that point, the only one I knew. This second smile was both curve and flicker, sharp and sudden.

* * *

Later on, that night in bed, Benjamin told me more. I knew when we married that his boyhood had been filled with science and that dinner-table conversations were more likely to be about correlation coefficients than current events, but I hadn’t known how his mother used to take him to her lab where he had watched her inject guinea pigs with hormones so their litters came out large and twisted. A fertility researcher, my husband’s mother had showed him the pickled preserves of hairless pups born to rats dosed up on Fertinex and the strange remains of monkeys disfigured by progesterone. At age nine he had learned to shuck the hide from a rat and it all seemed sane to him. He told me how his mother had once brought home a wild fox pup, which they kept until its adolescence, and this canine cousin of the dog he described for me fondly, waking up one morning to new snowfall, seeing the animal in the yard, its red coat starkly bright against the fresh encompassing white. “But mostly,” Benjamin said, “we used animals for experiments. Their purpose was to answer questions that concerned human beings.”

“And did you ever question the method of questioning?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “How can you question human health?”

“If it involves the suffering of a sentient being ...”

“What would you rather have: a few dead dogs or penicillin?”

“That’s a predictable argument,” I said. Back then I had not yet found my way to Peter Singer, so I lacked the logic—a logic I could feel in my bones but could not bring to the level of language—to really undo his argument. Instead I said, “I can’t believe your mother showed her nine-year-old how to—”

Benjamin cut me off. And from his tone I could feel we had slipped into a new space, without warning: there it was. Little did I know that this was both a space and an oncoming speech that would pepper my marriage until, one day, long past the point of a pain with no name, it ceased to do so.

• * *

It is a well-documented fact that children who abuse animals are at risk for becoming sociopaths later in life, and from my training as a psychologist I know that standard forensic assessment tools include questions about harming animals right alongside questions about what weapons the patient owns or how many people he has hurt. Of course neither my husband, nor his mother, nor the thousands of others who have a cold disregard for animals would be considered abusers, but it’s also impossible to deny the possibility that they nevertheless may share some of those traits.

On the other hand, any biped could well argue, we all know about crazy ladies who keep households full of felines and who mutter odd terms of endearments to pets called Precious. I once knew a woman who had an incontinent dog named Betsy. She so adored this dog that she downloaded the animal’s bark as her own personal ring tone on her cell phone. Surely this zoophilia is some sort of sickness as well as its opposite, zoogyny. Granted I have made up these terms, but they point to a nonfiction phenomenon—that much is for sure.

* * *

I nevertheless knew, then and now, that my love of animals was extreme—but whether that was extremely good or extremely bad—a sign of mental health or mental illness—I couldn’t tell, and frankly, I still can’t. And because, in the end, love overrides analysis anyway, I didn’t much think about what I was doing when, a few days after our bedtime conversation, with my husband on a business trip to Nevada, I traveled forty-five minutes from Boston and came back home with not one but two puppies. I decided on the Shiba Inu breed because they are smart, agile, and slightly aloof, all qualities that reminded me of my husband. “The babies’ names,” said the breeder, “are Wrinkles and Tinkles.” Tinkles, I assumed, was the girl.

I have never understood the term some women use to describe their feeling of wanting a child—“baby lust.” The term disturbs me not only because it fuses maternity with what sounds practically pornographic but also, and perhaps more to the point, because I cannot imagine ever lusting after a being so recently drenched in the juices of a placenta. Human babies, for days, weeks, even months after they are born still stubbornly reflect their neonatal state; they have that tough, grizzled, weeping stub of an umbilicus; they have that waxy lanugo and are speckled with blood. Human babies are essentially fetuses ejected too early. Puppies, on the other hand, are born as babies and within a few days of their arrival are playful and soft. Puppies catch onto cuteness ASAP and, at the same time, when you look into their eyes, you can see how they once were wild. I loved our new puppies, whom I renamed Lila and Musashi, immediately. I loved them because they were cute and because, perhaps, I lacked the depth or discipline needed to love a human infant so unambivalently.

