Ann Patchett is the author of five novels: The Patron Saint of Liars; Taft; The Magician's Assistant; Bel Canto, which was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction; and Run.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Caring for two loves
March 9 2017
I am not responsible for much. I do not have children who have to get to school on time and wear matching shoes and be taught the difference between right and wrong. I do not have a job in which the well being of a company or the safety of the nation or the health of anyone at all is resting on my shoulders. I have a couple of plants I must remember to water. I make a point of paying my taxes on time. I take care of myself, but that’s not worth mentioning. I pitch in and help all sorts of people when I can, but they are people who could find the same help elsewhere if I went on vacation. When I think of who I am responsible for, truly responsible for, the list whittles down to my dog and my grandmother, and it just so happens that last week they were both sick.
Rose is white with ginger ears and an extremely alert tail. She weighs 17 pounds even though she should probably weigh 16. She had some angry-looking lesions on her pink belly that made me take her to the vet two months ago. I gave her the assigned antibiotics wrapped in cream cheese or peanut butter, depending on what was around. But the inflammation lingered and then flared, exacerbated by Rose’s very focused licking, and I decided we should go back and try again. I had heard there was a dog dermatologist in town with a three-month waiting list, but decided to give my regular vet another try. I’m quite certain I wouldn’t go to the dermatologist if I had pimples on my stomach and so I don’t see why I should make my dog go either.
My grandmother is 94, a mere 13 in dog years. She lives in an assisted-living facility three miles from my house and four blocks from my vet. Sometimes I take her with us to the vet, even though it is a lot to navigate a scared dog and a mostly blind, very confused grandmother into the waiting room. Still, she likes the excitement of barking, the snuffling dogs, the chance to comfort Rose, who is inevitably trembling with her head pressed beneath my grandmother’s arm. Rose doesn’t like the vet, which would be a point too obvious to include were it not for the fact that my mother’s cat worships his trips to doctor. They are his 15 minutes of fame. He purrs for hours after coming home at the mere thought of having received so much attention.
“It’s okay,” my grandmother tells Rose and rubs her ears. “Nobody’s going to eat you.”
But Rose, for all her incalculable wisdom, is still a dog and we cannot reassure her that something really hideous isn’t about to happen. Maybe she does think that an enormous and drooling animal is waiting to chew her up behind the door of examining room number three. She vibrates in her fear, tucking her head down and her hindquarters in until she is the size of a grapefruit. How can I explain that this was all for the good, that I would never leave her here, that I would protect her with the same passion with which she protects me from the UPS and FedEx trucks? We have such a language between us, Rose and I, but in this case it fails us and all I can do is pet and pet.
My grandmother has said her leg was sore all week. There was a bruise behind her knee, a funny place for a bump, and so my mother and I kept an eye on it. As soon as my mother flew off for her vacation, I received a phone call from the assisted-living nurse. My grandmother needed to go to the doctor, immediately.
“Are we going to your house?” my grandmother said, once I had wrestled her and her suddenly useless, painful leg into my car.
“We’re going to the hospital,” I told her. “The doctor needs to see your leg.”
“My leg is fine,” she said.
“It’s fine because you’re sitting down. Do you remember it hurting before?”
“My leg doesn’t hurt,” she said.
Her leg is blowing up like a summer storm, dark as an eggplant now across the back and getting green in the front. Her skin feels tight and hot. How did it get so bad so fast? The doctor said her blood was too thin. She’s had a bleed into her leg, which is better than a clot, and was admitted to the hospital.
If twenty minutes in the vet’s office can turn my bounding, snarling, terrier mutt into a cowering grapefruit, three days in the hospital would cast my sweetly confused grandmother down into the bottom circles of dementia.
“Where are we?’ she asked.
“In the hospital.”
“Are you sick?”
“No,” I said, leaning over to lightly tap her leg. “You have a sore leg.”
“I’ve been here before.”
“A long time ago.”
“There weren’t all these pots and pans then,” she said. “Not so many red squirrels.”
“That’s true,” I said.
“Where are we now?”
“Still in the hospital.”
