When I decided to get my own dog, a Shiba Inu I named Wicket, I thought I was prepared for Shiba care. I understood the breed to be the “cat version of a dog”: distrustful of strangers, aloof, sneaky, and averse to being cuddled. Shibas’ personalities aren’t typically suited to being sociable and outgoing. I thought I was getting a lone wolf, a dog that doesn’t need anyone.
What I did not expect is the amount of small and wonderful social interactions my little dog creates for me. As I walk her around my neighborhood a few times a day—meandering along Riverside Drive, shuffling through piles of leaves, or chasing acorns along the loop of Trinity Mausoleum—sometimes a passerby gives me a small wave, enough to get my attention, and stops to ask questions about Wicket.
Sometimes, these interactions are brief; other times, I end up having 20-minute conversations with a complete stranger while Wicket looks up at us, beaming and smiling, almost as if she knows we’re talking about her. I usually walk away from these talks with my spirits high, riding on the goodness of other people, appreciating the pleasure of being outside with Wicket right beside me with her small, jaunty steps and wide, wolfy smile.
But as lovely as these interactions are, bringing her onto campus is even more special: As soon as she sees that I’ve taken her subway ride bag out, she immediately starts her happy, hoppy dance in anticipation. We’re ready and excited to go to campus because the number one question I get, in tones ranging from timid to exclamatory, is: “Can I pet your dog?”
I’m sure other dog owners—especially city-dwelling dog owners—find this revelation silly; how could you not expect people to ask about your dog? Growing up in a rural area, I didn’t have many opportunities to take the family dog, a poodle-cocker spaniel mix, in to town. Taking the dog for a walk usually meant we’d stroll down our dirt road for a mile in relative silence to check the mail for the day, where the only beings we’d encounter were deer or the occasional neighbor. It’s a far cry from being in a city; inundated by noise and constantly surrounded by strangers eager to preserve their carefully constructed bubble of urban solitude. But, with a tail wag and a smile, dogs can slip through these defenses, unaware of their existence.
Bringing her to campus has led to so many chance interactions with fellow students that I never would have had otherwise. I’ve sat on Low Steps with a fellow Shiba Inu owner, scratching Wicket between her ears while she told me stories about her two Shiba Inus back home, swiping through recent pictures sent by her mom. During final exams last spring, I sat on the lawns in front of the Mathematics building in the shade of those pink, flowering trees with Wicket while she alternated between basking in attention and love from stressed students on the way to their exams and biting at flower petals, trying to catch them before they hit the ground. I remember one instance last winter in the midst of finals when I had her hoisted over my shoulder in her subway ride tote bag, about to descend the stairs to the 116 Street station to escape the cold, when I was stopped by a fellow student who asked if he could pet her for a few minutes. I obliged, awkwardly shifting my bag to the opposite shoulder, allowing him to pet Wicket easily, and for a few minutes he scratched her behind the ears, pressing his forehead to hers while she tried to lick his nose. Tearing up, he gave her a final scratch between her ears, thanked me, and left.
No matter where we are in our lives, all of us had expectations of college as a place where it would be easy to meet new people, have unforgettable experiences with them, and forge friendships that would last the rest of your life. In practice, it’s much easier to neglect friendships in an effort to prioritize academics and work. Before I had a dog, my romanticized ideas of unforgettable experiences with my new friends tended to play out as a quick meeting over coffee to lament about exams. I love spending time with my friends, but these quick vent sessions aren’t a long-term substitute for genuinely spending time together, creating mutually shared experiences. Since I’ve had Wicket, she’s been a constant reminder that I can’t spend all of my time alone. She tells me, usually by wriggling her way into my line of sight while I’m working or by jumping up on my lap, that she doesn't care about my deadlines because she relies on me to provide for her: walks, food, time to hang out with her dog park friends, and to be loved. We all have these needs, she’s just much more up-front about it and wants everyone to know.
Growing up, I always wondered if dogs know how much I love them, like really, truly know how much I love them. Sometimes, even now, even knowing that science has proven that your dog does indeed know how much you love her and she loves you back, I’ll gently pinch Wicket’s chubby cheeks and tell her I love her, just so she knows. Even if science hadn’t confirmed it, she communicates her love to me with small gestures—jumping on me when I open the door after a hard day, causing me to burst into tears, or jumping up unprompted and laying next to me on the couch when I’m unwinding after a long day. I taught her to sit, high five, lay down, and helped her learn to swim; she’s taught me a way to step out from behind the curtain of urban solitude, giving me fleeting glimpses into all of the wonderful, kind people around me, just by being her smiley, Shiba self that begs the question: Can I pet your dog?
Have fun leafing through our tenth issue!