I had the puppies, Lila and Musashi, for two days on my own and then it was time for Benjamin to return. I picked him up at the airport. In the week or so he had been gone, his beard had grown, not exactly longer but wider, so his face seemed fat.

Benjamin got into the car, kissed me. There was his smell again (another reason for my kinship with the canine?), and I loved him all over again.

“There’s a surprise for you when you get home,” I said.

What, he wanted to know.

“Guess,” I said.

“You got a dog,” he said, without even pausing to think.

“Jesus,” I said. I paused. “Musashi and Lila,” I said.

“You named the dog Musashianlila?” he said. “Cool,” he said. “Original.”

“Musashi and Lila,” I said. “‘And,’ as in an article of speech, a coordinating conjunction between two separate beings, as in, two dogs: one, Musashi; two, Lila.” I talked this way for a reason. Benjamin loves me best when I can use numbers in my communications.

“Two dogs?” he said. “Two foul hounds. I knew you were going to do something like that.”

“Are you mad?” I asked.

“I am,” he said. “A little.”

“Look,” I said. “I know with 100 percent assuredness that you will fall in love with these puppies. They are the cu—they are not only very cute,” I said, “but they are the perfect vehicles through which to reflect on our culture’s attitude toward cuteness. I’m telling you,” I said. “Owning a dog can be intellectual.”

He didn’t say anything.

“All right,” I said. “Aside from giving them back, what can I do to make this up to you?”

“You can stop at the next store,” he said.

“Why?” I said.

“As soon as I buy two soup pots,” he said, “everything will fall into place.”

Then he smiled, and I figured we’d be fine.

* * *

We got home from the airport. The two precious pooches were right there at the door, so small, so furry, their tiny tails jiggling so hard they looked like they might detach. “Benjamin, Musashi,” I said, picking up the slightly larger male and giving Ben his penny-sized paw to shake. Benjamin, good sport that he is (sometimes), shook it and doffed an imaginary hat. “Nice to meet you, sir,” he said. We repeated the same ritual with Lila, who was very much unlike her high-strung brother. Lila had a Cyndi Lauper personality. She was tough and flamboyant, a rock star of the dog world. She howled and crooned her ballads while Musashi, at the sound of anything that snapped or popped, crouched in a corner and shivered. Lila gave Ben a wet canine kiss that left a line of glisten on his face.

* * *

Before the dogs we had been a happy couple in an uncomplicated way. It was therefore inevitable, I suppose, that something divisive would enter our lives, because marriage—like physics, literature, and carpentry—is almost always synonymous with complexity. The dogs came over us like a cloud, something impossibly soft and fuzzy. They arrived in our home in the winter of our first married year, during a freeze so deep the snow was solid enough to stomp on, and mornings were filled with the sounds of cars coughing and squealing as they slid on icy streets. The puppies, of course, were incontinent, for all intents and purposes. Housetraining required that I rise every three or so hours and head outside, into the pitch-black coldness, parka wrapped around my nightgown, feet shoved sockless into big rubber boots. Midnight, 3 a.m., no one around then but me and my pups, their urine steaming small holes through the snow, good boy, good girl. There were the required visits to the vet, the building of a fence, a carpenter who came to cut a square in our back door—a dog door they learned to use with the aid of chicken and cheese as rewards. There were several emergency overdoses, rushing Musashi to the veterinary hospital at dawn, the embarrassing explanation to the blonde female vet who always seemed severe and judgmental. “He, um, he, uh, he swallowed my medicine.” “What kind of medicine?” In an age of polypharmacy, embarrassment nearly replaced my fear for the dog’s survival. First it was Prozac; then it was Ativan for anxiety; then it was the mood stabilizer, lithium—Musashi sampled them all, the child-protection caps no impediment to him as he cracked the bottles with his teeth and chomped on pills he found strangely tasty. “I don’t understand,” said the vet at our third visit, “how he manages to get your medications.” I thought I heard her emphasize the plural. “I mean, they are in a drawer, aren’t they?”

