Recently, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee decided to show off his conservative credentials by blasting gay marriage. Along with the usual tired platitudes about civilization being built on traditional one man-one woman marriage, he also added that gay people shouldn’t be able to adopt because, “children aren’t pets.”
Man, did that piss me off. No, not just because he compared my kids to animals, but also because he showed such disregard for the importance of my dog, Gracie, in my life.
Long before I was Gus and Niko’s dad, I was Gracie’s human companion.
Personally, no, I don’t consider pets to be the same as children. But I know plenty of people whose pets are their kids, and that’s cool. Besides, who am I to tell someone else how to define their family? And there’s no doubt that Gracie is a part of our family. Sometimes, she’s actually my favorite member of the family.
Gracie was good practice for us to become dads. Having a dog and raising kids aren’t really comparable experiences, but she did help prepare us for the unexpected. For example, in her first few weeks with us, Gracie periodically attacked, killed and gutted various couch cushions, pillows and even her own bed. It wasn’t uncommon for us to come home from work to be met by an excited Gracie, tail thumping at the speed of light, as cotton stuffing snowed down all around us.
Then there was the night we went to dinner and put her in the spacious garage where she’d be comfortable and safe. We returned to find her patiently waiting for us in the driveway, the garage door bashed open by her pure brute force.
It became impossible to even open the front door without Gracie making a mad dash to explore the neighborhood. God help us if she saw a squirrel or the neighbor’s cat!
At first, we were set on naming her “Tornado,” “Cyclone” or “Hurricane” to reflect the chaos she created in our home. (We had earlier rejected my sister’s suggestion of “Ginger” on the grounds that two white, gay men living in Oakland couldn’t have a dog named “Ginger.”) But then our friend Sabine suggested we provide her with an inspirational name, something that she could grow into. So we christened her “Grace.” Never mind people assumed it was a joke, on par with a Chihuahua named “Killer” or a Newfoundland called “Tiny.”
And through all the carnage, we remembered we were Gracie’s last chance.
She was found by animal control wandering scared and hungry at a not-so-nice BART station in East Oakland. When Kelly and my sister saw her at the shelter she only had a few more days to live. They originally left the shelter, deciding to think about it, but half way home they spun around and went back for her.
When I returned from work that night, I found a gangly, dirty, skinny dog sitting in the kitchen. I sat down too, and the would-be Gracie cocked her head, took a good look at me, and then lumbered over, pushing her head up against mine as if to say, “Thanks, dude, for letting me be a part of your family.”
It took us some time, but eventually we got things in order, and she stopped her murderous, house-destroying rampages. Kelly flipped our back door upside down so the window was at the bottom, allowing Gracie to see us leave and offering her a view of the world while we were at work. And with a little practice we trained her to heel, sit and do all the other things a well-behaved dog should know.
And you know what? Treating another living creature with love, patience and understanding was the best training to be parents to our human children that we could ever have received.
And she continues to be a great example of how our family members should treat each other. She’s always patient, always happy to see us, always grateful for whatever she receives.
Now that she’s older — somewhere around 11 or 12 — slowed by arthritis, and sleeping on the couch instead of destroying it, she’s finally grown into her name.
I don’t mean to sound rude, but I’m not sure Gov. Huckabee really understands what the word “family” means: traditions don’t make a family, love does. Trust me, my dog Gracie reminds me of that every day when she pushes her head up against mine and seems to say, “Thanks, dude, for letting me be a part of your family.”