Tag Archives: dog

What a good dog

I’m sitting here writing at my kitchen table and my dog, Steve, is just staring at me. He’s in the living room, he’s sitting on the couch, and his head is propped up at the armrest so he can stare at me without really expending any effort. I wonder what he’s thinking about, because he’s always staring at me.


I’ll be watching TV and I won’t be thinking about my dog at all, and then for whatever reason I’ll look his way, and he’ll be lying on his back on the floor, staring at me upside down. I’m not thinking about him, but he’s looking right at me. And so, no, I don’t know if that means he’s thinking about me. I can’t tell what’s going through anybody else’s head, let alone a dog’s. But when I’m staring directly at somebody or something, I’m usually thinking of them, if not actively, then my mind is at least making its mental registry.

Sometimes I’ll get up in the morning and I’ll be rushing around, trying to get out of the house on time. Right before I go, I’ll take Steve for a walk and then feed him breakfast. But, and he does this a lot, if I’m not there, he won’t eat. I won’t come back until much later in the afternoon and when I go in the kitchen, his bowl is still full from earlier in the day. And he comes in right behind me, because all he does is follow me around and stare at me, and then he starts chowing down. I’m like, were you waiting for me? Please, Steve, go ahead and eat without me, I won’t be offended.

And even that doesn’t make any sense, because while he’s nothing but a gentleman when it comes to his dog food, if I let my guard down at the wrong time, I’ll look over and, yeah, he’s staring at me still, but from under the kitchen table. That’s Steve-speak for, I just did something bad, and I’m hiding so that when you find out what I did, you won’t be able to see me.

Except that I can totally see you Steve, and you’re making it even more obvious, just constantly staring at me. I always wonder, when he busts into the garbage to start eating old aluminum foil or browned banana peels, is he still thinking about me? Is his constant eye contact really as affectionate as I’m making it out to be in my head? Or is he spending all of that time looking at me for plotting purposes, not wanting to miss the smallest opportunity to sneak behind my back and cause some destruction?

And now that I think about it, the whole not eating breakfast thing, what else are you eating, Steve? Do you have like a secret stash of garbage somewhere? I don’t want to give him too much credit, but he’s showed feats of intelligence before. Like after we realized that he was getting in the garbage, we bought a new can that closed automatically, the one where you step on a pedal to open it up. Steve learned how to work it. For months I had no idea what was going on, and then I caught him in the act, pressing his paws on the pedal and sticking his head in to bob for treasure. And when I threw that garbage can out and bought a new one that locked shut, I came home from work that day and found the entire trashcan on its side, dragged across the room.

So either he loves me, or he’s just really, really interested in what I’m up to, probably for some sort of selfish game. Or maybe it’s both. Maybe he loves me, but he also loves garbage equally. It would make sense. One time he broke through the barrier preventing him from going upstairs, he dragged the bathroom trashcan onto my bed and rolled around in all of my dirty Q-tips and used floss picks.

That was the worst, because when I came home that night, Steve was sitting on the couch like everything was cool. So I came over and started petting him, telling him how good of a dog he was. I wonder what went through his head, like wow, I really did a good job here, he really loves it when I get upstairs and make a huge mess in his bedroom. And I’m just like, “Yeah, good boy Steve, what a good dog.”

Where’s my buddy?

We’re going away on vacation tomorrow, and so we had to drop the dog off at the boarder earlier this afternoon. Generally I think of my dog as a pretty dumb animal, like when I call him he rarely comes over, and I’ve never been able to get him to master any sorts of tricks besides “sit” and “give me your paw.” But he’s somehow developed this doggy superpower, that whenever we’re about to actually leave the house to go anywhere, he knows it. Before we ever even have a chance to make a move like we’re going to get our stuff ready to leave, he’s going crazy.

At first I attributed it to association. Whenever we go away, we inevitably bring our suitcases and bags downstairs. And so I thought, all right, maybe he just associates the bags with leaving, with getting in the car, and he gets all excited. But it’s got to be something more nuanced. Because a few days ago I went in the basement to look for our suitcases. And there was no reaction. He knew we weren’t leaving yet, and so he was just lying there on the couch, oblivious to the world and his surroundings.

