Message from the Editor
The first issue of what would become The Bark came out in 1997, which makes this our 19th year. It’s hard to believe we’ve lasted this long. In the beginning, Bark was a humble community newsletter drumming up support for an off-leash area in Berkeley. We had no intention of transforming it into a full-fledged magazine.
But, as they say, timing is everything. While publications aplenty focused on what’s called the dog “fancy,” there was a noticeable gap in the larger area of everyday life with dogs—what has come to be called dog culture. Bark stepped in to fill it and, in many ways, defined it.
For dogs and the people who love them, things have evolved in many interesting directions over the last 19 years. Most of the changes have been for the better.
On the science front, researchers across a number of disciplines are expanding our understanding of the canine mind, the domestication process and how our two species co-evolved. More humane and science-based training methods have come to the forefront, as have increasingly sophisticated and well-informed behavior-modification strategies. Advances in veterinary medicine and health care include an increased validation of alternative modalities.
Then there’s food, which always provokes a lively discussion. In the commercial food sector, a greater variety of ingredients can be found, along with different delivery systems —dehydrated, freeze-dried, raw-prepared—many of them healthier than they were 19 years ago. The industry also has paid attention (to some extent) to consumer’s post-2007 food-recall concerns, but there is a still a long way to go on that front, and greater transparency is still needed. In the DIY sector, there’s a growing interest in angst-free home-prepared meals that can be as balanced and nutritious as packaged varieties.
Many of Dog Nation’s greatest strides have come in the increasing social acceptance and understanding of the role of dogs in communities—not just in the lives of dog lovers, but in the lives of people in general. For example, we’re seeing more dog-friendly housing opportunities (some with amenities), dog parks, off-leash recreation options, day care centers and professional services. There’s a canine sport for every type of dog, and people are actively interested in supplying dogs with enrichment activities. Hotels and resorts are eager to attract the growing number of people who travel with their co-pilots. In literature, a flood tide of books, both fiction and nonfiction, explore our oldest friendship, and filmmakers and other inventive artists recognize and pay homage to our favorite muses.
In another healthy sign of progress, there are fewer dog race tracks, which are now legal in only six states. This bodes well for Greyhounds, who can retire and live their lives as the elegant companions they were meant to be.
In the digital world, Petfinder and similar sites have revolutionized the way we locate the dog of our dreams and, by extension, meet up with others of similar dog-centric interests. A plethora of apps and gadgets promise what seems like hands-free pet care, and a few may prove to be helpful in enriching the lives of workday-home-alone dogs.
Dogs have many talents, more of which are being tapped for a wider variety of guide and assistance work; many jobs can’t be done—or done as well—without them. It’s also inspiring that canine rehabilitation and training are taking place in unlikely venues, such as prisons and juvenile institutions.
The best development of all, however, is that mixed-breeds are now number one in the nation, most of them likely to have been adopted from a rescue group or shelter. People are beginning to understand how important it is to be part of the solution by adopting rather than buying, to opening their homes and hearts to shelter dogs. Shelters also have come a long way since 1997, with many of them offering state-of-the art care and accommodations and paying greater attention to enriching the lives of their charges: organizing play groups and innovative volunteer, foster and walking programs, and working collaboratively with local rescue groups. Burgeoning rescue and sanctuary movements, including the transport of animals both within the country and internationally, are inspiring to behold.
As editor-in-chief of The Bark, when I look back at the past two decades, I can truly say that there have been more positive advances in Dog Nation than in most other areas of our society. But while we celebrate these developments, I must also caution that there is a still a long way to go. The number of Beagles and other dogs being bred for and used in labs—living out their entire lives in cages—remains a blot on the landscape; there really has to be a better and more humane alternative. And there must be an end to the needless deaths of animals in shelters, and to animal abuse and cruelty.
That being said, I’m proud to be in a position to keep tabs on these situations, and to report on them to you. My hope is that by chronicling what’s going on, and shining a light on areas that still need work, we (the magazine and our readers) can inspire policy- and decision-makers to step up and make the changes needed to push that progress along. We would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Maira Kalman’s new book, Beloved Dog (Penguin Press), illuminates her friendship with her first dog, Pete. Kalman, who movingly writes, “It is very true that the most tender, complicated, most generous part of our being blossoms without any effort when it comes to the love of a dog,” grew up being terrified of them.
Featuring her fanciful paintings and handwritten text, Beloved Dog details a life of love, loss and companionship. It also includes numerous examples of her work, including New Yorker covers and several of her Pete-inspired children’s books. As long-time fans of her delightful, quirky and just a bit offkilter work, we were particularly happy to snag some phone time with her recently. Following are highlights from our conversation.
