Gone to the dog's side

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

I adopted a dog last week.

This came as a shock to my family members, who are exclusively cat people.

At last count, we have owned (or have been owned by) a total of nine cats. We've never successfully owned a dog.

My family vainly tried to be open- minded about my choice of bark-and- slobber over feline grace, but could not mask the look of horror on their faces.

I was, after all, once the most loyal of the anti-dog coalition.

Like most cat people, I naturally baulked at large, wet tongues coming my way. And I wonder why dogs greet you by trying to maul you to death with their gargantuan paws.

Okay, I'm going to be honest: I used to judge dog people.

Before I met my husband, I'd once professed to my best friend that I would never date a dog person. To my defence, he was canine-free at the time and I didn't know he was allergic to cats.

I know what you must be thinking: My husband must have piqued my love for the animal. But I don't think so.

Let me explain.

If someone is a dog person, it's likely that he's also an extrovert, agreeable and disciplined, according to research conducted by psychologist Sam Gosling of the University of Texas in Austin.

Sunny disposition? Probably, given that dog people are happy throwing balls and having the balls brought back to them - for hours on end. Seriously, how is that a productive use of one's time?

Dog people are almost guaranteed to enjoy making small talk with strangers over their choice of cereal (wholemeal, organic, sugar-free, of course), volunteer to help their neighbours out, cannot stand gossip and frown at jay-walkers.

Cat owners, on the other hand, are "non-conformists" - according to a study of 600 college students last year carried out by Carroll University in Wisconsin.

They are multi-faceted souls. They get a thrill from breaking the rules. They dance in the rain with their shirts off. Think deep thoughts. And when they fall in love, they fall hard.

A dog person will let you decide where to go for dinner and do the laundry. But where's the thrill in that? What people really want is to be swept off their feet.

A dog person (on the off-chance that he did something to upset you) won't break into song to beg you to forgive him or chase after you in a monsoon downpour.

Cat people will do that. They're unpredictable, spontaneous and fun.

Famous cat lover Charles Dickens is known to have fended off imaginary street urchins with his umbrella as he roamed London's alleyways. He also turned his dead cat's paw into a letter opener - that's dedication beyond the grave.

Author Earnest Hemingway, the owner of 30 cats, refused to write unless he could do so standing up, spending hours at a time on his feet (this may have had something to do with the lack of free seating in the house - but it shows complexity and passion).

So why did I, the avid cat-person, defect?

I suppose marriage and motherhood have changed my outlook on life.

Who am I kidding?

There is absolutely no time to contemplate the meaning of life when you have a bawling baby on your hip and a million tasks to do. The meaning of life is simple - it's just what you do every day.

And seriously, writing poems and passionate, steamy arguments followed by great make-up sex? Who has the energy? Please, just pass me the diaper cream.

I suppose, in a strange way, I am ready (and want) to go the full dog.

Our new family member, not the baby but a six-year-old Golden Retriever, is already teaching me empathy and patience. I'll need those qualities as my little munchkin grows older.

In her first week, she's refused to eat dried food, so we had to, by trial and error, find out what she liked to eat.

At night, she whines because she's lonely, so we make several trips downstairs to comfort her - actually the husband does this (I'm not lost to the dark side just yet).

I can't yet say I enjoy it when she jumps all over me in excitement when I get home from work. But I am starting to understand: She is just excited to see me and not because she knows I am going to feed her, but because I am part of her group.

She even forces me to socialise. She's like a positive social glue. I've found myself forming impromptu friendships with dog people in parks, lifts and along pet food aisles in supermarkets. It's not so much about me, but more about the "us" - dad, dog, baby, me (in no particular order).

We are a group, a pack, we need to look after one another and don't need the nine complicated lives we had before.

Sure, everyone craves some catnip from time to time.

When that happens, I'll pet my neighbour's sulky tabby - if it lets me.

limjess@sph.com.sg