NOTE THIS INSTALLMENT OF “THE CHLOE CHRONICLES” ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN BARK MAGAZINE Issue 73, Spring 2013
Lately—because it’s a new year—I’ve been considering canceling my health insurance. I know it sounds crazy, but I never—and I mean never— go to the doctor, at least not allopathic doctors. Whenever I have some ailment I’ll visit an acupuncturist or a homeopathic practitioner or the like, and those visits often cost less than the co-pay for a Western doctor. Plus, there’s the fact that most doctors’ offices these days seem to run like factories, with new patients scheduled every 15 minutes; you barely have time to tell your doctor what your symptoms are before the doctor has to leave the room to tend to someone else. My dog Chloe gets better medical care.
Speaking of which …
Chloe, a sweet-faced Spaniel mix, doesn’t look like a troublemaker or act like a troublemaker: she is well-behaved, well-trained and always remains within sight when I let her off-leash. But in the eight short years I’ve had her, she has troubled my bank account a bit, managing—through various small mishaps—to rack up several thousand dollars in veterinary bills. I’m not complaining; she’s worth every penny. Just don’t ask me about the time she ate a river rock and had to have emergency surgery. That procedure cost more than three months’ rent. Still—my dog is priceless.
A few years ago, Chloe and I had to make a special trip to the vet because she somehow managed to get a marrowbone lodged around her lower jaw. Yes, one could say it was my fault for letting her have such a small marrowbone in the first place. (I honestly didn’t know then that size mattered.) And yes, one could also say her torn ACL in 2009 ($3,300) was my fault, for letting her off-leash to chase rabbits (but I—a city person—didn’t know there were rabbits hidden in the brush so late in the season). And let us not forget the lacerated paw pads of 2008 from running through tide pools ($376); the epic river rock adventure of 2007 (swallowed for free, surgically removed for several thousand dollars); or even the strained shoulder, which wasn’t anyone’s fault—her boyfriend Rainbow, an exuberant English Setter whom we love, plowed into her on the play field (not that we blame him for wanting to play).
Anyway, any of these could be seen as my “fault” because I allow my dog to run in the woods, and play, and leap over fallen logs, and plow through bramble bushes, and swim in the river. And it’s not as though I ever let Chloe run around unsupervised. She, for one, never lets me out of her sight, so lack of supervision is not possible for either of us.
But off-leash recreation is obviously a larger topic. Should you keep your dog confined and/or leashed, keeping him/her safe but undoubtedly frustrated and bored? Which can then lead to destructive behavior such as chewing and incessant barking and a genuinely unhappy dog? (New sofa: $1,499; replacement for chewed-up dog crate: $189 plus s/h; irate neighbor: how does one set a price on that?) Or should you let your dog off-leash for quality playtime, stimulation and exercise? (Thus, some would argue, putting the dog at risk for injury.)
I have obviously chosen the latter approach. But does this make me, as a dog guardian, bad to the bone? Let’s get back to the bone.
Who knew marrowbones could be dangerous? And what dog doesn’t love a good marrowbone? Especially on a blustery winter day, when the winds are gusting at 60 mph and the freezing rain sounds like machinegun fire against the windows, and there is nothing to do but remain inside and stare at the hideously wallpapered walls of the Myrtle Beach, S.C., high-rise where we were staying to escape the chilly weather of New York. What dog doesn’t particularly love a bone when she has been condemned to strictly limited exercise, meaning three short pee-walks per day, because of a fairly recent rabbit-chasing incident that resulted in a re-strained ACL and two $250 trips to the vet? Chloe loves her marrowbones, and I love watching her enjoy them. Plus, it kept her occupied while I applied acupressure to her knee points. I was only doing what I thought was right.
That night, however, while I was in the kitchen making ginger tea, I heard a yelp and a helpless little whine, and rushed into the living room to see what was wrong. There, I found Chloe with the bone-ring lodged around her lower jaw. I have to admit that it was hard not to laugh—she had stopped whining and was looking at me with a completely perplexed expression on her face, the bone shaping her mouth into a goofy smile. And don’t be mad at me for laughing because everyone who has experienced this tells me they laugh, too. They take pictures. And videos. And post them online. Google it and you’ll see.
I did not take photos, however. Instead, I knelt before the dog, stroked her head and told her I would help her get the bone off. But said bone was wedged behind her canine teeth, and I could see no way to slip it back over those teeth and off her jaw. In fact, it looked as though I would have to wedge it off—no benign slipping allowed. I realized that this is why Chloe had yelped: one hard crunch had forced the bone behind her teeth.
