I've always said that I prefer dogs to cats because dogs show their owners constant, unconditional love. When you get home, dogs are waiting at the door, ready to throw themselves at you. Cats, on the other hand, hide away in whatever nook or cranny they can find, and only seek out attention when you're busy with something else.
It wasn't until I adopted a dog, however, that I realized how terrifying unconditional love can be.
My initial assessment was more true than I realized; Okie does give me total, adoring, unconditional love, no matter what. I brought her home from the shelter one day and she was in love. Period.
And now there's this little, semi-helpless creature depending on me at all times. She loves me when I'm frustrated, or when I'm ignoring her because I'm trying to finish something. She loves me when I don't let her chase squirrels.
It makes me feel inadequate. Don't get me wrong--I freaking love my dog. I am convinced that she is the cutest creature ever to grace the planet. And I know that I completely lucked out in terms of shelter dogs, too. She's trusting, she hardly ever chews anything she's not supposed to, and she has never once had an accident inside.
But I feel inadequate because I'm afraid that I don't love her as much as she loves me. I wouldn't die without her, obviously. And sometimes I get so exasperated that she barks at the door when she hears the neighbors. I realize that this is completely normal dog behavior, but I'm afraid she's going to get us evicted. Completely normal dog behavior doesn't always work when you're living in a third floor walk-up. In those moments, though, I'm always more frustrated with myself, that I can't train her not to bark no matter what technique I try.
I feel like I don't deserve her unconditional love, that I'm not worthy of it. I worry that I'm not a good enough dog-mom, that she needs more from me than I can give. (Not that I wouldn't try to give it, just that I wouldn't have the physical/temporal/emotional capacity.)
Yes, I realize that this is the most "me" thing ever. I am well aware that I have major guilt issues.
But I also think that these particular feelings may be so strong because society doesn't do a good job letting people express stress about pets? Just like human babies, they're supposed to be little bundles of joy. And I knew that taking care of Okie would be hard work, but the hard work isn't what I expected. It's not really all that hard to take her outside when she needs to go, or to feed her. But it is hard to take my laundry down to the basement knowing that she might knock down the kitchen gate trying to get to me, and writing is hard when she interrupts me seven times to bark at the neighbors and I have to direct her away from the door over and over again.
It's hard knowing that she wants and/or needs my constant attention, and I can only give her a percentage. I wish I had a roommate or a live-in partner to pick up the inevitable slack.
Don't worry--I'm not even remotely considering giving her up. For me that's a barely forgivable offense. Pets are family, and should only be returned to a shelter under the direst of circumstances. And overall things are great. She is, as I often tell her, my love-bucket. (I have no idea where this nickname came from.)
But hey, pets are stressful. Are your pets stressful? Why don't we ever talk about how stressful our pets are? Why don't we ever talk about how unconditional love is so sublime?