“Of course they are in a drawer,” I said. “This dog can open drawers,” which was true, but she clearly believed I was delusional. I finally solved the problem by hiding my drugs on a shelf so high that to this day I need a stepstool in order to medicate myself.

And it was all terrible and amusing and fun and hard work, but in the center of it all was a little hole, like those the dogs left when they pissed in the snow, a cold, steamy, smelly little hole in my heart because Benjamin participated in none of this with me. These were not our dogs. They were my dogs. He petted them; he occasionally tossed a ball or a bone, but when I asked him, “Do you love the dogs?” he always said, “No. I like them.” Once, in a fit of blind maternity, I said to one of the pups, “Mama’s here,” and he looked at me with something like scorn and horror combined. “You’re not their mother,” he said.

“I am,” I said. “These dogs are a part of our family, aren’t they?”

“No,” he said. “These dogs are our roommates.”

* * *

In every marriage there are betrayals; the question is how soon they happen, how many, and of what sort. I remember quite clearly the first time I betrayed Benjamin. The puppies were growing fast, their fluff becoming fur, the round snouts taking on a sharper shape. At four months or so Lila’s urine came out tinged with blood; an infection? No. She was going into heat. Our regular vet—a jolly Irish woman completely unlike the ER vet—told me it was time. Lila needed to be spayed. Musashi, who had testicles so tiny one couldn’t really see them, nevertheless now needed to be neutered as well.

Of course it sounds terrible—spayed—a sharp hoe, shredded earth—and neutered—not as violent sounding but shameful nonetheless. Still, the reason for the procedures far outweighs the recoiling they naturally give rise to. I told Ben. He was eating oatmeal at our table, spoon at the ledge of his lips; he set down his spoon. Clink. “You’re going to remove Musashi’s testicles?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

I could tell by his tone we were in for trouble, entirely unanticipated, because I knew he didn’t give a damn about the dogs, so I never imagined he might care in any way about one of their body parts.

“You can’t remove a man’s testicles,” he said.

“He’s not a man,” I said. “He’s a dog.”

“You can’t do that,” Ben said. He seemed truly stumped, his eyes alarmed; this was a highly articulate person, a person with a love of debate who was suddenly silenced, stumbling over a panic as primitive as what a fish might feel flailing on a hook. I could not believe it. I could not believe my husband, for all his professed distance from dogs, was confusing his testicles with theirs, and I said so.

“I am not confused,” Ben said.

“Seems to me like you are,” I said. “You can’t be a responsible pet owner and not neuter your dogs.”

“That’s just some right-wing mumbo jumbo,” he said. “Remove an animal’s testicles and you fuck up its hormones. You cripple it. The animal doesn’t mature the right way.”

“I thought you didn’t care about animals,” I said.

“I don’t,” he said. “I raise this objection on theory. You can’t take testicles from a male. I won’t have a neutered male in this house.”

I knew, then, that I was dealing with an irrational man. And worse, a man who would protect his kind, but was fine as concerned the fate of the female. Lila would be sliced open like a freshly baked cake, her core cut out, the tiny bean-sized sac of the uterus, the ovaries even now stuffed with their millions of eggs, and then sewn up, her healing hard.

I said okay; I would not fix Musashi.

* * *

And the betrayal? I had Musashi neutered behind Ben’s back. The night of our neutering fight, I planned my strategy with barely a twinge of guilt. I would wait four months, enough time so that the conversation—the issue itself—was all but forgotten but not so much time that the puppy would have become a dog with observable scrotum, at which point a secret surgery would have been impossible. Lest our vet ever somehow let it slip in Ben’s possible future presence, I would bring the dog to a different vet, one we were sure to never see again. Problem #1: Explaining why Musashi had stitches between his legs. I would say he got a deep scrape at the park. Problem #2: Explaining, when the dog finally became fully mature, why he had no testicles. When this happened, as it inevitably would, I decided right then and there that I would feign concern, promise to take him to the doctor, then claim I had and announce that night at dinner that the vet had diagnosed Musashi fully male but with undescended testicles. It all seemed so simple. And, in fact, it was.