But last weekend we brought the dog with us to visit my parents. After the initial surge of energy and excitement that always comes along with seeing a bunch of new faces, he quickly died down and commandeered both doggy-beds my parents have in the kitchen for their golden retrievers.

He’s pretty mellow. He doesn’t beg for food and, aside from occasionally shifting positions, he’s content to just hang out and watch everybody. But then at some point toward the end of the night, I looked at my wife, I made a motion to my watch as if to say, it’s kind of late, we should think about maybe making an exit soon.

And the dog knew. He got up and he started getting all antsy, gnawing at his leash, whining and crying. It was the same exact reaction when he knows that we’re going somewhere. And I’d barely said anything at all. Was he just sitting there watching us? Waiting for some sort of a subtle cue to get up and start acting crazy?

And then today, I dropped him off at the border. All I had to do was take out a Zip-lock back, as in, OK, I’m going to put some food in a bag for you so you can eat your own food for the next several days. And that was all it took. He started flipping out.

What’s really weird is, the boarder, definitely one of his favorite spots, a big space where all the dogs get to hang out in a pack, it shares the same building as one of his most hated places, the vet. And I’m telling you, he can tell where we’re going. I’ll park the car and take him toward that building and, even though there’s really no way that he should be able to divine which room inside is his destination, he does. If it’s time for a checkup or a vaccination, he’s pulling away, he’s struggling. But to the Dog House? Man, he can’t get inside fast enough.

Whenever I drop him off for a few days, there’s always a little surplus time where I have to live in this house without our dog. I can’t explain it, but it just feels dead in here. I went out to run an errand and when I came back, I instinctively called out, “Where’s my buddy?” even though before I had a chance to finish my sentence, my brain was like, oh yeah, he’s not here, I’m alone.

And I don’t get it. I don’t get how people live like that, without dogs to greet you when you come home, or to hide from you after they’ve gotten into the trash and made a huge mess strewing garbage all over the living room. Even though the space in between the two couches isn’t really a good hiding spot. And if you’re in there, I already know that something’s up. And so you can figure out when we’re going on a trip, but you can’t figure out how not to stay out of the trash?

Walking in the wind

My wife and I went for a walk to the park this morning. Yesterday it was so nice out, when I left for work, I was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans. But this morning’s weather was noticeably different, I could feel it from inside the house, the window in the second bedroom was open just a crack, and it was significantly colder, way too cold for just a t-shirt. I grabbed a hoodie thinking that I’d be OK.


But I wasn’t OK. The wind was just way too powerful. Like I’m not even sure that a jacket would have helped much, because my face would have been equally assaulted by the wind. I think my dog was uncomfortable too. He’s kind of feral as it is, but these gusts, he just get squirming, fighting the leash, twisting his nose and his neck up and around, as if some sort of mysterious scent had been carried from far away, like he needed to follow a million phantom trails.

I always think about that, about my dog, about him running away. I don’t think he’d run away on purpose, but I could imagine him getting a whiff of some food or something from blocks away, and he’d be off, and that would be it. Would I ever see him again? I like to think that, yes, I’d find him, or he’d find his way back home, but it’s such a big city, and there are so many cars, and does he really know where we live? Like in relation to other buildings?

Whenever we go for a walk with the dog, we’re on the sidewalk, we’re going to pass other people. I get it, that not everybody loves dogs, but I don’t get how some people are so terrified of our pet. It’s like, we’ll be walking down the block, we see someone else walking in the opposite direction, and they’ll make a visible face of terror before crossing to the other side of the street. You really think my dog is going to bite you?

Of course it doesn’t exactly help that, every once in a while, the dog will be moved to jump toward a random person. He’s not violent at all, but he’s big, and stupid. It’s like when people come over the house, his first reaction is to jump all over whoever walks in the door. Yeah, I guess if you’re not used to it, or if you’re already somewhat nervous around dogs, this might not be the most welcome of gestures.

But yeah, today he was just totally unmanageable. He was pulling ahead, gnawing on his leash, barking at every dog that we passed on our way to the park. We always stop for coffee along the way, and usually we just tie him up outside to wait, but for whatever reason, he wouldn’t have it today. He just sat outside and howled, to the point where everybody inside the coffee shop was giving us that look, like what the hell is wrong with you? Go outside and take care of your dog.