Bark: Early in the book, you say that you are “besotted by dogs”—what a great term.
Maira Kalman: I used to be afraid of dogs, and that switch-over to realizing how important they are in my life and how completely besotted I am was a wonderful revelation and a great moment.
B: That discovery is pretty magical.
MK: It is, and it really does change the world. It opens things up in ways that were incomprehensible before. I don’t want to liken it to having children, but next to having children, it is that kind of relationship.
B: Tell us about Pete.
MK: I had always thought that if I got a dog, it would be a dog that jumped up— shpringeny—on all four legs, a scruffy kind of animated cartoon. And there he was. From the beginning, he was not only a beloved, beloved companion and an easer of sadness, but also a damn fine model.
B: Having a dog to guide you through the streets of New York must be a great entree into the world.
MK: Yeah, because when you have a purpose, which is “I am walking my dog,” you are already calmer and you have a companion. Of course, when you walk a dog, you have to add at least another half-hour to get to any destination because you meet people, the dog stops, you stop. You’re engaging in ways that you just didn’t do before. People who are walking their dogs usually are delighted to chat. It’s a friendlier world when you have a dog with you.
B: Can you talk about dogs as a subject matter for your paintings and books?
MK: Sometimes the dog is a human character and (of course) a stand-in for me, or a composite of me and other people. The dog is a conduit to emotions and humor, all those universal experiences. The other way that I work is to depict dogs as secondary characters, or digressions—my work is always about digression anyway. So, they populate the landscape the way people do, and contribute to the emotional quality of my paintings. They surprise me— they’re funny. The paintings are really observational journals of my life and the dogs who live in my world.
and all species too
As proclaimed in the New York Times, Pope Francis is definitely a pope for all species. Like we noted in the past the pope has not only shown compassion and concern for animals but has suggested, underscoring what a previous pontiff had declared, that there is a place in heavens for animals. I’m sure we can all agree that what would a heaven be without dogs. But to see the joyfulness that this spiritual leader greats, acknowledges and blesses dogs is its own blessing. His visit to the White House would of course include a meet and greet with the ebullient pair Bo and Sunny, canine members of the Obama family.
It’s also important to note that in Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the environment that he warned that, “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.” Certainly a strong position on animal right’s! Laudato Si’, translated in English is either as “Be Praised” or “Praised Be,” and is a quotation from a popular prayer of St. Francis of Assisi written in 1224 praising God for the creation of the different creatures and aspects of the Earth. “Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun,” St. Francis wrote in the third stanza of the prayer. He then continued, expressing praise to God for “Sister Moon,” “Brothers Wind and Air,” “Sister Water,” “Brother Fire,” and “Mother Earth.”
As noted by Nicholas Kristof:
Charles Camosy, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University who has written a book about the theology of animal protection, says that Francis’ carefully reviewed encyclical this year constitutes the first authoritative Catholic statements that animals enjoy eternal life.
It was so fitting that this pope took the name of the patron saint of animals, St. Francis of Assisi, and has followed him with humane and enlightened positions. It is wonderful to see him visit our country, spreading his inspiring messages wherever he goes.
Showing the world how beautiful they are
The Black Dogs Project is a extraordinary photo series by animal photographer Fred Levy. Known as “Black Dog Syndrome” in animal shelters and rescues, it refers to the unfortunate phenomenon that black dogs are frequently the last dogs to be adopted and the first dogs to be euthanized in animal shelters. Levy has turned his camera lens to black dogs, showing the world how beautiful they truly are and spreading awareness of the problem. A portion of all proceeds from The Black Dogs Project (Quarto) will be donated to black dog rescue. fredlevyart.com
It's been good to know yuh
As at least half of the world knows by now, tonight is Jon Stewart’s final night at the helm of the Daily Show. I must admit that I get choked up just contemplating what we’ll do without him. Accolades, reflections and perhaps some Fox-directed gibes, have been pouring down on him, so it’s hard to add much more. Except that I really want to thank him again, and the writers, producers, staff and all the office dogs, for letting me share one whole day with them in 2012. That will always be one of the highlights of my Bark career. Being invited to “do the Daily Show dogs” was quite the honor for us. And being given free rein to use the show’s set with our photographer KC Bailey, including excited dogs being able to sit in his chair and climb up on to the desk (leaving a few scratches here and there), and then allowing me to trail along for the day, poking into offices, chatting with all the people behind this amazingly creative show, well, you probably can guess it—how much more fun could there be?