Winter turned to summer turned to fall. As planned, Musashi was neutered in a covert operation and when later that evening Ben noticed the small stitches, I gave my rehearsed explanation. It all went by without a hitch. Brilliant. Bad. It seemed a long time went by before the inevitable confrontation, before the day Benjamin finally observed, nearly one year later, that the dog, now fully grown, had no balls.

 “Hey,” he said, still kneeling, looking down.

“Hey what,” I said, although I knew exactly what was coming.

“This dog has no balls,” he said.

“No balls?” I said. “C’mon.”

“Seriously,” he said. “Look here.”

I did, of course, look there. “I see some balls,” I said. “Right there.” I pointed to a place too near the tip where there was a tiny bilateral bulge, a quirk the dog had had since infancy.

“You think those are balls?” Ben said to me. “Are you serious?”

“Well,” I said. “Isn’t it possible to have, you know, high balls?” I started laughing then, slapping my knee and snorting. “I’m so hilarious,” I said. “Aren’t I?”

 “What’s wrong with Musashi?” Ben said. “Could they have neutered him before you bought him?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “I mean, he was practically new born. I’ll take him to the vet, check it out.”

Which I didn’t. But three nights later I said, “So I took him to the vet—” Etc., etc.

“Undescended?” Benjamin said to me.

“Yeah,” I said.

 “Undescended,” Ben then said again, not a question but a statement. He looked from the dog to me back to the dog again. A long time seemed to pass. At last he went, stood by the window. What was it he saw out there?

“Hey,” I said, but he either didn’t hear or didn’t want to listen. Then he left the room.

* * *

If it sounds like our marriage was bad, it wasn’t. We shared so many things, I am only telling of the troubles. Benjamin called me “Pie,” short for Sweetie Pie. I loved to hear him sleep talk, long monologues about dolphins and computer code. In 1999 I decided I was ready, and we set about the task of conceiving as though it were exactly that—a task, a military mission. My zealous approach to conception arose more in response to challenge than desire. “Look how much you care for the dogs,” my friend Audrey kept reassuring me. “If you love the dogs so much, obviously you’re a person capable of attachment. You won’t have a problem.”

But I would. I did. Have a problem. It was easy enough to give voice to my ambivalence about having a child; maternal ambivalence is très chic these days; there are lots of books about it, and Oprah did a whole show on the topic, each female guest confessing that, yes, she had a shadow side; that, yes, when it came to babies and feelings about them, it wasn’t all cream and talc. None of this comforted me. It seemed to me my ambivalence was of altogether a different sort, or species. A single question circled round and round inside my skull, its serrated edges making a scraping sound that no one else could hear. What I didn’t say ... Okay. What if I couldn’t love the baby as much as I loved my dogs? Or, what if I found I loved both the baby and the animals equally? Can you imagine admitting to that, should it occur? One must rigidly remember not to anthropomorphize and above all not to ooze emotion over domesticated beasts, the toys for which consumers stupidly spend over billions of dollars while so many in this world are starving.

So how could I comfortably say, or feel, that I might love daughter and dogs equally? And, yet, were I to claim I valued my dogs and my daughter equally, I would not in fact be making an insignificant statement. I would be in violation of a sacred human stance in place since pets, thousands of years ago, first took up residence in human households.

* * *

I had the baby. Human birth is an unreasonable proposition; her head was too big for my pelvis; it got stuck in the brackets of bone. Hyenas, however, give birth through the clitoris, so I still count myself amongst the luckier of the beasts on our blue ball. There she was, seven pounds, waxy and wet.

