Award-winning journalist Brian McGrory reveals what you can learn about people by the way they treat animals. It’s so true! His brand new book, Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man, is available today – and it’s amazing.
It was about a dozen years ago when some friends convinced me to go on a blind date with a woman that they guaranteed was, in their exact words, “way over my head.” Besides, they said, she’s a dog lover. You’re a dog lover. What could go wrong?
Our first get together was perfectly nice, even if they might have exaggerated her charms. From the look on her face when we met, they undoubtedly exaggerated mine as well. We got together a second time, and then made plans for a third. She was to come to my condominium in Boston. We would head over to a nearby restaurant. She planned to bring her dog to see how hers got along with mine.
And therein, the beginning of the end. When I answered the door, the human half of the female duo looked great. But when I looked down at her dog, I didn’t see the regal retriever that I expected. No, I saw a veritable beachball of a dog with short legs, a grotesquely overweight creature who, at that moment, was straining so hard at her leash, breathing in such labored fashion, that I was worried she might just keel over and die. When she got into my apartment, she began sprinting around like the Tasmanian Devil, such that my dog, Harry, softly growled and shot me a look that said, “Get this slobbering mess out of our house.”
Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the aesthetic of the dog that bothered me. Actually, it wasn’t the dog at all. It was my immediate suspicion of what had caused it to be obese and out of control, which was proven later that evening when the woman casually said, “Yeah, unfortunately I just don’t have much time for her these days.”
No time? Then why have a dog? Or at least why not pay someone who does have the time to help. We never saw each other again.
All of which got me thinking that pets—yours and theirs—provide extraordinary insight into what you’re getting into at the beginning of a relationship. They reveal in stark terms the level of commitment that a prospective mate has: their devotion, their empathy. The kind of animals they have, how they live with them, speaks volumes about who they are. And if they don’t have a pet, how they regard yours says just as much, if not more.
Consider, for a moment, my best friend and college roommate, a delightful guy named Chris who, like me, didn’t settle down until later in the game of life. He called one day to inform me, somewhat hesitantly, that the new woman in his life had a Pomeranian, and the Pomeranian had what he described as a “Lion’s cut.”
Look it up. I did, and I knew in a moment the relationship wouldn’t last because I couldn’t picture Chris walking the little dog, never mind falling for the woman who regularly was. Sure enough, the relationship was history in weeks.
A few months later, he told me of another woman that he was particularly interested in, mentioning that she not only had a couple of kids, she also had a handsome black Labrador retriever. A year or so later, the relationship was going strong, I asked him about the Lab that I didn’t hear much about anymore. “Yeah, she ended up giving him away,” he said. “She loves Nantucket, and the dog had this strange allergic reaction to sand, so it didn’t work for her.” I’m sure he saw the stricken look that I barely tried to hide. That relationship ended in due time, as Chris slowly came to the realization that she just wasn’t a particularly nice person.
I’ve never seen a study on it, but I know of very few married friends and acquaintances that don’t share either a love of animals or an antipathy to them. The traits attract. I’ve watched new girlfriends pat Harry, my late golden and the best dog I’ve ever met, with a straight arm and a distant look, and knew in that moment, that our relationship wouldn’t last. I’ve felt the stress of women who didn’t understand that with a dog comes an irrevocable responsibility, and couldn’t grasp why I wouldn’t, say, just take off on a moment’s notice for a weekend away.
In contrast, I’ve felt unabashed gratitude toward those who did get it, who would propose weekend plans that didn’t have us away from home all day, or offer ideas that included Harry. Pure gold, those women. This may be why I fell hard for Harry’s veterinarian. Nobody understood him, or us, better than her, and my word, did she have a way with dogs.
Of course, it also meant that I, in return, needed to come to terms with her two kids, their two cats, their four rabbits, and their pet rooster, Buddy, who pretty much hated my guts. That last part represented one of the toughest—and most important—tests of my life. The fact that I succeeded is what’s kept this relationship intact.
Brian McGrory is the author of Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man. Watch the book trailer, and share your thoughts at www.Facebook.com/BuddytheBook. Order your copy now!