From 'Gram to Grave: An Exploration Of The Queer Dog Mum Lifestyle.
I realized just how interconnected our lives are to our pets. And it struck me, exiting the Cimetière, would I build a monument to Xander?
Xander, you may have guessed, is my dog. He is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a pretty shit one at that. While this particular breed was bred for bird hunting, I have the sneaking suspicion that he’s not living up to his full potential. And considering a neighbour of mine reminds me often that Cavaliers need lots of mental stimulation, I’m left wondering where I went wrong
Perhaps, like any good psychological exploration, we must start with Xander’s childhood. He was our family’s dog, which meant attention was divided among us equally. This, in turn, got Xander very accustomed to the spotlight. With his big eyes and happy smile, it is no wonder he was often treated as the baby of the family, for lack of a better word.
When lockdowns began to ease, it was me who took Xander in full-time, considering I am the only member of the family who still works from home. Given this deficit in attention that he has grown used to, Xander has become quite attached to me; and, in turn and to my chagrin, I have grown quite attached to him. I now fill the void left behind by all my family members. Most days, it’s just him and me. And most days, I like it that way.
But other days...not so much. For instance, tennis is cut short when I remember Xander has been inside all day. Other times, my nights at the bar shrink to a two-drink maximum so that I am home in time to cuddle with him. Yes, I admit, whether I like it or not, I have become a certified Dog MomTM.
It is in these moments when I am reflecting how our lives intersect, mine as a 20-something woman and his as a three-year-old dog, that I realize how much of my identity has become intertwined into him. My Instagram feed overflowed with photos of him - when he’s being cute while sleeping, when he’s being annoying while playing, when he’s making that dumb face I like so much. I get three likes on the photo, but I don’t mind. I will share another one tomorrow.
Dates, too, have now changed. I invited someone over the other night only to be interrupted by scratching and whining at the door. We button back up and open the door. Xander, who I never took to be a prude, sits on the bed, and watches us, daring us to get down to business with him in the room. “Hands where I can see them,” his eyes seem to say.
Then there’s the mouse fiasco. It would seem that Xander’s reliance on me - and, to an extent, my reliance on him - reached new heights when a mouse ran across our kitchen floor. For a ‘normal’ Cavalier, they would be hunting the small rodent using all their patented bird hunting instincts. Eager to find the intruder in the house and assert their rule over the territory. Xander, however, did not do any such thing.
Instead, when I pointed under the laundry where the mouse had gone, he seemed more startled by me shouting: “Go! Find! Get it!”, than by the mouse itself. He has become such a city boy that he has reached the antithesis of hunting instinct - or so I thought.
A week later, I was at a friend's house and a mouse runs out from under his washing machine. Xander is instantly awake. He chases the mouse out and starts sniffing and snorting at the gap between the appliance and the floor. He whines, he scratches. He looks up at me, pleadingly. He is disappointed in me, I can tell. I am not as urgent about the mouse as he’d like me to be. In fact, I can tell the realization has dawned on him: I am not, in fact, a Cavalier. I do not, in fact, want to chase this mouse.
While it is quaint - cute even - that he cannot tell that we are not the same, it is just one of the many things that Xander does not understand about me, that he gets wrong. While he is disappointed that I am not a hunter, it goes unnoticed the money I spend on his food, or the amount of time I spend worrying about him, or how my body conforms to his when we cuddle at night.
And maybe that is okay. Perhaps our relationship isn’t about us, but about what we signify to one another - and to ourselves. While I, a queer woman, exist outside the norms of who I am “supposed” to be, so does Xander. And there is comfort in knowing that we coexist, against society, but comfortably so.