Five days later, C-section healing, Benjamin and I brought our daughter home. We arrived to two dogs howling with joy – hello, hello, hello, kisses and slurps all around, such a long time, so good to see you, you too, leaping on hind legs, their short forelegs dangling the way they do, their ears pressed back in pleasure. All the books I’d read emphasized the importance of letting the dogs thoroughly sniff the new family member. I lowered the bundle of baby down. The summer breeze blew in, and halfway to their level, the dogs caught a whiff of the strange smell. They froze. Their eyes turned canine, carnivore, the little dots of yellow in the iris with a wolfish gleam.

“Stop,” said Ben. He claims he heard a low growl emanating from Lila’s throat. Had I heard it, I would have stopped, of course. I, however, heard nothing.

“Musashi, Lila,” I sang. Something was amiss, but what? “This is Clara,” I said, and then she was down, this baby so bundled only the disc of her face was visible, the tiny lips, the perfect mini nose, and eyelids scrawled with arteries.

Lila, always the more aggressive, stepped forward. Her snout was wet, her black lips seamed shut; but it was the eyes that gave me pause. Slowly, slowly, she lifted one leg and pawed at the bunting, almost batted it. Playful? Aggressive? Curious? Musashi followed, his blocky head low down and then, before I could stop them, their noses were in the wrappings, the huff huff of their hungry breath, the child screamed, the dogs shot back. Ben grabbed the baby from me, his own face full of canine rage. “How could you?” he spit. “They’ve bitten her.”

Understand, I was doped up on drugs, painkillers coursing through my system, the whole world wavy, and I had done what all the books instructed. “No,” I said. “No.”

We peeled back the wrappings. Our baby was unbroken, everywhere. In an instant she plunged into slumber again.

* * *

I have never brought up, certainly not then, or now, until now, the idea that I might love my animals as much as my child, or children. No one has ever thought to ask, despite the fact that everyone I know, as hypereducated as they all are, understands that meaning is often found in the questions we fail to form. The oversight has freed me to fret privately, and sometimes not at all. While some pluck petals off the daisy—he loves me, he loves me not—my chant is less melodic, as clunky as the conundrum it echoes: I love her more; I love her less; I love them all the same. At the end of this exercise, what am I left with? A shredded flower, hands painted with pollen, cupped up and empty. I said nothing, to anyone, ever.

But, as a strategy, silence does not work to tamp the tugs one would rather not feel. As a mother, I wanted to feel clearly and cleanly driven only to my offspring, that packet of genes and nerves, that person in my pocket for the first nine months of her life, but it didn’t happen that way. In the early years of my daughter’s life, and then my son’s life too, when he was later born, I would sometimes feel a longing for my dogs that overrode every other affection and made no sense to me, given that I had as much physicality from my mate and babies as any person could possibly need. But I wanted to touch another kind of being. I wanted snout and paw.

And it was this, this felt biological need to connect beyond my human confines, that drew me downstairs, again and again, after my babies were asleep. I’d sit in the kitchen and groom my dogs. Their undercoats were always dense with down; the fur flew, piling up in drifts I swept into big green bags, huge bloated bags that looked heavy but that drifted in the wind on garbage night. I’d stack them on the curb for the next day’s trash truck, but the fur-stuffed bags always flew away, flew high above the roofs of our city while over and over again I brushed the pups, until it was very late, and Benjamin came down, tired-eyed, 2 a.m., the first feeding over now. He’d see me on the floor, then and now, as well. “Making love with the pups?” he’d ask, and I say the only thing I could.


Excerpted from "The $60,000 Dog: My Life With Animals" by Lauren Slater. Copyright 2012. Excerpted with permission by Beacon Press.

By Lauren Slater

Lauren Slater is the author of "Welcome to My Country," "Prozac Diary" and, most recently, "Lying."

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