Jon Stewart is a man with a big heart and a wise head who gave us endless hours of insightful entertainment and now what might he do? In a recent interview with his wife, Tracey Stewart, whose delightful book, Do Unto Animals comes out in Oct., she let us know that the family is about to grow a little furrier and feathery when they add an animal sanctuary to their New Jersey homestead. She also revealed one of Jon’s secret passions—but you gotta tune into our fall issue to find out what that might be! Let’s also hope that he’ll follow in the footsteps of Sen. Franken—another dog-loving comedian/politico—and make a play for public office. Who knows, there might be a future opening in his state’s governor’s office.
But for now I just want to add our “thanks for the memories” to Jon Stewart for all that he has given us and wish him and his family the best in their next chapter. And yes, the tears are now flowing.
Culture: Stories & Lit
By the time George had come into my life, I had more than three hundred convictions to my name and had been in prison over thirty times.
You might be thinking that I couldn’t have been much of a thief to get caught so many times over the years, but the truth is I found it so hard to cope with life on the outside that I had started to effectively check myself in to prison for the winter. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even bother to cover my tracks while I was out burgling. I’d deliberately not wear gloves so I’d leave fingerprints, or I wouldn’t clean up after myself if I grazed my arm and started bleeding.
I knew what I was letting myself in for in jail, but at least inside I didn’t have to worry about having a roof over my head and feeding myself, which was sometimes too difficult to deal with on the streets.
It’s exhausting being homeless, shifting between day centres and hostels or missions, or sleeping in cars and bin sheds as I had to do after losing my flat in President House. Sometimes I was so desperate I felt like chucking a brick through a police station window and holding out my hands for the cuffs, just so I could get a bed for the night.
I was stuck in one such cycle the day George came into my life. He turned up after I’d been out of prison for about seven or eight months, and the cold winter of 2009 was really setting in. Under normal circumstances, I’d have been thinking about getting sloppy on the next job, so as to get myself a short stay inside that would tide me over until the weather warmed up.
As it was, George had his feet well and truly under the table by the time I got round to thinking about that, and that threw a bloody big spanner in the works. If I went to prison, I would lose George. It was as simple as that. We’d come too far for me to even consider that an option. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, I had someone other than myself to care for, and it had filled my life with meaning.
Over the years, I had met a few girls and I’d had a few relationships here and there, but nothing that had lasted more than a couple of months at most. I’d seen how my brothers and sister were with their children and how much love they had for them; I was beginning to feel that way about George.
My feelings for him became crystal clear to me one day when we were sitting outside Fenchurch Street station and a well-to-do woman came up to us and started raving about George.
‘What a lovely dog!’ she said, scratching him on his head and generally making a big fuss of him. ‘He’s absolutely gorgeous! I’ve never see such a cute Staffie. I don’t suppose you would let me buy him off you?’
I was completely stunned and totally speechless. Who was she to ask that?
‘He’s absolutely fantastic,’ she continued. ‘I’d give you a really good price …’ She started to say she could pay £2,000 cash, but I stopped her in her tracks.
‘Look, no offence, miss, but have you got kids?’ I asked her.
‘Yes, but I know Staffies and I’m sure he’s good around children …’
‘No, forget that. What I’m saying is, how would you feel if I asked you if I could buy one of your kids?’
She looked at me in confusion.
‘You see the thing is, George is like my son. I love him like he’s my own flesh and blood. I wouldn’t sell him for two grand. I wouldn’t even sell him for a hundred grand. He’s too important to me.’
She was very gracious about having her offer turned down flat. There were no hard feelings and even George had a twinkle in his eye when the lady walked away.
Anyhow, that conversation had cemented what I already knew to be true; I was sticking with George come hell or high water. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, not in those early months. George meant a hell of a lot more to me than anything else in the world. I loved him, and losing him was unthinkable.
When we sat together on the floor of my bedsit, I was remembering that woman and the crazy amount of money she’d offered for George. Two thousand pounds would have been mighty nice right then.
‘I should have sold you to that lady, George. Could have got myself a nice gold watch for that.’
George let out a sigh, lay down and put his head between his front paws. He looked quite sad, to tell the truth, and I felt bad.
‘Oi, listen, I was only joking. It ain’t your fault,’ I said. His ears pricked up.
‘Well I suppose it is, you daft git,’ I laughed, ‘but that’s a good thing, mate. Don’t you worry.’
I thought back over the time I’d had George. I had barely let him out of my sight since the day I took him on. I wouldn’t even leave him tied up outside Tesco if I needed a tin of dog food; I’d always ask a mate I trusted to keep an eye on him for a minute, and I’d dash in as quickly as I could.
To begin with I was terrified of the mad Scot showing up, and then after that lady tried to buy him, I was scared stiff of him being stolen.