“Do you feel sick?”
And so we went on in our circle, hour after hour. We had stepped outside of the routine we knew and found ourselves in a place where language was utterly useless. Still, we could not stop talking, the same way I talked to Rose while we waited for the vet. “It’s okay. I’m right here. You’re a beautiful dog. There was never such a good and beautiful dog as you.” I whisper to her over and over again while I pet.
I could not call Rose and tell her I was at the hospital, and I could not leave. IVs can get pulled out much quicker than they can be put back in; I had already found this out. Every five minutes my grandmother swung her feet to the floor. “Let’s go now.”
I picked them up and put them back in her bed. “You aren’t supposed to walk.”
“Where are we?” she asked.
Is it wrong to tell a story about your grandmother and your dog in which their characters become interchangeable? My sense of protectiveness for the two of them is fierce. They love me, and because their love is all they have to give, it seems especially pure. I love them too, but my love manifests itself in food, medical care, rides in the car, grooming. On Saturdays, I bring my grandmother home and give her lunch, and she always claims to be too full to finish her sandwich so that she can give half of it to Rose, who does not get sandwiches at other times, especially not straight from the table. I look the other way when my grandmother whispers to my dog, “Don’t worry. She doesn’t see us.”
My grandmother longs to have the ability to spoil someone again. My dog is the one mammal left who is unconditionally thrilled by her company. I wash my grandmother’s hair in the kitchen sink after the dishes are done and Rose sits in her lap while I blow it dry and pin it up in a twist. Sometimes, when I’ve finished with my grandmother’s hair, I’ll wash Rose in the sink and use the same damp towel to rub her dry. Then they lie down on the couch together and fall asleep, exhausted by so much cleanliness.
Back in the hospital, I cover my grandmother up with a white blanket.
“Your little dog sure did give me the cold shoulder,” she said, her voice full of hurt.
“She didn’t even come over and say hello.”
“Rose isn’t here,” I told her. “We’re in the hospital.”
My grandmother’s eyes move slowly from the window to the door, then back again. “Oh,” she said, glad to know she was wrong. She takes the white blanket up in her hands.
Three days later, my grandmother went home, her leg still sore but stable. I have told her she was in the hospital, but she doesn’t believe me.
Rose, on the other hand, remembers her antibiotic. After dinner she sits in front of the counter where the bottle is kept, wagging her tail. She thinks only of the cream cheese, not the medicine, because she knows that part of it is my responsibility.
Culture: Stories & Lit
February 23 2016
Lucy “Mac” Dawson (1870–1954) was a preeminent British illustrator famous for her pen and ink, oil, and pastel paintings and etchings of sporting dogs and other breeds. During the heyday of her career (the 1930s and ’40s), her art was seen on playing cards, cigarette cards, postcard series and in books, and she also accepted commissions from individuals. The Royal Family was among Dawson’s most notable clients; she painted the Queen Mother’s favorite Corgi, “Dookie,” a portrait that was later reproduced as a Christmas card. In addition to Dogs As I See Them (1936), she had several other dog-related books to her credit, including Dogs Rough and Smooth (1936), The Runaways (1938) and Lucy Dawson’s Dog Book (1939).
Lucy Dawson’s genius—and I can’t imagine how such a thing is done— is her ability to draw the personality of every dog she met. With no fanfare, no wallpaper or sofa cushions or forest backdrops to set the mood, she captured the central part of each dog’s being—Creenagh and Joan and Bob—kind and shy, impatient and generous. Lucy Dawson, who often signed her drawings as Mac, saw the best in all of them. There is such a sparseness in these works, as if every mark on the page was meant to show nothing more than who the dog was, and once that was established she lifted her pencil and stopped. Of course the dogs themselves must have added a great deal of immediacy to the situation, because even the oldest and sleepiest of dogs isn’t going to sit still forever. In the case of Binkie, the first dog in the book, you can see he was going to give her his time in seconds, not minutes. His desire to run after a ball all but vibrates on the page.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Nashville’s finest bookstore has new workers.