Poor baby. As I inspected her mouth and turned her jaw this way and that, my good girl kept her head still and wagged her tail. She even tried to kiss me, but her tongue was, um, obstructed by a marrowbone.
I’m not a handy person, nor skilled at geometrical problem solving. I have difficulty with spatial thinking, too. But still, I kept analyzing the bone and its position in relation to the jaw, to see if there was any possible way it would slip off. To the best of my limited knowledge, it looked as though Chloe’s teeth were one-quarter of an inch too long to make this possible. Plus, the bone seemed to fit perfectly around her jaw— hugging the contours as though it had been custom made. There was no way I could get the bone off without causing my dog pain. And there was no way I would do that.
I went online, where I found all those pictures of all those other silly dogs with bones ringed around their lower jaws. I tried not to giggle at their goofy faces. As I read on, I realized that each of these dogs, in the end, had to be taken to the vet. I couldn’t find any solutions to the problem. Just comic descriptions of the episodes, concluding with those trips to the vet, where the marrowbones were either sawed (eek!), cut (ouch) or drilled (you must be kidding) off.
And here we arrive at another loaded subject: veterinary costs. How many of you hesitate, just for a second, when faced with a costly late-night trip to the emergency vet when you could wait until morning? Especially in a non-emergency, which you could quite possibly resolve yourself? This is what I faced that night.
It was stormy outside. The roads were icy. I was also in an unfamiliar city. I did not know any local vets on Myrtle Beach. Then there was the fact that, at that point in my life, I was financially strapped. I am a writer, after all, which means that there are many stretches of time during which I don’t get paid, and if you’re a slow writer like me, those stretches of time can get really stretched out. There was a time when I couldn’t even afford pet insurance, because my savings account kept getting drained by Chloe’s veterinary bills. It was a game of cat-and-mouse that, I am happy to say, I no longer have to play. We are all insured.
Even in those toughest times, Chloe always came first. Some people thought it was crazy that I would, for example, delay my own trips to the dentist so that Chloe could get her horribly chipped incisor repaired. I know that dog people always understand. Love is the reason. When I first adopted Chloe, and rescued her from a life of neglect, abuse and abandonment, I made a vow—an oath. I vowed to always take care of her. To keep her safe and warm and healthy and fed and happy. No matter the cost.
So back to the bone. I spent another 20 minutes trying to calculate—geometrically—if/how I could wedge it off my patient, now-drooling dog. I tried to lubricate it with extra-virgin olive oil. Nope. I tried arnica gel. Nope. Petroleum jelly (which can’t have tasted good). Still, the bone wouldn’t budge. Chloe wagged away, seeming to enjoy the attention. I looked out the window to see if the storm had cleared. Nope. Back to the olive oil.
Finally, poor Chloe had had enough, and she crawled off into the closet to avoid me, her tail between her legs. At that point, I decided to call the nearest vet I could find online. When I told the receptionist that my dog had a marrowbone ring around her lower jaw, and that I needed to find someone who could cut the bone off, the receptionist replied, “You mean you want us to cut off your dog’s jaw? Hold on while I ask the vet if he can do that.”
I didn’t hold. The next vet I called was able to comprehend that I needed to have a marrowbone removed from my dog’s jaw—that I did not need to have the jaw itself removed—so we made an appointment and I was there within an hour.
The first thing I heard as I entered the waiting room was the terrible, piercing howl of a dog in pain, but let us not talk about that, or about the fact that I overheard that the dog’s owner was currently in jail or that the poor sweet man taking care of the dog in the interim could not afford to get the dog’s nails clipped, which was why the dog was now suffering from embedded toenails. My heart ached for all of them.
Chloe, meanwhile, happily greeted the man and the receptionist—wagging her tail rapidly at first, then more slowly as she began to comprehend that she would be going to that same back room.
When I sat down to wait for a consultation, the nice man with the dog in pain whispered to me, “Gotta be careful, ma’am. They-uz here’ll try to jack up your bill here with things y’all don’t need. Ask for an estimate ’fore you let ’em do anything.”
“Thanks,” I whispered back, grateful for the tip.
“That’s a good-looking dog you got there,” he said. “’Cept for that there bone ’round her mouth.”
We laughed despite ourselves, and Chloe wagged her tail.