We got to the park and it was even windier out in the open space. I spotted these plants in the middle of the grass and I told my wife, “Look, those are onions right there.” And it’s not like she wasn’t interested, but yeah, for whatever reason, I was very interested. “Onions?” I could tell she didn’t believe me. “Yeah, wild onions.”

And they were all just sprouted out of the ground. I made a plan, like I’d grab the whole bunch and just pull them right out of the dirt. But when I actually did it, when I put my hand around the sprouts and pulled, nothing came out, the green parts just all broke off. And yeah, they were definitely onions. I got that onion smell that hit me in the face all at once. Worse, it wasn’t a clean break, it was like all of those onion stems kind of got mushy and turned into a green onion paste that was now all over my hands.

“Gross,” my wife said, and yeah, I tried to play it off all cool, but it was pretty gross. I smelled like onions, and there was nowhere for me to wipe my hands off. It was kind of like earlier last fall, we were in the park and I saw these plants, it was definitely Swiss chard. “Look honey! Wild Swiss chard!” and I should have just left it alone, because as soon as I touched those green leaves, I noticed they were wet, and it hadn’t been raining out, and what if it was some dog or squirrel that had peed all over them? And I couldn’t wash my hands, I was so far away from home.

I don’t know why I can’t just admire the plants from afar. It’s not like I’m a forager or anything, I’m not going to take this stuff home and eat it. The next time I’m out and I see any sort of vegetables growing in the park, I just have to remember to keep my distance. It’s like, I get mad at my dog when he starts chewing on garbage, why is it OK for me to start pulling things out of the ground? I’m telling you, I washed my hands like five times since we’ve been back, and I can still smell it, onions, it’s like it’s in my nose, all the way up.


In 2009, my wife and I joined the Peace Corps and were sent to live in a rural town in the subtropics of Ecuador. One aspect of life that stood out as remarkably different was the sheer number of stray dogs roaming the streets.


They were everywhere, packs of dogs, hundreds of them, chasing motorcycles, digging through piles of trash, barking and howling almost constantly. It wasn’t too long before my wife started hinting that she wanted to adopt one of the countless puppies wandering the streets. And even though I protested, I knew that it was going to be difficult standing in opposition to my wife’s demands for a whole two years.

While not a lot of people kept dogs in the house like we do over here, nearly every little kid takes in a puppy now and then. It’s not a permanent relationship. The little fuzzball soon outlives its cuteness and the parents kick the dog to the curb. About a year into our service, the neighbors across the street found themselves in this exact situation.

This little girl came over to our house one day, hysterical, she’s holding this ten-pound mutt, no bigger than football really, it was black with a white belly and two eyebrow-shaped brown spots on her forehead. “Please Joannah,” the little girl sobbed, appealing directly to my wife, a wise decision, because I was already shaking my head no.

“Please, my parents are making me get rid of her. Will you take her? Please?” And my wife got all doe-eyed, she looked at this dog, it had a big read ribbon tied up into a bow where a collar should have been. She looked at me. I looked at the dog. In a moment of weakness, I said yes. Thinking about it now, I still can’t recall exactly what it was that moved me to agree.

I never wanted a dog, not really. We always had a dog in the house when I was growing up, and for whatever reason I never forged much of a connection with any of our pets while I was living at home. But once I said yes, that was it, the deal was done. The little girl smiled, ran out of our house, and this animal that we verbally agreed to adopt immediately took a dump on the floor before getting lost under our couch and gnawing on an electrical chord running across the floor.

Our neighbor called the dog Pelusa, which means “fuzzy” in Spanish. Most people in Ecuador who had dogs gave them similarly literal names. Black dogs were named carbón or sombra, meaning “charcoal” and “shadow” respectively. We weren’t crazy about the name, it was kind of like naming a pet “Spot.” So we changed it to Gladys, which we thought was kind of funny, because it’s a human name, but a really old-fashioned one, something from several generations ago.

Gladys was a handful. She was hyperactive the way all puppies are, but as she grew up, she never lost any of that boundless energy that made her so difficult to control sometimes. If anything, she was getting stronger. One time she escaped the house, jumped over a huge fence, and didn’t come back for a solid two days. When she finally returned, parts of her fur started falling off, which the local vet diagnosed as mange. This meant applying creams and force-feeding pills every day for a couple of weeks. I didn’t even know mange was a thing, but it’s a disgusting skin-eating parasite that, according to the Internet, can be transmitted to humans in rare instances.