June 4 2013
In the weeks before my business partner Karen Hayes and I opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, I would bring my 16-yearold dog Rose to the store. I folded her up inside her soft bed and then stretched her out in the warm sun that fell through the front window. She would sleep while I painted a cabinet or shelved books. Rose, who had once been a Chihuahua/Terrier mix, was now nothing but a limp little sock puppet of a dog, and I carried her with me everywhere. I wanted her to be a store dog. If I was going to have a bookstore, it seemed only right that Rose should have a job. I thought that she could stay in her bed by the cash register and people could pet her, but it didn’t work out that way. Having lived a long and happy life, Rose died two weeks after we opened.
The truth of the matter is that Rose, no matter how much I loved her, was not store-dog material. For one thing, she hated children, and while she almost never actually bit them, she could bark and lunge and snap without provocation. At times she could be so ferocious that children felt bitten without the actual bite. The only reason I even thought she might be able to be a store dog late in life was that she could no longer walk, and her sight and hearing were negligible. She just liked the petting, and the size of the hand running over her small flank didn’t matter anymore.
Karen thought the bookstore should have a piano, and so she got a piano. I thought the bookstore should have a dog, but now I didn’t have a dog, and I was too sad to go out and get another one.
So we hired a part-time dog, a sleek, short-haired Miniature Dachshund named Lexington who came in with our events manager, Niki Castle, once or twice a week. Lexington was from New York City, where she and Niki had lived before moving south. As a city dog, she was not afraid of crowds. She was used to strangers making over her. She was used to children getting in her face. Frankly, she liked children getting in her face. Her M.O. was to race around the store 10 times, greet everyone and then skid back into the office, where Niki would scoop her up and drop her into a sling she wore across her chest. There, in her pouch, Lexington napped. Twenty minutes later, she’d take off running again. It was the cycle of her day.
No one could complain about the job Lexington was doing. Children marched back to the office and demanded to see the Dachshund, and off she would go to the picture-book section. She did not gnaw on the spines of the books on lower shelves. She did not lose her temper, never once, when a small hand tried to keep her from her appointed nap by holding onto her tail. She was in every way top flight. But that didn’t mean I didn’t want my own store dog.
“We have a store,” my husband would say when he called about various shelter or foster-care dogs we had seen on the Internet. “Do you think he would be a good store dog?”
But if you don’t have a store, how can you know? How can you know if your dog can be trusted not to dart through the continually opening doors, or if he’ll jump up and grab a fluttering scarf, or have accidents in hidden corners, or bite a child—even one child, one child who may have been asking for it in every possible way. How do you know that dog when you see him?
It turns out my husband knew. The Friday afternoon we walked into the Nashville Humane Association and my husband saw Sparky, he knew. He leaned over and lifted him out of his pen. “This one,” he said, without looking at a single other dog.
After 16 wonderful years with Rose, it’s hard for me not to panic when I see a tiny child toddling towards my dog, fingers outstretched. But regardless of size, Sparky gives every customer a fullbody wag, then drops to the ground to show his spotted tummy. Most children then drop to the ground as well and together they roll around.
There are always children who are nervous around dogs, who look stiffly away as though they’re being addressed by a crazy person in the subway, but Sparky is never pushy. If ignored, he will sit for a minute and try to puzzle out the situation (Child doesn’t want to play?). Then, coming up with no logical explanation, he simply walks away. So what about Lexington? After all, she was here first. All I can say is that while there have been some high-speed chases, there has been no competition. We’re bookstore enough for two small dogs, one who looks like a tiny supermodel, the other who resembles an unruly dandelion.
“Who’s this?” a woman asked me when Sparky put his front paws on the edge of the big, comfortable chair where she was sitting, reading a book. He butted his head against her knee.
“This is Sparky,” I said. “He’s the store dog.”
“What’s his job?” the woman asked me. “What does he do?”
I looked at her. She was scratching his ears. “This,” I said, stating what I thought was obvious. “He does this.”
Do store dogs encourage reading? I believe so, in the same way the rest of the staff encourages reading: by helping to create an environment you want to be in. Children beg their parents to take them to our bookstore long before they can read so that they can play on the train table and pet the store dog. Trains and dogs then become connected to reading.
