Dogs were the only source of anxiety my entire childhood, but they were fucking everywhere.
There were the elderly people next door, on the other side of the grape vines. My aunt called them the gnomes, because they were short and gnarled and grouped not in a man-woman combination, but in a grouping where it was unclear who was married and who was not. In the gnomes' backyard, they kept a pen of dogs in a series of small sheds. They dogs never left the sheds, but you could hear them, barking, howling, generally getting riled up. Lying in bed, I knew when my father got home from work by listening to the commotion in the pens.
On the other side, a retired couple had a large white dog, Fluffy. They once asked me if I'd like to feed Fluffy while they went on vacation. Fluffy was closet growler, it turns out. After one feeding, I took a managerial position and handed the kibble to my dad.
My uncle had an Irish Setter named Casey, a skittish gallumph who always seemed to be dripping lake water. Casey was a solo dog, but I didn't trust him either. He seemed so cowed by my uncle that I could imagine Casey plotting some wild digressions—maybe eating a child—when my uncle wasn't looking.
I claimed, for a long time, that I loved our dog Jake, a Golden Retriever, but my love for Jake was conditional. The condition was that he had to be bone-tired and lying inert on the floor. That was the sort of dog I could get behind. As it was, Jake was young, unneutered, and poorly exercised. He spent a good amount of time in situations that would make the Dog Whisperer scream—in the basement, for example, or chained to his doghouse out back.
I don't know what was wrong with everybody then. My own parents, now divorced, each own a dog, both of whom are named Daisy, and you can bet your bippy that neither one of them would dream of letting their Daisys sleep outside or swatting them with a newspaper. Mom's Daisy stretches out on her couch, her bed. Dad takes his to work with him.
It was another time, I guess. Back then, people painted their homes the color of rust. No one was tired of novels about middle-aged male professors who sleep with students. An entire generation wore shorts that showed their ass cheeks, and drunk driving was still considered kind of funny.