While I was walking Baxter along the road beside the park, an old man in a truck pulled up and hung an elbow out the window:
Old man: “I’ll give you a million dollars for that dog.”
Me: “I love my dog. He’s not for sale.”
Old man: “Nobody ever takes me up on my offer. Ba ha ha.”
I imagine that man amuses himself by driving all over town and throwing out this line to anyone with a dog, and no one ever bites because 1) he isn’t serious and 2) they love their dogs and don’t care to part with them.
Later in the evening, I relayed this exchange at home, and Husband’s eyes opened wide. “I assume you’d sell the dog for a real offer of $1 million,” he said. “Of course, not,” says I. “You don’t sell your family members, no matter how high the offer.” But he’s not family, he’s a dog, and you can always get another dog just like him for a few hundred dollars, he tried to explain. But that’s not how I see it.
I suppose if I were desperately poor and needed cash for food and shelter, I’d sell my dog if offered $1 million for him, and I would be very sad after the exchange. But I’m not, so the big puppy stays put. He’s with his pack, one he’s bonded with, and he belongs here as much as anybody. Guinea pigs and red bellied newts (we’ve kept both) could live anywhere at any time, but dogs and cats bond with their people. While they might eventually adjust to a new home, you don’t just pass them around as if they were rodents or squirmy reptiles that dry up like little strips of leather stuck to the bottom of the tank if you forget to give them water for two weeks straight.
I do love my dog and my cat, and I’m slowly taking to my grand-cat who is living here temporarily—he’s the black and white one above. That guy is adjusting, but I bet you—in fact, I bet you a million bucks—that he’ll come running with relief the minute Katie returns from her adventures to claim him because he knows in whose arms he belongs.
Are these animals the same as people? Do they have the same value as a the humans in the family? As someone who loves human beings and has even given birth to two of them, I’d answer no to both questions. If forced to choose between my pets or my children, I’d choose the children every time. But "love" has a lot of notches on the Ultimate Attachment Gauge, so I don't believe it's necessary to reserve the term for the people and the items strictly at the top, and I don't believe the loves at lower levels are necessarily expendable. You can love your child and your spouse and your parents; and you can love a dog, or music or books or golf or those boxes of liqueur-laced chocolates the generous printer from Belgium used to send us for Christmas (what a shame he went out of business). Selling the things or the beings lower on the gauge might net you a wad of cash but would leave you with less to love. And what a sad prospect that is.
There is a lot of suffering in life, and humans need us to rally round them in sorrowful times—when their babies are sick, when their hearts are broken, when they feel so lonely it’s a strain just to pull their gaze from the floor. Granted, the people we love take gauge precedence, if we must rank our loves on a scale.
The animals in my house, the ones I feed and pet and keep healthy, the ones who sleep on my bed and bring me toys and follow me around from room to room, the ones who are by my side when every friend and family member I have is occupied and out of reach, have weight on that same scale, a notch on the same gauge.
The more targets of affection we keep the better, I say, and selling them off, even for a fortune, just because they don’t rank at the top would make for a pretty skimpy existence.
So, no, friendly old man in the truck, I will not sell my dog. Not for a million bucks. Because I love him and he's part of the family.