Sparky and Lexington are also happy to provide a complementary service for people who don’t have dogs of their own—children, parents and non-parents alike—so they too can have a little snuggle before they go home. Our store dogs aren’t here just to create a positive association with books; they’re also here to create positive associations with dogs.
A high school English teacher called several months ago to say her class had read one of my novels and she wanted to bring the students to the store for an hour before we opened so that I could talk to them about the book. It was early in Sparky’s tenure and I thought a closed store with a limited number of people inside would be a good trial run. The 20 or so high school students pulled their chairs into a lazy circle. They were hip, disaffected and slouching until Sparky trotted in. As it turns out, there’s no one, not even a high school senior, who’s cool enough to ignore a small, scruffy dog.
Sparky worked the room like a politician, hopping into one lap and then another, walking over knees, until he had pressed his face to every person in the room. When he was finished, he came and settled in my lap. That was when the students looked at me with awe. Sure, I had written a novel, but they felt certain they could write novels if they felt like it. What I had going for me was the love and devotion of a really good dog.
I have no ax to grind with e-books. I care much more that people read than about the device they chose to read on. But I do believe in small businesses, and in the creation of local jobs, and of having a place where people can come together with a sense of community to hear an author read or attend story hour or get a great recommendation from a smart bookseller.
And I like a good store dog, a dog who knows how to curl up on your lap when you’re thumbing through a book. A virtual Sparky? A one-click Lexington? Believe me, it wouldn’t be the same.
Imagining the lives of famous people has always been a favorite American pastime. There are a whole raft of magazines designed to help us picture the inner worlds of the very talented and the very beautiful and the very rich. We envision the people we admire with such clarity that our ideas about them can seem, at least in the little movie theaters in our heads, quite true. Renee Fleming, for example. I imagine that she is always singing. I imagine her singing while she brushes her teeth in the morning. I imagine her wearing a modest rack of diamonds from Harry Winston while she trills like a lark to wake up her daughters, who pop up from bed, bright as daisies, singing in reply.
“Waf—fles for break—faaaasst?” Renee Fleming would sing.
“Yes, Mo—ther, pleeeeease,” the girls would harmonize.
When I was asked by this magazine to write a profile of Renee Fleming’s dog, the story spilled out before me like so much red carpet on opening night: Of course this would be a dog who lived for music, a dewy-eyed Lassie who stayed hidden in the folds of her mistress’s Ferrer gown, a dog who slept beneath the piano, her tail brushing trustingly beneath the pedals. She would run from any corner of the apartment when the first scale was sung to be near the singer, leaving behind half a bowl of good canned food without a second thought in hopes of being present for a bright and shining high C.
This dog would never tire of rehearsals, and on performance nights she would pace vigilantly near the door, keeping an eye on the children while Renee took her fourth curtain call on the stage of the Metropolitan or Carnegie Hall. When Renee came home in the small hours of the morning, she would drop all the roses in her arms to scoop up the dog whom she loved, who loved her, who was, in fact, her muse.
Something like that.
There is a great deal of barking when I knock on the door, the kind of frenzied viciousness that implies protection of home and hearth. Renee Fleming greets me, looking extremely smart in high-heeled boots and a long black jacket, exactly the way I had imagined an off-duty opera star would dress. “That’s Rosie,” she says, and I catch a glimpse of my subject, a silky flash of pale fur who is both barking and backing up down the hall. Then she’s gone.
“She’s not great with strangers,” Renee says, leading me into the living room. I look wistfully over my shoulder, but there’s nothing there. I want to tell her it’s the dog I’m here to talk about, but then I realize not even Rin Tin Tin could give a good interview. The best way to get to the Diva’s dog is through the Diva herself.
And the Diva’s daughters. Sage and Amelia, 8 and 11, respectively, come and sit with us in the living room. They are anxious to tell me the story I want to hear.
“Her name is Rosie and she’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel,” Amelia says. “She has mahogany spots. She’s like a cow, only mahogany and white instead of black and white.” She tells me Rosie was born in Ireland.
