Thu 10 Nov
Like a lot of people, when I first adopted my dog I made a solemn oath not to succumb to the temptations of absurdly over-enthusiastic pet ownership: no dog sweaters, no canine birthday parties, no pet manicures. This was a point of pride more than anything, a line drawn in the sand to convince myself that I am macho and that I can in fact keep it real.
I haven’t completely given up on that oath, but the reality of having a dog is something else entirely: before too long, the dog’s irresistible, ingratiating ways break you down, and you begin wanting to treat him or her essentially like a furry child. It’s a very difficult impulse to resist.
Take, as an example, Mister President’s preternatural and somewhat hilarious aversion to water. Because we adopted him at seven months old, we don’t know for sure what his lineage is, but it’s pretty obvious from looking at him that he’s at least half labrador retriever, a breed that’s noted for taking to water with great enthusiasm. Not so with this guy. From the very first day we brought him home, he’s been terrified of water. He scampers away desperately at the sight of a hose, walks well out of his way to get around a street puddle, whimpers and whines at the water’s edge as other dogs frolic unabashedly in lakes and streams.
It’s kind of funny but it’s kind of sad too, because, as my girlfriend and I have concluded, it’s likely something traumatic involving water happened to him as a young pup, scarring him for life. As the only people in the world who would ever considering doing something about that lasting trauma, it’s hard for us not to want to do something to ameliorate his phobia… which basically leads us right up to an absurd pet owner’s indulgence like swim therapy.
On Wednesday nights in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, The Dog Run, a combination doggie day care and canine swimming pool, has an open swim hour for adult dogs. For just US$20, you can bring your pooch and let him or her swim freely in the small pool or, as we prefer to do, let the on duty canine swim therapist work with your dog to get used to the water.
When we get to the pool, Mister President reacts with tremendous panic, running around the outer edges of the room and trying desperately to avoid us accosting him and being lowered into the water. But we’ve taken him three times now, and each time there’s a marked (yet admittedly incremental) improvement in his water skills.
He’s calmed down quite a bit since the first time, and while he doesn’t yet seem to actually like the water, he seems to now like the idea of it. Last night, when we took him, he walked right up to the pool’s edge and pawed at the surface while giving a distressed whimper — clearly, he’s still scared, but he wants to go in now. And he did better than ever when we lowered him in, swimming more calmly and less desperately than ever before. In spite of the inherent silliness of taking part in swim therapy for dogs, I gotta say it’s kind of gratifying to watch him.
Dogs. They’re awesome.