Another time, she got loose in a chicken coop and actually got a little bloodthirsty. “I’m really sorry,” I told our uninterested neighbor as we coughed up the money to make up for the birds that Gladys has mutilated. The lady was probably thinking, what did you expect? There’s a reason nobody keeps these things in the house.

It was weird. Gladys was really sweet around us, but she definitely had a feral streak. Nobody else in town liked to walk too close to her, and people looked at us like we were nuts when they found out that we let her sleep inside.

But we had always planned on bringing her back to the States with us, and we figured that getting her fixed was a part of that process. What if she escaped again? What if she was in heat? Wouldn’t that sort of complicate things if she all of the sudden had a litter of her own puppies?

So we brought her to the nearest city and found a vet willing to do the surgery. We dropped her off in the morning, but when we came back to pick her up that afternoon, something clearly wasn’t right. For one thing, she couldn’t move, at all. What kind of stuff did they use to knock her out? “Don’t worry,” the vet assured us, “It’ll wear off … eventually.”

After hauling her immobile body onto a pickup truck to make the hour-long trip back to our town, Gladys wasn’t acting like herself anymore. She wouldn’t eat or drink, we couldn’t get her to move from this one spot underneath the table. She had to have been in pain, and when we went to take her bandages off to clean the wound, it was obvious that the doctor had messed something up.

The incision wasn’t the tiny inch-long cut I had remember seeing on our family’s dogs back at home. This was like a six-inch gash, and not even a straight one. The area was swollen, and as the night went on, it started to get bigger. By the morning, it looked like it was going to burst. A few hours later, that’s exactly what happened.

The rest of the story is pretty gross. The vet was an hour away, so I had to hold Gladys down while my wife went to look for some local help. She came back with one of our neighbors who had experience performing basic veterinary care to his cows, and so he drugged her up, stuffed everything back inside, and sewed up the wound with really thick cattle stitches.

When it started swelling again, we returned to the vet, who performed yet another surgery. At this point, Gladys had been put through enough torture. When her wound opened up again the day after that, we knew what had to be done. Our cow doctor neighbor gave me an injection he said would do the job, and it did, instantly.

There were so many dogs in our town, and they died all the time. They would get in fights and bleed out, or they’d get run over by a car and bleed out. If the packs got overly populated, neighbors would lay out poisoned food and the streets would be littered with dead dogs for days. Nobody buried animals. I saw it happen a few times where some guy would pick up a carcass with newspapers and throw it in the river.

But I just couldn’t do that to Gladys. I borrowed a shovel and took the body out to the woods and started digging. The whole process was a nightmare, a singular experience so far removed from anything that I’d ever imagined myself doing back at home. On my walk back home, I was caked in dirt and sweat, I passed a group of men who started making fun of me, asking if I was going to wear black for thirty days. The fact that I was now being laughed at, on top of everything that we’d just been through, this was so far outside the realm of what I could process. It felt more like a disjointed dream than actual reality. I couldn’t even get mad. Here I was, this total outsider, spending all of this time, energy, and not to mention money, on a dog. From their perspective, this was actual crazy.

News of our theatrics spread across town instantly, and the very next day, a different neighbor showed up at our house with a new puppy, the one that survived Ecuador, the one that made it back to the States with us. It was like, look, don’t be sad, there are plenty of puppies. Here, have another one.

Everything worked out the way it did, and I love our dog that we have now. Would I have done anything differently? I don’t know. We didn’t know any better. And Gladys had been put through so much pain. Even if she had recovered, she would have probably been emotionally scarred from the whole ordeal. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

But every once in a while, I’ll think of one memory that stands out. It was while we were waiting for her third surgery in that nearby city. We were early, and the vet wasn’t open for another hour or so. Gladys was in bad shape, but my wife got her to calm down somewhat as we hung out outside. I went for a quick walk, to buy a couple of sodas, and as I came back to where they were waiting, Gladys looked up at me from maybe half a block away and started wagging her tail, the way all dogs start wagging their tails when you come home or when they’re happy to see you. It crushed me, her loyalty, that insane indescribable bond that you can develop with an animal. It was like, despite the hell she was going through, she still saw me and thought, OK, here he is, this is totally normal, and everything’s going to be OK.