Soon, I was called into a consultation room, where a young vet, seemingly nervous, inspected Chloe quickly—looking rather than touching—as though afraid she might bite. Now, by that point, I already considered myself an expert on marrowbone removal, given that I had spent 40 minutes on the Internet reading about it. (Don’t we all consider ourselves medical experts now that we have the Internet?) Thus, I listened with skepticism as the vet recommended a complicated series of painkillers, penicillin, antibiotics and some other pills I’d never heard of but that sounded unnecessary.
“All this to clip a bone off?” I said.
“She’ll need to be anesthetized, too.”
Now, I’m not a fan of anesthesia personally, nor am I a fan of anesthesia for my dog (let alone the bills). The first time Chloe was anesthetized (see the aforementioned River Rock Incident) I swear her personality changed. But that also is another story to add to the list of other stories. “I’d prefer not to do that,” I said. Plus, instinct told me this would not be necessary. Nor would the antibiotics or painkillers.
Following my instincts (and the man in the waiting room’s advice to be prepared for overcharges), I pared the bill down to two things: office visit and removal of foreign object.
“You sure?” the vet said.
“Absolutely,” I said.
“Okay, then.” The vet said he’d take Chloe to the back room and that I could wait where I was.
But I insisted that I be allowed to remain in the room during the procedure. I am a New Yorker, after all, and we must uphold our reputation of being pushy, obnoxious Yankees. “I want to be with her,” I said. “I’m going to apply acupressure to one of her calming points so that she’ll stay still.”
“Acu- what?” the vet said.
“Acupressure. It’s a form of Chinese medicine in which you stimulate certain meridian points to relax your dog in stressful situations.” I did my best to explain what this was. Acupressure is the practice of applying light pressure with the fingertips to specific meridian points in the body with the aim of sending healing energy (or chi) to those parts of the body. “My vet at home practices acupressure,” I told him. “And homeopathy.”
Homeopathy is hard to explain. So I just said it was another form of alternative holistic medicine.
A vet tech came and led us into a treatment room. The vet went off to prepare. In the meantime, I started to think about his recommendation for a painkiller. Even though I sensed Chloe would not need it, I began to second-guess myself. Did people with unwanted wedding rings stuck on their fingers get painkillers when it came time to clip the rings off? (Or was the divorce painful enough?) And what about that poor dog I’d heard howling when I first walked in? Had that been a sign?
I put my hands on Chloe and began applying pressure to her various calming points. Beneath my fingertips, I could feel her warm pulse, and within minutes, she was relaxed, mellow and trusting.
I had expected the vet to return equipped with saws, drills, rubber gloves and a headlamp, the way a dental surgeon might. Instead, he came in with a pair of what looked like wire cutters, such as you might get at Home Depot. Sharp tool aloft, he sank to his knees in front of Chloe, who rested calmly on the floor. I, however, was not calm, and increased my acupressure on the dog, whispering “It will be all right” into her ear. Suddenly, I heard a clip and a quick snap, and the marrowbone fell to the floor. Matter resolved. Chloe did not even yelp.
“That was brilliant!” I said, truly impressed. “What kind of tool is that?”
“Just your basic pliers,” he said.
“Pliers,” I said. “Wow.” I am a single female living in New York, which means I am impressed by things like tools. I do not own a wrench. Or a screwdriver, or a hammer. My toolbox consists of eyebrow tweezers and nail files.
“Yes, wow,” the vet said, smiling. “Pliers.”
I love the way southern people say the word pliers.
“And how’d you do that Chinese acupressure thing?” he asked. “Your dog sure is calm. Lots of dogs here are afraid of the vet.”
I showed him the points I had tapped, which have beautiful names such as the Governing Vessel and the Place of a Hundred Meetings. “People can do this on themselves, too,” I told him.
“Is that right? I’ll have to try it on my wife.”
“Absolutely.” I showed him a few points on his wrist he could press for peace of mind.
“Learn something new every day,” he said. As we walked with the dog back to the reception area, I asked, “Um, where did you get those pliers?” I worried for a second that he would laugh at me. I could hear him telling his buddies later that night, “These damn Yankees don’t even know where to buy pliers.”
But he just said, “Any hardware store’ll have them. Seven ninety-nine.”
And then he surprised me by giving them to me. I was very touched. In return, I offered to pay the bill for the man in the waiting room and his howling dog.
New-agey northerner learns down-home southern ways. We can all learn from each other, I realized. And that’s what makes it priceless.
So I now have a few new resolutions: Renew veterinary insurance. Get pliers/wire cutters ($7.99). And make sure that none of the bones I give Chloe from this day forth will fit over her jawbone.
