For clarification: this post is not about Hobbes, the philosopher. It’s about Hobbes the puppy—our puppy—introduced into our household on March 21st.
Since we got him, Hobbes has already grown 12 pounds. He’s learned to sit, lie down, fetch, go to bed, and stay (though staying proves a difficult task oftentimes). He’s got a pet fox and a myriad of tennis balls, but finds himself particularly attracted to shoes, especially the shoes being worn by visiting guests (alas, we have yet to break him of this fixation). Hobbes loves people, with a passion, and is rather clingy at times: not getting to cuddle up on the couch next to my husband and me is tantamount to tragedy. Any one walking out the front door without him results in an outpouring of grief.
Yet his expressive eyebrows, profuse “talking,” and evident delight make every day enjoyable. We’ve learned much from him, little sprite that he is. Along with the frustrations and challenges—the limits on our schedule that necessarily come from having a puppy, the endless repetitions of “drop the shoe”—we’ve found that Hobbes brings his own presence and liveliness to our home, to our lives. The empty hours of solitude I’ve felt when my husband is away for work are now filled to abundance. I rarely have time to sit down.
I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of ownership as of late: the difficulties that come when we build ties to a particular place. These thoughts were especially present in my mind as I planted my herb and vegetable gardens: I realized that, with every plant I rooted in the ground, I was also rooting myself to this property. Every little budding life beckoned me to be present and aware: to be a steward. I cannot gallivant endlessly, in work or play, far from home. I now have a garden to tend. Vacations must be carefully considered, neighbors asked (with plate of cookies in tow) to water the beds.
I looked over at Hobbes, digging gleefully in a corner, watching neighbors walk past with excitement and an expectantly wagging tail. He too must be considered. I cannot—do not want to—leave him for too long. He’s not a dog made to be cooped up inside: he’s an Irish Setter, an athletic and graceful hunting dog, a gallant and loyal beast who clings to his owners with deep affection. He cannot be deserted or left alone, as I hunt for personal adventures or career acclaim. He, too, ties me.
This is what ownership does: it chains us. It limits us. It forces us to stay put, as much as possible, because we are now stewards responsible for our possessions. We can no longer view ourselves as atomized individuals: a whole web of life surrounds us, relies on us for sustenance. Ownership transforms us into members of a platoon.
Some find this extremely distasteful. When my husband and I told people we were seeking to buy a puppy, they warned us of the personal dangers: the adventures that would be left unexplored, the personal liberties that would be lost. “Dogs really limit you,” they said.
Oh, they were right. Limitations, indeed: feeding the dog comes before feeding myself, playing fetch often happens when I would’ve preferred curling up with a book or a favorite TV show. Returning exhausted from work, I face an exuberant three-month-old who is the opposite of exhausted.
In the garden, too, I’m dealing with frustrations and limitations: squirrels have decimated my cucumbers and basil, so I am employing various deterrents to hopefully keep them at bay, and meanwhile will have to buy new plants. Insects have riddled my cauliflower and broccoli with their bites, and thus I must find a repellent that is organic and safe.
Sacrifice, limits, frustrations. They’re part of the journey.
But the joys: the joys of ownership are so much greater than the sacrifices. Like when Hobbes gallops through the grass, proudly holding aloft a Frisbee. When I’m reading on the couch, and he rests his head on my lap. When I see a line of radishes popping up boisterously, the kale close behind. When I smell sweet soft lavender, and see the hardy mint branching out.
These moments remind me what ownership is about: it’s about so much more than obtaining valuable objects, about more than the monetary worth they may return to us. Ownership can often give us a sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning. These feelings of affection can be expressed in our relationships to inanimate things, especially if they are well-tended: to houses, cars, bicycles, and boats (even books). People can develop strong relationships to such things, as they tend them.
But there are a particular set of blessings and relationships that accompany the tending of living things. There is a deep love and pride that can grow as we bind ourselves to them. And even now, as I peek across the living room and see that Hobbes has (again) grabbed one of my TOMS, I feel blessed to have such a happy, loving puppy to call my own.