Let the dog have his bones

I feel bad that my dog doesn’t have an iPhone. I have an iPhone. All that my dog has is a bunch of dumb bones that I bought at Petco. He’s happy with them for a while, until there’s no more liver-flavored paste in the center. After that they just kind of take up space. I try to keep all of his old bones in one central location, but he much prefers it if they’re scattered across the living room floor. I should just throw the old ones away whenever I buy a new one, but I feel like he’s always looking at me, right as I’m about to toss them in the trash, he’s thinking, “Come on Rob, you have an iPhone, you have the Internet. For me, it’s just these bones, and that’s it. You really want to throw them away?”

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And I make it a point to just do it, because I can’t have these bones everywhere. It’s like, even when I think they’re all accounted for, there is always at least one or two hidden away where I’ll never be able to find them. Sometimes I think they’re so well hidden that even my dog loses track of where they are. And it’s like one day I’ll be looking for the remote or for my phone and I’ll lift up the couch to see if there’s any way that it’s maybe stuck deep between the cushions, and out falls a bone, sometimes right on my foot. I’ll go to throw it away but there he is again, he’s so happy to see this particular bone. Even though there’s no more liver-paste, it’s like he totally forgot about this bone.

It’s kind of like when you’re a little kid and your mom makes an effort to really clean out the downstairs closet. And you see that she’s putting your old Nerf gun into a black trash bag. Of course you haven’t played with it in years, but you also haven’t seen it forever. It’s been buried under all of your Lego sets and wrestling actions figures, you’re like, “Mom! Don’t throw that out, that’s such a cool Nerf gun!” and she’s like, “You never play with this stuff, come on, it’s just taking up space.” But you’re insistent, and you kind of even believe at some level that you’ll use it again, but you’re mistaking this nostalgia for a forgotten item with a feeling of genuine interest in a toy that … well, sure, go ahead, fire off a few rounds.

By tomorrow your mom’s going to be looking at this plastic piece of junk lying in the corner, saying stuff like, “See? I told you we should have thrown it out. Now it’s just another piece of clutter taking up visible space.” And so you pretend to play with it for a little while longer, just until she leaves the room, and then you bury it back under the Sit-n-Spin, somewhere you can’t see it. You don’t want to play with it, but you don’t want to face the idea that you’ll never be able to play with it again either.

And yeah, maybe things would have been different if you were a little kid today. But only if you were a kid and you had an iPhone. Would you have had an iPhone? I don’t know. Your mom wouldn’t buy you a Sega Genesis back then, she probably wouldn’t buy you an iPhone. You can just hear it now, “What does a little kid need an iPhone for?”

My dog doesn’t have an iPhone either, and I’m always wondering whether or not he’s secretly jealous, watching me spend so much time staring at my little screen. Why don’t they make iPhones for dogs? Something a little more durable, so he could chew on it while he’s not surfing the web, watching clips of the Puppy Bowl on YouTube, I’m just kind of throwing out dog-related Internet activities, I’m not sure exactly what he’d use an iPhone for, or if it would have the same user interface as human iPhones do.

But even if they did exist, am I really going to spend that much money on a piece of equipment that I’m not even really sure my dog would even enjoy? No, just let him have his bones. Sure, he’s figuring out how to get at that liver paste faster and faster each time, it’s like I can’t keep up with all of the empty bones lying around everywhere. And just last week, I woke up and came downstairs barefooted in my pajamas, my dog walked up to me, but I didn’t realize that he had a bone in his mouth. This one had to have been his biggest bone, and these things are heavy, sometimes too heavy for him to keep in his jaw. And I don’t know if he was just happy to see me, but he walked over with this thing in his mouth and dropped it right on my foot. It hurt so badly, a sharp pain that shot straight up my leg, like I could feel it in my shoulders.

And I wanted to round up all the bones right there and toss them in the trash. But then my iPhone made a buzz, like I got a message or an email, and my dog went over to the coffee table to investigate the sound. For a minute I thought, is he looking at the phone? Is he interested in text messages? At the very least, I thought he looked curious, and maybe he really does want one, and so I forgot all about my foot. I’ve got my technology, let the dog have his bones. So what if the place is a mess? What right do I have to take them away?