Originally appearing BARK MAGAZINE in Issue #71, Sep/Oct 2012
All of my life, I have dreamed of having at least two dogs, but always knew I would have to wait for the right situation. For me, the “right situation” involved living in the country rather than in New York City, in a house surrounded by lots of land and with all the time in the world on my hands. Or at least, enough time to train my second dog and help him adjust to his life with Chloe and me (in our house in the country). I wanted to be able to take them hiking and give them plenty of attention, engagement, exercise and so forth. I figured that, with a second dog, my caretaking duties — meaning my supervised duties, above and beyond the care my dogs always receive — would amount to about four hours per day.
Why four hours, you ask? Because I wanted to adopt an English Setter mix–my most favorite type of hypo-dog.
–> You know how it is — we dog lovers can be partial to certain breeds or types of dogs. Some of us love the cuteness and ease of lapdogs; some of us admire the regal carriage of Afghan hounds, or the calm strong presence of Shephards, or the goofy sweetness of pit bulls. Some of us can’t resist the ultra-floppy ears of Bassett Hounds, or the giant gentleness of the—ahem—Gentle Giants, or the wiggly wags of Labs. The list goes on and on, and I am sorry if I have left out your favorite breed or mix. And, oh, the glories of mixed-breeds! Who can resist the myriad combos? I have a friend with a short-legged, big headed lab/Bassett mix named Hagrid—the cutest dog you’ve ever seen. Another friend has a Beagle/Setter mix—a gorgeous orange, brown and white dog with a Beagle’s bugle-bray.
My own Chloe is some sort of Spaniel/Lab/Border Collie amalgam, and I adopted her, in part, because of my Spaniel/Setter fixation. I love their beauty, their exuberance, their fondness for hikes and swims, their silky fur, and they way they transform, inside the house, into cuddly lap dogs—albeit 70 pound ones. To me, the only thing better than having a bird dog as a companion is to have two bird dogs. So the idea of adopting a second dog was always on my mind.
In 2006, I finally left New York City and moved to the Catskill Mountains full time. I had had Chloe for about a year at that point, and we had enjoyed a rich life, spending part of our time in an apartment in the city and the other part at a small cottage upstate. It was an ideal situation in many ways, but it got to be exhausting. The commutes and the changes and all that packing and backing-and-forthing was too much, especially with a large dog in tow.
So I moved to that big house with lots of land I had always dreamed about. Finally, it was time to adopt my second dog.
I was very excited at the prospect, and I knew Chloe would be too. We all know that dogs are pack animals and thus are happiest and most comfortable when they are members of a canine pack. Chloe loved other dogs — she loved to play and romp and flirt — and she also seemed to enjoy being a mother dog. I got a kick out of watching her play with puppies at the dog park, wrangling them and letting them crawl all over her, giving them playful but very gentle swats and nips. It made me wonder if she had had puppies at some point in her young life, before I adopted her. It made me wonder if she missed them.
Therefore, I decided I would adopt a puppy this time around, rather than an adult. I had the time, after all. And I knew what raising and training a puppy would entail. I felt fully prepared to adopt my Setter pup. And so, I began my search on Petfinder.com. Whereas I’d searched the Internet for several months before choosing Chloe, the second-dog search took only a few weeks. I found a Setter rescue group that I liked, and they were in the midst of arranging adoptions for a litter of nine liver-and-white pups. Seven of them were male, and I knew I wanted to adopt a male. I telephoned immediately, and spoke with a kind and encouraging volunteer, who filled me in on the adoption process. We spoke for about 45 minutes — about me, their group and my potential dog — and by the end of the conversation, she told me she’d send an application. (Apparently, this group will not even send out applications until they speak to the candidates in person or on the telephone.) “You sound like an ideal candidate,” the woman said.
I must confess that I also thought I was an ideal candidate to adopt a dog. I’m not saying that I’m a perfect human specimen, or that I know every last thing there is to know about dogs, but I do work for Bark magazine, for goodness sake,—the best dog magazine out there, which means that for the past twelve years I have been reading, editing, and reviewing (and yes, writing) articles and essays from some of the top trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, ethologists, poets, and animal rescuers in the country. We who read Bark are up to date on the best and most effective training methods (positive reinforcement/operant conditioning, of course), the latest studies on canine behavior and psychology, the newest and best veterinary treatments (holistic and allopathic) and even the latest treats, toys, beds, gadgets, accessories and foods. And please don’t think I’m bragging—if you are reading this column in Bark magazine, that means you have access to all this knowledge, too.
