No, Thanks, Really, I Don’t Want Another Dog

How do I tell my kids I like my empty nest just fine?


I wrote a story for the September issue of the magazine about some very nice dogs. I started working on the story back in February, so for a long time, whenever anyone asked me what I was writing, I would tell them about these dogs. This provided an opportunity for people who knew me to say, “So! I guess you’re thinking about getting another dog!”

This was especially true of my two kids, who, when they were growing up, frequently accused me of loving our dog more than I loved them. There was some truth to this. Homer, the collie/shepherd mix who shared our lives for 12 years, never once kept me waiting, never couldn’t find his shoes, never talked back, never got arrested. It’s been five years now since we had to have him put to sleep, and I guess that’s considered a suitable length of time for mourning, because suddenly everybody is convinced I must want another dog.

“Don’t you miss when we used to take Homer for walks?” my daughter Marcy will ask, apparently forgetting that she frequently had to be hauled out of the house kicking and screaming when it was time for those walks. “A dog would make it easier for you to make new friends,” my son Jake will say. He’s become convinced I need to “make some new friends your own age,” as he puts it, like I’m a socially inept sixth-grader and he’s the parent. He recently guilted me into paying $220 for a special tailgating parking pass at his college, to fulfill some fantasy he has of me clinking highball glasses with the parents of his football teammates before the games. But he’s not going to guilt me into getting another dog.

I don’t want another dog.

Having a dog for all those years was great. Homer was a terrific companion. He was also a total pain in the ass. For one thing, he was big. Before we could buy a sofa or a car, we had to look at it and think: “Is there room for Homer?” When we went on vacations, we had to check beforehand to make sure anywhere we were going to stay over was cool with a 120-pound dog as a guest. And there were psychic costs. When I was at work, I worried: Was Homer bored? Was he happy? I had to buy him special food. I had to clean up a lot of poop, especially in his later years. He had to get baths. He needed to be checked for ticks. He had to be taken to the vet. He had to be let in and out (although he did eventually figure out how to open the back door).

In return for this, Homer provided us with undying love and scared the shit out of a succession of mailmen.

But for some reason, my kids seem to think that since they’re out of the house, I must be lonely. And I don’t quite know how to tell them: I like my empty nest.

I like not having to worry about other people. Sure, there’s my husband, Doug, but I almost never worry about him. He fends for himself just fine. When the kids were here, we kept that family dinner hour sacrosanct. We didn’t eat in front of the TV; we sat down at a table, the four of us, just the way the experts all say you’re supposed to.

With the kids gone, Doug and I never sit at the table anymore. We eat off plates in rocking chairs in front of the Phillies or the Eagles. It’s great. We love it. We’ve been waiting for this moment for decades. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

A dog would be nice in theory, the way a beach house or a pair of motorcycles would be nice in theory. Most things that seem nice in theory, I’ve found, are a pain in real life. I’ve been behaving like a responsible adult for a long time. I don’t want to be responsible for anything but me now. I’ve had enough.

The other weekend, Doug and I drove up to Jake’s first football game of the season, in Danbury, Connecticut. It was an away game, set for 5 p.m., and the weather was deadly humid and hot. The first half of the game, Jake’s team was getting blown away. Then at halftime, just as the teams were set to retake the field, the heavens opened up in a thunderstorm of epic proportions. After two hours of furious lightning and rain, the refs finally announced that the game would resume at one o’clock the following day. That left Jake’s coaches scrambling like crazy to find lodging — not to mention food — for themselves and a hundred large, sweaty, smelly young men, none of whom had so much as a toothbrush or a change of clothes.

Doug and I had each packed an overnight bag, just in case. We found a cheap hotel, had artisanal pizza and craft beer at a cute little joint, exchanged texts with our miserable son (as of 10:30 p.m., they still hadn’t had dinner), and had a grand old time. We didn’t have to worry about a dog waiting for us at home, hungry, lonely and chewing up the armchairs. We were free as birds. It was great.

I know the kids — and my friends who ask about a new dog — mean well. I know they want me to be happy. I understand why they’d think that I’d be lonely. My life revolved around those kids and that dog for a long, long time. And maybe someday, I will want a new dog. It could happen.

But you know what? I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

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