Before I was born, my mother had a dachshund named Wimpy. Brown with short hair, Wimpy had the exuberant, good nature of all wiener dogs. I have been told that the sight of him running along happily could cheer up the most depressive person. My mother loved him. When my mother was nine months pregnant with me, she went outside looking for Wimpy and found him run over in the middle of the road. It was pouring rain.
My mother found a shovel in the garage and dug a hole in the muddy yard, the rain coming down hard. It took a full hour to dig the hole deep enough and by the time she put her beloved Wimpy in the ground and covered him, she was soaking wet and streaked with mud. Her grief and the effort of burying Wimpy sent her into labor. The next morning I was born.
My mother told my older sister Margaret and me this story often. Margaret and I -- always close friends–often fought with the savagery unique to siblings. In 1984, when I was eight years old and my sister was 11, Hefty trash bags came out with an ad comparing their trash bags (Hefty! Hefty! Hefty!) with the competitor's inferior trash bags (Wimpy! Wimpy! Wimpy!). While watching the ad, my sister decided in a blinding flash of evil genius, that I was the wiener dog Wimpy reincarnated. From then on, when we fought she would pin me down and call me, "Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy!"
The moniker was both a nod to my inferior physical strength, and an implication that I was -- at the very deepest level -- nothing but a goofy creature with a pecan-sized brain. The insult had an extra sting because I didn't like dogs. I didn't like Frederick, our cocker spaniel who bit me on the regular in fits of cocker rage. And I didn't like Gus, my sister's untrained and badly behaved golden retriever. "Wimpy! Wimpy! Wimpy!" my sister would say to me when she had both of my wrists in her iron grip. And I would feel helpless with both my inability to wrench my arms free, and the injustice of the insult.
By the time I became an adult, my sister no longer called me Wimpy. In fact, she would apologize whenever the story came up, clearly feeling guilty for her part in our childhood battles. But my dislike for dogs had not waned. It had in fact been solidified by years of running on country roads where dogs would charge out at me, barking and snarling.
I was living in my hometown of Austin, TX when I started dating a musician. The first time I went to his house, two wiener dogs came stampeding down the sidewalk towards me. I did the awkward, duplicitous thing that any non-dog lover on a date with a dog lover might do -- I pretended to like dogs. I bent down and picked up one of the wiggling wiener dogs, who promptly wriggled out of my arms and fell on his head. I was horrified that I might have hurt the dog. As it turned out, the dachshund was fine, but I was busted -- the musician could clearly tell I had spent zero time actually touching dogs.
But then a strange thing happened. While sitting on the musician's couch watching a movie one night, one of the wiener dogs jumped into my lap. And I found myself petting him. Soon I was walking the dogs on the regular and found that the sight of the wiener dogs trotting proudly along made people smile and even laugh.
I took one of the wiener dogs to doggy obedience school. I took naps with them both, which seemed to change me on a cellular level. I "wrestled" with them, and played chase, and gave them treats.
And then one day it hit me. These funny little creatures were indeed my brethren. I shared their jaunty exuberance, and their credulity, and their good nature. I wanted to share their playfulness and their ability to cheer people up. Their goofiness made me feel better about the fact that I am little goofy, too.
When the musician and I broke up, there were all the usual break up feelings. But there was also something else. I missed those damn little dogs. I missed having their comforting weight in my lap, missed the sight of them running towards me, and the joy of seeing their joy at my arrival.
I have resisted the strong impulse to get a dachshund of my own. Perhaps I am trying to avoid feeling the kind of grief my mother felt when Wimpy died. Perhaps I am scared of the impending loss that is part of dog ownership, a result of the tragic fact that dogs have a shorter lifespan than humans. As the comedian Louis CK says, bringing a puppy home is like a countdown to sorrow. And yet, whenever I am out on a walk and I see a wiener dog on a leash coming my way, my heart leaps with joy, and I think to myself, "Wimpy! Wimpy! Wimpy!"