To further toot my “You Should Let Me Adopt Your Setter” horn: I also spent years writing a series of columns—and a subsequent memoir entitled Rex and the City—about how I devoted just about every waking moment of my life to rescuing and rehabilitating an abused hunting dog: a wonderful Spaniel mix named Wallace. He was everything these setter rescue groups “warn” you about: exuberant, energetic, high spirited (read: highs-strung), vocal, stubborn, capable of fantastic athletic feats (i.e. leaping tall fences in a single bound, etc). We used to joke that Wallace was the equivalent of three dogs. So again, I felt I could handle a Setter puppy.
I thought of Wallace, and of my near-perfect dog Chloe, as I filled out the rescue group’s very long application:
• How many hours per day are you home? (Average, about 20.)
• Where will your dog sleep? (Wherever he damn well pleases — usually on the most comfortable bed in the house.)
• How much exercise will your dog get? And where? (Hours daily, at dog parks and on hiking trails.)
• What is your income? (Enough to keep the dogs, and myself, well fed, comfortably housed, healthy, impeccably groomed, constantly entertained, etc.)
• What will you feed your dog? (Bones and raw food and homemade meat/vegetable/supplement mixtures.)
• What sort of training methods will you use? (Clicker.)
• Do you have a fenced-in yard? (Um … kind of … but we have many acres of land in a low-population area with no cars.)
At this point I called the adoption coordinator again to express my concern about my lack of a fenced-in yard. I was definitely worried about this sticking point. But the coordinator assured me that this group often made exceptions for “the right candidates.”
Can you blame me if I thought I was a shoo-in? After my application was approved (with flying colors, I might add), we arranged for a home visit. One of the volunteers from the rescue group would come the following Saturday to meet me and my dog and check out our digs.
Gleefully, I started to prepare — mentally and literally — for the arrival of my new puppy. I bought cute little toys and a memory-foam bed. I read up on puppy-specific training, and on the body language of puppies and mother dogs/ female dogs. I even picked out a name: Trinley, in honor of a Tibetan monk of whom I am particularly fond. (He said it would be all right to name a dog after him.) “Trinley’s coming,” I’d say to Chloe in a sing-song voice. “Your new little brother Trinley!” One night, I even dreamed about him; in the dream, he snuggled and squirmed in a way that seemed incredibly real. Trinley was so excited to be with us and we were so excited to be with him. When I woke, I was convinced that the dream was prophetic — that Trinley was meant to be my second dog.
Yes, the thought sometimes crossed my mind that I would not be approved, but those thoughts were fleeting. After all, I had adopted Chloe without any trouble. Millions of dogs in this country needed homes. Surely my offer to provide a home for an unwanted dog would be granted.
My evaluator, whom we shall call Mr. Whitaker, arrived at my house on a sunny Saturday. An older man, he was wearing khakis and a polo shirt of a distinctive color that we in the know call “Nantucket Red.” He drove a silver Volvo with a Connecticut license plate. A gorgeous Belton-type English Setter sat in the back seat. The dog had one of those long names I can no longer remember. “Constantine’s Westchester Amblefoot Toucan Pie” or some such thing, with the call name “Took.”
“Took,” I repeated happily, and reached into the car window to pet him. “Would you like to come meet Chloe, Took?”
Mr. Whitaker seemed uncertain. “He doesn’t really play with other dogs. I’m not sure I should let him out of the car.”
I must have looked at the man perplexedly, because he added, “He’s a show dog.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that statement. My dog is a mix with tainted blood?
–>Meanwhile, Chloe was running circles around the car, dancing happily at the sight of another canine. I told Chloe to come sit quietly by me so that Mr. Whitaker could say hello. (And yes, I spoke to Chloe in a full sentence). Chloe immediately ran to my right side and sat, looking sweetly at Mr. Whitaker with a gently wagging tail.
“Wow,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a thing. How did you do that? You got her to sit down and everything.”
“I clicker-trained her.”
“Never heard of that,” he said.
I kept my face blank and pleasant, but inside I was thinking: They sent this man to evaluate my dog? Meanwhile. Took began to bark and scratch at the car window, trying to wedge his body through the small crack.
–>“Well, I suppose I could take him out,” Mr. W said. He looked at Chloe again and seemed to convince himself that she did not have any communicable diseases.That she was the “right kind” of mixed breed. He then strung Took up on a choke chain and let him out of the car.