“She came from Ireland before we met her,” Sage says.
“We got her four years ago,” Renee says. “It was after Christmas. It’s hard to find a puppy after Christmas, like trying to find a rose after Valentine’s Day.”
Even though the story is very clear in my mind, I take the time to ask them about their dog’s relationship to opera. The beautiful woman and her beautiful daughters stare at me. The little one blinks.
“What does Rosie do when I sing?” the soprano asks her daughters.
“She runs away,” the older one says.
“Sometimes she makes a weird noise before she runs away,” the little one says, “like a whine.”
The older one thinks it through carefully. “Or she sleeps.”
“She barks at oxygen,” Sage says.
“She barks at the air, at nothing, and she’s afraid of pigeons.” The girls explain to me that she is both ferocious and cowardly, that she was impossible to house-train, that she sheds, and that they love her madly.
I’m beginning to worry a little. I am not here to write a story about a dog who is afraid of pigeons, a dog who will not come out into the living room. I ask again, isn’t there some connection between Rosie and opera?
They are trying. Renee tells me a story about an Irish Wolfhound who howled along through her aria in Manon. She mentions that all of her mother’s Great Dane’s puppies were named after characters in Wagner. They continue to mull it over with great earnestness until I feel as if I’ve asked a heart surgeon how the family Basset Hound enhances her surgical skills. Why should a nervous Spaniel be artistically connected to the greatest singer of our time? Wouldn’t it be enough simply to be Renee Fleming’s dog?
But suddenly Renee is onto something big. “There was a King Charles in a production of Der Rosenkavalier,” she says, and I wonder how she could have failed to tell me this before I had my coat off. “Every night I played the Marschallin they brought me this lovely King Charles on stage, and we fell in love. That’s when I decided I wanted one.”
“And her name is Rosie,” I say excitedly. “Is it short for Rosenkavalier?”
Renee looks at her daughter Amelia, the namer of dogs.
“Rosie was just the first thing that popped into my head,” she says.
“So maybe Rosie could play the Cavalier King Charles in the next production at the Met?”
“No!” the three of them say in unison.
“She would start barking and try to run away,” Amelia says. Journalistic ethics prevent me from telling the story my way: Rosie was the puppy understudy for that King Charles Spaniel, and one night the famous dog mistakenly ate a box of bonbons meant for a tenor and was too sick to go on. It was Rosie’s big chance, and when she was handed to the famous soprano dressed as the Marschallin, their big eyes locked onto one another and in an instant, each knew she had found her destiny. Rosie gave up the stage to be a lap dog. Renee’s heart nearly broke with gratitude.
I think the story is better my way, but I’m not the one who gets to make those choices.
Culture: Stories & Lit
The fulfillment of a single woman’s dream.
It happened like this: After a walk in the park with a friend, I saw a young woman sitting in a car talking to a dog. Even from a distance, beneath the hard glass of the windshield, we could tell this was an exceptional animal. Never shy, I tapped on the young woman’s door to ask her what kind of dog it was. We live in Nashville, where people do things like this and no one is frightened or surprised. The young woman told us the sad story: The dog, who on closer viewing was nothing but a mere slip of a puppy, had been dumped in a parking lot, rescued, and then passed among several well-intentioned young women, none of whom were allowed to have dogs in their apartments. Finally the dog had landed with the young woman in the car, who had been explaining to said dog that the day had come to look cute and find a permanent home.
She was small and sleek and white. The sun came through her disproportionately large ears and showed them to be pink and translucent as a good Limoges cup held up to the light. We petted. She licked. We left the park with a dog.
I didn’t think it would be this way. I thought when the time was right I would make a decision, consider breeds, look around. The truth is, I too was a woman who lived in an apartment that didn’t accept dogs. But when fate knocks on the door, you’d better answer. “Let’s call her Rose,” my boyfriend said.
I was breathless, besotted. My puppy tucked her nose under my arm and the hundred clever dog names I had dreamed up over a lifetime vanished. “Sure,” I said. “Rose.”
