The Nation's Pulse

Rex’s Blues

The notion of Puppy Uppers used to be funny. Now it's just sad.

By 4.2.10

For centuries writers have predicted the death of satire. Reality, it was said, was becoming weirder than anything our most talented satirists could come up with. Eventually, life will resemble one vast Theatre of the Absurd, though most people will be too dumb to get the joke.

Whether life is one long Samuel Beckett play depends on your outlook, I guess. But it certainly has its moments. Those of us of a certain age will remember the fake commercial on Saturday Night Live for Puppy Uppers and Doggy Downers. Today, it's no joke. You really can buy Prozac for your pooch. As Beckett's Winnie would say: "Oh, it is going to be a happy day!"

Modern medicine's miracle workers, it seems, have manufactured a beef-flavored drug guaranteed to reduce pet separation anxiety. Apparently, dogs suffer this horrible malady whenever their owners leave the house. If you have small kids going in and out all day long, poor Spot is probably a basket case and a prime candidate for institutionalization.

Fortunately, help is here. This new wonder drug will mellow out your mutt. And it will ease separation anxiety for the dog owner, too. Give your pooch a pill and you'll instantly feel less guilty when you leave for work (though probably no less miserable). Instead of leaving a whimpering, sad-eyed dog behind, Fido will be all like, "Oh, you're leaving? Dude, do you think you can pick up some doggie snacks on the way home? Cool."

So how do you know if your pooch is one of the 10 million dogs experts say suffer from this problem? Does he exhibit tendencies of destructive chewing, excessive barking or whining, pacing, drooling, yawning, inappropriate urination or defecation? If so, he may need professional help. All this time what we thought was normal dog behavior has been a cry for help.

A cynic might say that if your dog is blue it isn't because he feels left behind -- it's because he is bored to tears. Dogs, after all, were bred to do certain jobs. Dachshunds, for instance, were bred to hunt badgers and rabbits. Border collies were bred to herd sheep or other livestock. These dogs don't need pills, they need to do what nature intended them to do: herd and hunt and snap the necks of bunny rabbits. They need the taste of blood.

I AM NO EXPERT in dog psychology (and I doubt anyone else is either), but I have lived with a few dachshunds in my time, and I think I understand them as well as anybody. One of my dachshunds is downright ornery, while the other is a big baby, but I don't recall either one of them suffering from a mental disorder. I mean, what can a dog possibly be anxious about? He's got a dog's life, right? He gets to lounge around the house all day. (I'm the one who's chained to a desk in a cubicle for nine hours.) Only for pets is there such a thing as a free lunch (and breakfast and supper). We tell ourselves that our pup is miserable without us (we have no such illusions about our cat), and we imagine how depressed we would be if we sat around the house all day by ourselves. Some of us put cameras in our home so we can watch our pets while we are at work. We see them sleeping all afternoon and we imagine that Fido is too depressed to get out of bed. We see that our cat sits and stares mournfully out the living room window for hours at a time. Then we start to feel guilty and hire an expensive dogwalker to come by our house. And still it is not enough.

Partly this is the dog's fault. Some breeds, like dachshunds, can be terribly whiney. Pomeranians appear easily agitated. Bloodhounds are born sad-eyed and lethargic. Faced with a whiny, sad-eyed pet, today's enlightened pet owner immediately calls the doggie shrink. This wouldn't be an issue if we kept laughing, smiley-faced dolphins for pets.

I don't want to start a rant about obsessive dog owners, those people we see carrying bags of poop around the neighborhood. I know that dogs can sometimes be preferable to people. But I do want to bring a little sanity to this topic. Your dog is not mentally ill. He is not suicidal. Nor is he a sociopath for trying to kill as many bunnies as possible. He is a dog.

The idea of Puppy Uppers used to be funny. Now it's just sad.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.