I should point out here that I Iived on 16 acres of land, much of it bordering thousands of acres of state land. Chloe is never on a leash because she does not need to be: (a) she is not a roamer, and (b) she is, as we have seen, well trained and has perfect recall. For recall, I use hand signals in addition to verbal cues, and a special whistle she can hear at great distances. She’s a terrific dog who has earned her freedom.
Now, Chloe waited for my “okay” command before she said hello to Took. She play-bowed and he play-bowed back, then he leaped forward for a romp, only to be yanked back rather cruelly by Mr. W, who had pulled sharply on the choke collar.
I winced. I hate to see dogs yelping in pain. “Do you want to let him off-leash and watch them interact?” I said. “We can watch their body language and signals, to see how Chloe interacts with other dogs.”
“I never let him off-leash,” he said. “He hasn’t been off-leash since he was six weeks old, straight from the litter. If I let him go, he’d never come back.”
Do you know that for certain? I wanted to ask. But I held my tongue.
“Will you let him off leash inside the house?” I asked.
Mr. W answered: “Sure, I think that will be okay.”
I wish I hadn’t asked.
Once we got inside and Took was released, he began to wreak havoc. First, he peed on my sofa, then he ran into the kitchen and jumped up on all the counters, sweeping his snout across in search of food, knocking over blenders and utensil containers along the way. Finding nothing to eat, he ran into the bathroom, tipping over my little metal trashcan and digging around for used tissues. Meanwhile, Chloe followed Took with a rather perplexed look on her face, as if to say: we don’t do that around here.
Mr. W was aghast. “Took, Took!” he shouted. “No! No!” He finally seized Took by the collar, pulled the chain until the dog choked, and then snapped on the leash.
He’s a show dog, I thought.
“I’m sorry,” Mr. W said with a laugh. “He’s never done this before.”
“Would you like to see the rest of the house?” I said, remaining polite.
I gave him a tour, showing him where the dogs would sleep (two dog beds in my bedroom), and pointing our various rooms and amenities. I showed him the sun room, where Chloe liked to hang out during the day, watching squirrels though the window as I wrote, shifting her body positions so that she was always lying in a patch of sun. I showed him the finished basement—another spot Chloe liked to visit if it were particularly hot outside, or stormy. “She has free reign of the house,” I said. “Whether I am here or not.”
Then we heard a crash—Took, in the boiler room, tipping over boxes, one of which contained antique tea cups. Chloe lifted her ears and looked at me with an air of concern. I swear she rolled her eyes.
“Why don’t we sit in the living room and chat?” I said.
Chloe, upon hearing this, trotted into the living room and seated herself on her “special spot”—one corner of a long sofa that I had bequeathed to her. It was covered with a thick throw rug to protect the sofa cushions from her fur.
“So you let your dogs on the furniture?” Mr. W. asked, bringing out his notepad.
“Just that one spot. She’s trained to stay off everything else except that rug.” I placed a tea tray on the coffee table as I spoke: Earl Grey and cookies. “When we go to friend’s houses or hotels or whatnot, she knows not to go on the furniture.”
“Impressive,” he said.
Meanwhile, Took leaped onto the coffee table, spilling tea right onto the sofa I had worked so hard to protect.
“I think I’ll put him in the car,” Mr. W said.
Back outside, I showed Mr. W the property. As we walked with Chloe across the meadows and around the pond, I pointed out stone walls in the distance that marked the borders, and the mountain that loomed behind us — the beginnings of the great Catskill Park.
“Chloe is boundary trained,” I said. Mr. W had never heard of this, so I explained that I had spent many hours taking Chloe along the property’s perimeter, which I’d marked with light-colored flags on various trees, and used a clicker to teach her that she was not to wander beyond those barriers. “It was time consuming, but it was worth it.”
“My dog could never be trained like that,” he said. I wanted to say, With a clicker, you can do anything, but I held back out of respect for his point of view. I had to respect his beliefs, and he believed his dog would “never” come back and “never” be trainable.
I showed him Chloe’s various skills, cueing her with a mix of hand signals, verbal cues, eye movements, whistles and clicks. It felt like a circus act, but she seemed very pleased with herself, and happy to entertain our guests. When I told her to “run to the pond,” she ran to the pond, which was quite a distance away. Then I shouted “Come” and blew the whistle, and Chloe returned, bounding happily across the grass, ears flapping.
Mr. W was impressed. He petted Chloe and praised her when she returned. “What a good dog!” he said. “I never knew dogs could do such things.” Chloe beamed with pride. She seemed to feel–as did I–that Mr. W would certainly approve us as puppy adopters.
