Back when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin, me and my friends would routinely go to the open-mic night at the Student Union every Wednesday night for kicks and giggles.
There was this one guy who showed up every week. He was terrible, but he was funny. He rolled out one sorry tune after another, but his closer was always the same.
It was called “I Don’t Need a Dog,” in which he wailed against the false promise of canine companionship and he howled at the moon. It cracked up the entire room every week, even though we all knew it was coming and had heard it dozens of times before.
Fast forward to 1992. I’m 32 now, living in my own home, recently dumped by my girlfriend. Sad and miserable with a brand-new mortgage and no understanding of how to live alone.
And then I got burglarized. Three times in six weeks, I get swept of all my worldly possessions. Apparently, I was an easy mark. This did not improve my morale or demeanor.
In steps friend Jyl, an old dear friend who also happens to be employed by this magazine. She sees I’m angry, alone and miserable. She tells me: “You need a dog.”
That might have been the moment that the term “trigger speech” was invented.
“I don’t need a dog,” I told her. I had never had a dog. What do you do with dogs, I asked?
She told me: “You meet girls.”
And that’s how I ended up with Alibi, a rescue dog provided by Jyl and the SPCA, and the strangest looking creature you could ever see. She was a silvery-blue Huskie-looking mutt, with piercing bright blue eyes. And when we walked through the park together, guess what?
I met a LOT of girls. “Ooh, she’s so cute! What’s her name?”
My thinking: “What’s yours?”
That was a revelation. And so was this: Once you wade into the pet adoption thing, you’re all in. It’s a new drug. And there’s no getting out.
Over the next several decades came Blink, Sam, Clio and Luna Biscuit. Then, in order: Blink got run over by a car. Alibi ran away. Sam bit my neighbor and a jogger in the park and had to be put down. (Nice euphemism.) Clio got kidney disease and died fast.
So that left Biscuit. Wonderful, weird, heterochromatic Biscuit. (That’s a term to describe the condition of having two different colored eyes. David Bowie had it, you may remember. It’s rare. But it made Biscuit look like a Spirit Dog.)
Seems like I always adopted the most unusual looking dogs on the planet. I guess I could relate to them. Although I never looked unusual, I often felt that way.
I lost Biscuit in my divorce. Five dogs down, no feeling better. I’m thinking: I don’t need a dog.
Time passes. I’m alone and miserable again. I meet a girl. (Without the assistance of an unusual looking wing dog!) I start spending most of my time at her place on the North Shore.
Naturally, turns out she has a dog, a rescue named Charlie, a wretched but lovable canine, incontinent and limping always, but docile and sleepy. I can relate to Charlie.
One day, Charlie bolts – as best as Charlie could “bolt” – out the front door and promptly gets run over out on the highway. So there we are. Where you always are after your pets die. In a house full of fleas looking for new hosts.
Charlie was a handful, so infirm and messy. I’m thinking: Maybe let’s just close this chapter. We don’t need a dog. It’s all the sorrow in the world. They’re like kids: One’s not enough, three is too many, and it’s a sure thing they will eventually break your heart.
So, a year ago, I’m back at my place in the city for a few days and then head back to the North Shore to my partner’s place. “Guess what!” she greets me. “I’ve adopted two cats!”
Just what we need. More mouths to feed. More heartache.
But they are absolutely adorable. Identical twins. Scrawny little black-and-whites. My partner can’t tell them apart at first, so she names them both Rupert. So nobody will get confused.
My partner, she’s a little strange herself.
And now we’re just one big happy Rupert family in the woods. It’s complicated. But there’s this: We don’t need a dog.
At least, not yet.
At least, not now.