I was 32 years old that spring, and all I had ever wanted was a dog. While other girls grew up dreaming of homes and children, true love and financial security, I envisioned Shepherds and Terriers, fields of happy, bounding mutts. Part of my childhood was spent on a farm where I lived in a sea of pets: horses and chickens, a half a dozen sturdy, mouse-killing cats, rabbits, one pig, and many, many dogs, Rumble and Tumble and Sam and Lucy and especially Cuddles, who did justice to his name. Ever since that time I have believed that happiness and true adulthood would be mine at the moment of dog ownership. I would stop traveling so much. I would live someplace with a nice lawn. There would be plenty of money for vet bills.
At home, the puppy, Rose, played with balls, struggled with the stairs, and slept behind my knees while I watched in adoration. It’s not that I was unhappy in what I now think of as “the dogless years,” but I suspected things could be better. What I never could have imagined was how much better they would be. I had entered into my first relationship of mutual, unconditional love. I immediately found a much nicer apartment, one that allowed dogs for a ridiculously large, nonrefundable pet deposit. Since I work at home, Rose was able to spend her days in my lap, where she was most comfortable. We bonded in a way that some people looked upon as suspicious. I took Rose into stores like the rich ladies at Bergdorf’s do. I took her to dinner parties. I took her to the Cape for vacation. As I have almost no ability to leave her alone, when I had to go someplace that foolishly did not allow dogs, I’d drive her across town and leave her with my grandmother. “Look at that,” people said, looking at me and not Rose. “Look how badly she wants a baby.”
A baby? I held up my dog for them to see, my bright, beautiful dog. “A dog,” I said. “I’ve always wanted a dog.” In truth, I have no memory of ever wanting a baby. I have never peered longingly into someone else’s stroller. I have, on occasions too numerous to list, bent down on the sidewalk to rub the ears of strange dogs, to whisper to them about their limpid eyes.
“Maybe you don’t even realize it,” strangers said, friends said, my family said. “Clearly, you want a baby.”
“Look at the way you’re holding that dog,” my grandmother said. “Just like it’s a baby.”
People began to raise the issue with my boyfriend, insisting that he open his eyes to the pathetic state of maternal want I was so clearly in. Being a very accommodating fellow, he took my hand. With his other hand he rubbed Rose’s ears. He loves her as blindly as I do. Her favorite game is to be draped over the back of his neck like a fox-fur stole, two legs dangling on either shoulder. “Ann,” he said. “If you want to have a baby. …”
When did the mammals get confused? Who can’t look at a baby and a puppy and see there are some very marked differences? You can’t leave babies at home alone with a chew toy when you go to the movies. Babies will not shimmy under the covers to sleep on your feet when you’re cold. Babies, for all their many unarguable charms, will not run with you in the park, wait by the door for you to return, and, as far as I can tell, know absolutely nothing of unconditional love.
Being a childless woman of child-bearing age, I am a walking target for people’s concerned analysis. No one looks at a single man with a Labrador Retriever and says, “Will you look at the way he throws the tennis ball to that dog. Now, there’s a guy who wants to have a son.” A dog, after all, is man’s best friend, a comrade, a buddy. But give a dog to a woman without children and people will say she is sublimating. If she says that she, in fact, doesn’t want children, they will nod understandingly and say, “You just wait.” For the record, I do not speak to my dog in baby talk, nor do I, when calling her, say, “Come to Mama.”
“You were always my most normal friend,” my friend Elizabeth told me, “until you got this dog.”
While I think I would have enjoyed the company of many different dogs, I believe that the depth of my feeling for Rose in particular comes from the fact that she is, in matters of intelligence, loyalty and affection, an extraordinary animal. In the evenings, I drive Rose across town to a large open field where people come together to let their dogs off their leashes and play. As she bounds through the grass with the Great Danes and the Bernese Mountain Dogs, I believe that there was never a dog so popular and well adjusted as mine (and yet realize at the same time that this is the height of my own particular brand of insanity). The other dog owners want to talk about identifying her lineage, perhaps in hopes that one of her cousins might be located. It is not enough for Rose to be a good dog. She must be a particular breed of dog. She has been, depending on how one holds her in the light, a small Jack Russell, a large Chihuahua, a Rat Terrier, a Fox Terrier and a Corgi with legs. At present, she is a Portuguese Podengo, a dog that to the best of my knowledge was previously unknown in Tennessee. It is the picture she most closely resembles in our International Encyclopedia of Dogs. We now say things like “Where is the Podengo?” and “Has the Podengo been outside yet?” to give her a sense of heritage. In truth, she is a Parking Lot Dog, dropped off in a snowstorm to meet her fate.