Then the issue of the fenced-in yard came up. I had a pool, which was fenced, but both of us knew that didn’t really count. I was banking on the fact that this particular rescue group made exceptions to the fence rule for the right candidates.
“Chloe loves to swim,” I said, pushing through the gate into the pool area. “She does laps.”
“Technically, we require six-foot fences,” Mr. W said, looking around, “and I worry about this pool.” Then he turned to me and smiled. “But I think you’re a good candidate. I’ll put in a positive recommendation.”
I was so happy that I hugged him. Chloe, sensing the mood, threw herself on her back and waved her legs in the air. We talked a bit more about bird dogs in general and Setters in particular, and then discussed the logistics of the adoption process. “I submit a report of my home visit,” he said, “and then the board meets to decide.”
All in all, I felt that this home visit had been a pleasant experience, and a successful one. As we parted ways Mr. W emphasized that Chloe seemed to have a good life here.
So imagine my shock when, a few days later, I received an email notifying me that I had been rejected. The reason? Lack of a fenced-in yard. And more: boundary training. “We cannot give our dogs to people who boundary train,” I was told.
I was crestfallen. Rejection never feels good in any situation, but this felt like an emotional, even personal, blow. Sometimes we come across certain dogs that we know are meant to be with us—we know it in our hearts that our paths were destined to cross—and yet bureaucracy gets in the way.
Soon my sorrow was replaced by anger and indignance. I complained to my off-leash friends, to my rescue friends, to my dog-writer friends, and we all had choice things to say about this rescue group’s decision. I am not usually a back-stabber but it helped to let off some steam.
“And why did the rescue ground send a representative who wouldn’t recognize a well-trained dog if she stood before him and danced the can-can?” one friend complained at the dog park
“Or if she peed on command on his leg,” a friend chimed in.
“And don’t get me started on fenced-in yards,” another friend said. She actually runs a shelter in Queens. “Yes, yards are handy, especially if you have a dog door, but I just can’t see how access to twelve square feet of much-shit-upon grass, surrounded by a fence so high you can’t see above or beyond it, constitutes a better quality of life for a dog. According to behaviorists, dogs experience boredom and boundary frustration. It can be stressful.”
“And the dogs don’t get socialized.”
After a few days of immature complaining, I finally had to settle into the truth that I would not be granted a dog. I like to think that I have a rational mind, and I always take care to see both sides of the story. Thus, I began to remind myself that the people who work at these rescue groups are well meaning. That’s an understatement. They volunteer their time and efforts and hearts all for the sake of rescuing and rehoming dogs. They have witnessed cases of intolerable neglect and abuse. They have seen dogs die at the hands of humans. They have rescued dogs who were emaciated, or broken-spirited, or simply confused at being separated from people who didn’t care enough to keep them.
Bird dogs are often relinquished, by the way, because they aren’t birdy enough, or they shy away from guns, or don’t respond to those awful shock collars those hunters often use. Bird dogs are often found as strays because, yes, they do run away and they can jump fences.
But anyway, all this is to say that I can recognize a rescue group’s needs to be stringent. People can be cruel. I often find that many rescue workers have lost their faith in the human race, because they have simply seen too many horrors. So they have to err on the side of caution.
But what exactly is the fine line between error and caution?
Back to the fenced-in-yard debate. The pro-fencers argue that dogs are safer enclosed in high fences, and that’s a considerable point. But in this world, as we know, safety is not an absolute guarantee. Even the fenced-in dog can be stolen, poisoned by a toad, strung up on his chain, etc. In life, there are no absolutes, period. Does that mean we should not take risks?
When I first adopted Chloe, I knew the possibility was high that she would be a birdy-bird dog with a strong prey drive and no training. I was willing to take that risk. I also took the proper precautions. In our first few months together, I did not let her off leash in unenclosed spaces. I brought her every day to an enormous fenced-in dog run at Fort Tryon Park in New York City, and there taught her the rudiments of recall. Then I took her to an even larger park—an abandoned fenced-in soccer field underneath the George Washington Bridge. I won’t take you step-by-step through her training: suffice to say that I supervised my dog and continue to do so to this day.
I would have done the same thing with Trinley. And if it came to pass that he still roamed beyond my comfort zone, I would have restricted his activity more. He’d still have had Chloe to keep him entertained and exercised. And she would have kept him in line, too. We all know that older dogs can teach the younger dogs new tricks, and remind them of certain household rules. I still think Chloe would have been a model mother.
