“Will you do me a favor?” The blue text bubble lit up on my screen as I sat at my desk in my office. It’s Kaitlyn and the three blinking gray dots show she’s still typing to give me more specifics. “Would you be willing to go pick up the dogs from the vet this afternoon? They’re done early.”
She’d dropped Emmy and Cedar off to get their teeth cleaned on her way to work. This was my first experience with dog teeth cleaning and Kaitlyn had already taught me several things about it (as she does will all aspects of dog ownership) including that they had to get bloodwork done beforehand and the dogs go under anesthesia for it. In general, Kaitlyn takes care of all animal-related care. For the dogs, that means she grooms them, exercises them, feeds them, bathes and brushes them, shops for their food and toys, and all around makes it so they live the lives of queens. My role is to help pay for this lifestyle, feed them when Kaitlyn will be home late, let them out during the day, try to bribe their love with treats, and clean up the ever-present dog hair around the house. And, act as the back-up to picking them up from the vet.
“Yeah I can,” I typed back. Working remotely means my job is more flexible than hers and I could just bring them directly home. After some quick coordinating to figure out how we’d switch cars (I love them but their hair is not allowed in mine), and a look at my work calendar, I left after my next afternoon meeting.
I’ve been to the vet before. Or rather, I’ve been to the vet parking lot. Kaitlyn made sure I know exactly where it is in case of emergencies, and I once needed to pick up a medication for Emmy. It was during Covid lockdown times though, so they just came out to my car.
Kaitlyn prepped me before going. “I talked to the vet and the girls did fine. It’s also already paid for. You just have to go pick them up.” Simple.
But as I pulled into the parking lot, the anxiety started to hit – both because it was a new experience and also because, try as I might, I’m just downright awkward with pets, including my own. What if they’re so loopy they don’t recognize me? Or they’re just not excited to see me? What if I’m so bad at this the workers don’t even believe I’m their owner? What if they think I’m a dog napper?!
It was an irrational fear but to my anxious brain, the only thing irrational about it was that a dog napper would be more calm, confident, and natural with dogs than me. I just need to act the part for a few minutes so they’ll actually release them into my care. As if this was suddenly a meeting with Dog Social Services and our very rights to ownership were on the line.
This wasn’t my first experience with dog owner imposter syndrome. Some weekends I tag along with Kaitlyn to her dog sporting events and yes, the people who attend those types of things are exactly the level of enthusiasts you’d imagine. I’ve gotten sucked into conversations with other dog owners who naturally assume I’m at the same level of commitment as them. As if I attend these things regularly. As if I’m there, right in that moment, for reasons other than loving my wife. I smile and nod and try to laugh in the right places and overall seem engaged in these conversations while trying to hide as much as possible how little I know about basic dog training. I never really feel like I’m very convincing because I think the level of discernment pet lovers have is next level. And now, once again, I was about to be in a room full of Dog People.
I could hear Kaitlyn’s voice in the back of my mind, “Why are you worried?! You don’t even have to do anything,” with genuine confusion about how I could possibly find anxiety in this basic task. You underestimate me, imaginary Kaitlyn.
I walked up to the front desk and said as casually as I could muster, “I’m just here to pick up Emmy and Cedar.”
“Okay perfect! They’re just in the back. I’ll let them know you’re here and someone will bring them up shortly,” she said, giving no indication her dog-napper sensor was on high alert.
“Great, thanks!” I said and turned to find a seat in the waiting room. There were three dogs and their owners already sitting. Just be cool, I told myself, while also strategizing how I would be able to get Emmy and Cedar out without them saying hi to the other dogs. They’re very well behaved (thank you Kaitlyn) but unexpected interaction management is above my pay grade.
I sat off to the side and pulled out my phone to wait, scrolling through email as I braced for the worst of it. I looked up with any movement, 100% not relaxed, until a staff member called out, “Emmy and Cedar?” like a nurse at the doctor’s office. I stood up, wondering where the dogs were, and listened to her go through a quick pamphlet recap of the procedure.
“Are they able to eat right when they get home?” I asked, hopefully improving my credibility as a dog owner but also just repeating verbatim what Kaitlyn’s question was.
“Yep, we just recommend you start with half of what they normally eat,” she said. I nodded and she followed up with, “Okay, I’ll just go grab them and I’ll be right back.”
She walked away while I stayed there standing, wondering for the next five minutes how long “right back” would be. Finally, the familiar little beasts led the way as she walked back through the door.
They were on temporary leashes that she handed to me as she started switching them out for their real ones. I held on, hoping it wasn’t too tight of a lead to make her judge me or somehow choke them but also not wanting to give them enough space to wander off to the other dogs.
“…You can let go now,” she hinted as she traded me for the newly attached leashes. I thanked her and led them out the door, relieved I’d made it through.
But it wasn’t over. I realized as I walked across the parking lot that I was about to encounter an unexpected obstacle. I had two dogs and needed to lift them one at a time into the car. How was I supposed to use two arms to pick one up while holding onto the other one, making sure she didn’t wander away or worse, get hit by a car. This is it. I thought. This is the moment where I get found out. The one bright spot was Kaitlyn had at least already taught me how to lift them up without them wiggling around like a distressed worm fighting for its life.
I opened the back door of the car before wrapping one leash up and around my arm. Feeling like it was secure, I picked Emmy up to put her in her crate, dropped her leash, and quickly picked up Cedar. “Wait!” I said, mimicking Kaitlyn’s authoritative voice as I stumbled through taking off their leashes and closing their crate doors. I’m pretty sure they can tell when I don’t know how to do things and, rather than try to take advantage, they wait patiently for me to figure it out. I closed the back door, got in the car myself, and pulled out of the parking lot. Against all odds, I made it.
As I drove home, I surprised even myself when, rather than the typical rehashing of the anxiety-ridden past 15 minutes, my thoughts turned instead to how grateful I was that everything with their appointments had gone fine. Even though it was routine, there’s always that pesky thought that something bad can happen.
“You’re good girls,” I said. “You’re good puppies,” repeating similar sentiments along with reassurance we were almost home as I drove extra carefully. I have no idea what recovering from anesthesia is like for dogs but at the very least I knew they hadn’t eaten since 9 pm the previous night and that alone is cause for immense empathy.
It might not seem like it externally, but I’ve grown a ton in the last four years of being a dog owner. While it might not feel like much, I like to tell myself it’s in the ways that matter most. I may be the world’s most awkward and unqualified dog owner, but they’ve booped, licked, and wagged their way into my heart. I honestly can’t imagine our lives without them, nor do I want to. It’s admittedly taken me longer than most to develop an emotional bond – even the act of talking to them is a learned behavior. But while I may not fully understand how dog owners do all the things they do, I definitely understand why.
That small favor, though, babe? I think we can all agree my efforts to manage the bare minimum were nothing short of heroic.