I watch the other dog owners in the park, married people and single people and people with children. The relationship each one has with his or her dog is very personal and distinct. But what I see again and again is that people are proud of their pets, proud of the way that they run, proud of how they nose around with the other dogs, proud that they are brave enough to go into the water or smart enough to stay out of it. People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends. The dogs do not disappoint them, or if they do, the owners manage to forget about it quickly. I want to learn to love like this, the way we love our dogs, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way our dogs love us.
When a dog devotes so much of herself to your happiness, it only stands to reason you would want to make that dog happy in return. Things that would seem unreasonably extravagant for yourself are nothing less than a necessity for your dog. So my boyfriend and I hired a personal trainer for Rose. We had dreams of obedience, of sit and stay and come, maybe a few simple tricks. She didn’t really seem big enough to drag the paper inside. I was nervous about finding the right trainer and called my friend Erica for moral support, but she was too busy going on interviews to get her four-year-old son into a top Manhattan preschool to be too sympathetic. The trainer we went with was the very embodiment of dog authority figures. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation in which Rose jumped on his shoulder and licked the top of his head, he laid out the beginnings of his plan.
Number one: The dog doesn’t get on the furniture.
We blinked. We smiled nervously. “But she likes the furniture,” we said. “We like her on the furniture.”
He explained to us the basic principles of dog training. She has to learn to listen. She must learn parameters and the concept of no. He tied a piece of cotton rope to her collar and demonstrated how we were to yank her off the sofa cushion with a sharp tug. Our dog went flying through the air. She looked up at us from the floor, more bewildered than offended. “She doesn’t sleep with you, does she?” the trainer asked.
“Sure,” I said, reaching down to rub her neck reassuringly. She slept under the covers, her head on my pillow, her muzzle on my shoulder. “What’s the point of having a twelve-pound dog if she doesn’t sleep with you?”
He made a note in a folder. “You’ll have to stop that.”
I considered this for all of five seconds. “No,” I said. “I’ll do anything else, but the dog sleeps with me.”
After some back-and-forth on this subject, he relented, making it clear that it was against his better judgment. For the duration of the ten-week program, either I sat on the floor with Rose or we stayed in bed. We celebrated graduation by letting her back up on the couch.
I went to see my friend Warren, who, handily, is also a psychologist, to ask him if he thought things had gotten out of hand. Maybe I have a obsessive-compulsive disorder concerning my dog.
“You have to be doing something to be obsessive-compulsive,” he said. “Are you washing her all the time? Or do you think about washing her all the time?”
I shook my head.
“It could be codependency, then. Animals are by nature very codependent.”
I wasn’t sure I liked this. Codependency felt too trendy. Warren’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Kate, came in, and I asked her if she wanted to see the studio portraits I had taken of Rose for my Christmas cards. She studied the pictures from my wallet for a minute and then handed them back to me. “Gee,” she said. “You really want to have a baby, don’t you?”
I went home to my dog. I rubbed her pink stomach until we were both sleepy. We’ve had Rose a year now, and there has never been a cold and rainy night when I’ve resented having to take her outside. I have never wished I didn’t have a dog, while she sniffed at each individual blade of grass, even as my hands were freezing up around the leash. I imagine there are people out there who got a dog when what they wanted was a baby, but I wonder if there aren’t other people who had a baby when all they really needed was a dog.
This story first appeared in Vogue, March 1997, and is also included in Dog Is My Co-Pilot, an anthology compiled by the Editors of Bark and published by Crown. © Ann Patchett; used by permission of the author.
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