Home
Mat Zucker

Mat Zucker is a writer, husband, dog parent and digital strategy consultant based in New York. He has also written for The Forward, Tablet and Forbes.com.

Culture: Stories & Lit
The Nature/Nurture Question

A YEAR INTO RAISING OUR PUPPY, Nora Ephron, Brian and I can’t help but compare it to our experience with our first dog, Ezra Pound. Nora and Ezra, black Lab mixes, were named after 20th-century writers. Their personalities, though, are quite different, starting with their experiences and lifestyles.

Ezra was 100 percent city dog. For most of his 11 years, he lived in a duplex apartment in an 1846 brownstone. A lot of stairs to hike up and down. Three times a week, he went to doggie daycare, and the other two days, he was out in the neighborhood with his dog walker and a pack of friends. An active week, for sure, but very urban and predictable.

Nora, even in her first year, has already had more of the country life, splitting her time between a high-rise apartment during the week, where she attends Dog City, and our house in rural Hudson Valley on the weekends. There, she explores in an orchard, visits sheep and goats, and has a donkey boyfriend on the farm next door. Ernie the donkey lives in his own outbuilding. When he sees or hears little Nora, he trots down to greet her at the fence. She wags her tail. He flirts back with a kick. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen next.

Nora’s first weeks were spent in a foster home on Long Island, where she lived with a group of six dogs. Early on, even when she was as tiny as a thimble, she learned to be social with big dogs. On top of her typical puppy energy, Nora is optimistic, always angling to play. And, unlike many dogs, she actually likes being held and hugged. Ezra was hit-or-miss friendly, more inclined to lean against you than sit on your lap, but Nora loves everyone: big, small, hairy, tall. Strangers—animal or human—are simply best friends she hasn’t made yet.

Then, there’s her elimination routine. Nora pees all the time. Six, seven times a day, she flags us or whines for a run outside. Not a big pish, mind you, more of a quick tinkle. I don’t think it’s a breed thing, and we’re training her the same as we did with Ezra, with a target goal of four potty trips max per day. Is this a gender thing, we wonder? Are we more indulgent when she has to go? Do we leave the water bowl down too long? Do girls just pee more?

Limiting our comparisons to the dogs, though, isn’t fair.

We’re also part of the equation. Ezra was our first dog together. Everything was new for me, from walking Ezra past skateboarders to skillfully opening the end of a plastic poop bag with one hand. With Ezra, I was nervous all the time, busy reading nutrition labels and worrying about his feelings. Both of us attended every vet appointment. Raising Nora, on the other hand, is a more casual endeavor. We’re more confident, less manic. She whines all the time and we laugh. She eats her dinner, or she doesn’t. Brian texts me about vet appointments. We didn’t even cover the electric outlets. (Please don’t call child services.)

I asked my favorite canine researcher, Julie Hecht, about gender differences. She pointed me to Bark articles on the topic as well as some hard-core research on the web. My takeaway from those sources was that testosterone has some kind of role and, yes, more research is needed.

Next, I reached out to my own pet-owner network. My friend Victor, parent to Maya, an six-year-old ex-racing Greyhound, thinks that female dogs are identical to males “except they growl less, pee more discretely, rarely step in their own poop, and that whole six-nipple thing.” Nora’s foster mother, Susan, has an even larger focus group, having hosted more than 150 dogs in the last two years. The biggest difference that she’s noticed is tension between two female adult dogs who seem less motherly when together, while two Husky-mix boys nurture pups “to the point where we have had young pups try to nurse off of them.”

I look down at Nora curled up on a blanket and wonder if she would have gotten along with her brother Ezra. I suspect that she probably would have worshipped him, and he would have tolerated her: the spunky little sister with a jackass for a boyfriend, who always, for some reason, has to go out for a tinkle.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Parents: Talk to Me About My Dog

“How are the kids?”
I always make a point of asking my friends.
They appreciate it and talk about day camp, allergies, Saturday’s visit to the Bronx Zoo, who’s good at math and who was so funny at the pediatrician yesterday. My experience as an uncle seven times over has taught me how to talk to parents about their kids, yet I am surprised how poorly people engage my partner Bryan and me about our seven-year-old dog, Ezra Pound. I’m not saying dogs are exactly like children, but the U.S. dog population recently hit 72 million, and that’s about the same number as kids under 18. Here’s how to score points with a dog owner and be on the right side of the numbers:

1. Ask about the name.
Just as kids are named after someone, Ezra Pound, too, has a backstory. People assume it’s after the famous poet, which upsets my mother, who knows the poet as insanely anti-Semitic. But “Ezra” comes from the founder of Cornell, where Bryan and I (and members of both our families) went to school. “Pound” reminds us he was adopted.

2. Yes, he’s adopted.
We got Ezra when he was eight weeks old from the ASPCA on the Upper East Side. The affinity test they made him take made us feel like he “chose” us. With so many dogs desperately needing homes, we do frown on breeding, though we would never say it to your face.

3. Race is an acceptable topic.
For years, we thought Ezra was a mix of Pit Bull and Labrador and even had to balk at an opportunity to move to London because of their Dangerous Dogs Act. But when we had him genetically tested (what gay people with cash do), we learned that Ezra is actually Chow, Rottweiler and Greyhound. Just don’t use the word “mutt.”

4. Flatter him, flatter me.
Natural or adopted, we all see our young as reflections of ourselves. Ezra has a gorgeous black coat, strong body and soulful eyes, and is often mistaken for a puppy. People think I’m fairly immature too.

5. Ask about his poo.
If you just flinched, you’ve probably forgotten your baby’s first weeks. Ezra’s bathroom activities affect his behavior. Ever loyal, he seems not to go while out with his dog walker, but saves it for walks with me.

6. Eyes in the back of our heads.
You look away a minute, and they find a chicken bone in the gutter. We’re just lucky that, avoiding chocolates and stepping on glass aside, Ezra doesn’t have nut allergies or buy into trends like raw meat. Bones are an expense, but it’s better than chewing Bryan’s sneakers.

7. Discuss major minor rights.
Your child benefits from thousands of protective laws. Ezra is technically Bryan’s property, which means in a bad situation, Michael Vick has as many rights as I do. Worse, in 46 states, we’re not even technically married, which makes Ezra kind of a bastard.

8. Forget about birthday parties.
It’s sweet if you remember his birthday in November, but you wouldn’t want to attend Ezra’s party. The food’s inedible, and getting the hat on involves a 20-minute struggle.

9. Compare routines.
Like any kid’s dance, sports and tutor schedules, Ezra has a full plate too. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he attends a top-rated doggie daycare (private) in Chelsea. Tuesdays and Thursdays, his walker, Michael, takes him to the dog run off the West Side Highway. There was competitive tension between Michael and daycare, but they’ve all learned to work as a team.

10. Are we having kids?
Read above.