But I must say that my dreams of adopting a second dog are finished for the time being. That rejection from that rescue group was stinging enough—and demoralizing enough—for me to give up the quest for a very long time.
Why not try another rescue group, you say?
Why not spend thousands of dollars to fence in the property?
Why not consider another type of dog—a lap dog, for instance, that wouldn’t be fast enough to run away?
I can’t explain….I wanted Trinley. And then someone came to my house and told me I wasn’t good enough. Maybe part of me believed them.
That was six years ago. Chloe is an old dog now, beginning to limp with signs of arthritis, and no longer all that patient with exuberant dogs—especially pups. She has also become—forgive the pun—quite the bitch, and doesn’t necessarily want to share her space with anyone else but me.
Sometimes I still think about Trinley, with great pangs of regret, but I am sure he found a home. Puppies always do. But I cannot help but wonder how things would have been. I especially wonder this on the days when I do have to leave Chloe alone on those rare occasions where I need to go down to the city for the day, to make music or teach class. She looks at me with her sweet and tender face, and I start to worry that she’ll be lonely. “I’m sorry,” I tell her. “Sometimes I have to go out.” She seems to understand and, being an older dog, seems to enjoy the extra-long snooze her time alone allows.
Being older and wiser (we hope) I know that everything always works out for the best. So I hold no grudges against Mr. W or that particular rescue group. But the question of where to draw the line with potential adopters is an interesting debate…..
Just a quick note to say that this BOOKS, ESSAYS AND STORIES page won’t be officially up and running until, well, until I finish writing all my books, essays and stories.
But for now, here’s what we have in the pipeline:
Rex and the City: True Tales of a Rescue Dog Who Rescued a Relationship(Villard)
Now available in expanded eBook edition, Rex and the City chronicles the trials, tribulations and triumphs my then-boyfriend and I experienced after adopting an abused shelter dog named Wallace and bringing him home to our 300-square foot apartment in New York City. Based on my popular series in Bark magazine, Rex and the City has been hailed as “hands-down the best human-with-dog memoir you’ll ever read!” Visit www.rexandthecity.net for more information. 10% of all sales proceeds are donated to animal rescue. *First edition was published by Random House/Villard under the title Rex and the City: A Memoir of a Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog)
THE EXPATRIATE’S GUIDE TO HEARTBREAK (Forthcoming Summer 2013)
Jamie Palmer is a PhD candidate in Classical Studies trying to write her dissertation on the philosophy of love. When her boyfriend of seven years dumps her, she realizes she knows nothing at all about love and sets off on an adventure to learn about life and love and heartbreak in all its various forms.
My fiction and non-fiction have been anthologized in various publications, including:
Howl, A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit (Crown: 2009), edited by the editors of Bark magazine
Dog is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendships (Crown: 2003), from Bark magazine
Tennis Shorts: A Literary Companion to Tennis (Citadel: 2003),edited by Adam Sexton
Virgin Fiction:The Best New Fiction Of Writers Under Thirty (Rob Weisbach Books: 1999), edited by Colin Dickerman
My essays and articles have appeared in such publications as Huffington Post, Salon, Nerve, Poets and Writers, Bark, Jane, Time Out New York, and O: The Oprah Magazine (forthcoming).
I continue to blog for Salon and Huffington Post, and also currently write a regular column for Barkmagazine called “The Chloe Chronicles,” which chronicles the life of my wonderful new dog Chloe, whom I adopted after Wallace (of Rex and the City fame) died.
Early in my writing career (basically when I was in graduate school), I wrote short stories exclusively, and they appeared in such publications as Playboy, Jane, Literal Latte, Potpourri, Sundog, and a handful of obscure literary magazines. These days I am focusing on writing books, but plan to return to the short story form when I am sixty-four (decades away).
Rex and the City was originally published by Random House/Villard in 2006 under the title Rex and the City: A Memoir of a Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog. In 2010, when it became apparent that memoirs about dogs were becoming the hottest “new” genre in publishing, I decided to make the bold move of re-issuing my book and joining in on the “dogoir” craze. As dog lovers can attest, one can never have too many books about dogs on one’s shelf. There’s always room for more, right? Thus, I embarked on the exciting journey of self-publishing. I acquired the rights to my book from Random House, designed a new cover, added four chapters and revised existing ones, and clarified some of the text. I also added a new preface and a sneak preview chapter from Rex and the City Volume II. Revising a published work has been a remarkable, gratifying, and empowering experience, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. (Whomever invented the eBook: I salute you).