Leaving George alone to go out thieving was completely out of the question. My gammy leg already made that difficult, because I wasn’t as nimble as I used to be. What if I got caught and was put in the cells overnight? Who would feed the dog and take him out? I knew full well I would lose George for good if I got locked up, because there was nobody I knew who would be able to look after him for me for any length of time.
‘That ain’t happening,’ I said out loud, thinking about being banged up again. ‘I need to get a job.’
George was sitting up attentively now and had one of those looks on his face that said ‘Silly bastard, how you gonna do that?’ but I wanted him to know what was on my mind. I suppose I was a silly bastard to think he might have understood, but he seemed to be listening to me.
I know I was also a very stupid bastard for being nearly forty and having no job prospects whatsoever. Who would take me on with a criminal record as long as mine? It read like a telephone directory. And, even if some poor bugger was mad enough to take a chance on me, how would I manage to hold down a job with George by my side? It was beyond me.
There was only one thing for it. I didn’t want to have to rely on begging forever, but I knew I had to carry on doing it in the short term at least, or the pair of us would starve. It was that simple.
‘Come on, George,’ I said. ‘Let’s go and take a little stroll down Shoreditch High Street.’
From George the Dog, John the Artist by John Dolan. Copyright © 2014 by John Dolan. Published in 2015 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers Inc. www.overlookpress.com. All rights reserved.
News: Guest Posts
National Portrait Gallery exhibit reminds us why we love her
A riveting photographic exhibition, Portraits of an Icon, recently opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery illustrates the life of actress and fashion maven Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). This exhibit features photographs from Hepburn's early years in London as a dancer to her later years as an impassioned philanthropist. From the museum’s description:
“A selection of more than seventy images defines Hepburn’s iconography, including classic and rarely seen prints from photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn. Alongside these, an array of vintage magazine covers, film stills, and extraordinary archival material complete her captivating story.”
Hepburn is revered for her performances in a string of films produced in ’50s and ’60s including: Gigi, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, My Fair Lady and Funny Face (my personal favorite). Along with her acting and humanitarian work with UNICEF, Hepburn was also an avid animal lover. Dogs were an important part of her family for much of her life. Her dog, Mr. Famous, is one of her best known companions. He traveled with the actress to film locations and photo shoots, and even had a cameo in 1957’s Funny Face. It was a common sight to see Hepburn and her beloved Yorkie bicycling around studio lots during breaks in filming.
The camera loved Hepburn’s natural beauty and inimitable style. The best images on display in Portraits of an Icon radiate an inner quality seldom captured on film. Like the subject herself, the portraits display a wide range, showing Hepburn as a young ballerina, Hollywood actress, fashion model, humanitarian. For those fortunate to attend the exhibit, they will find more reasons to fall in love with Audrey Hepburn (and her canine co-pilots).
Portraits of an Icon appears at the National Portrait Gallery in London through October 18, 2015. For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.
The play I was watching was just 10 minutes in when a black Labrador jumped up next to me and settled in for a nap. This was going to be no ordinary theater experience.
I was at JACK, a performing-arts space in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see Comfort Dogs: Live from the Pink House, the latest experimental play written and directed by William Burke. The Labrador, Gypsy, along with mixed-breed pups Bronco and Bluet, was part of the play’s canine cast.
Comfort Dogs explores the relationship between humans and canines, and our dependence on them, through music and spoken word. Burke was inspired to create the play after reading about therapy dogs visiting a local nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It sparked his curiosity about the emotional responsibility we assign to dogs, and their willingness to stay by our side despite not understanding most of what we say or do.
Normally, when dogs are involved in theatrical productions, their roles are carefully scripted and their behaviors are thoroughly rehearsed. Burke wanted something that felt more natural and spontaneous for Comfort Dogs.
“I didn’t want trained dogs doing things because they had to. That’s not what we were trying to do,” Burke explained. “The idea was to create an environment where the dogs could do anything they wanted, and no one would tell them not to be a dog.”
The result was about an hour of organic interaction between human and canine actors that complemented the play’s monologues and songs. The people also acted like dogs, sniffing, howling and scratching, while the three canine stars were free to be themselves. The dogs’ unscripted roles also meant that each show was unique. It felt like canine improv.
Working with animals, especially in an unscripted setting, presents logistical challenges—among them, finding the ideal performance space. An early iteration that enclosed the dogs on stage, per the original theater’s requirements, took away from the show’s free spirit. The space at JACK allowed Comfort Dogs to unfold as Burke had originally envisioned, showcasing the dogs’ natural behavior.
The three canine actors, each a different breed, size and personality, complemented each other as well, although they were primarily chosen because they were familiar with all of the people on stage. Bronco is Burke’s dog; Gypsy is bass player Paul Ketchum’s pup; and Bluet, whom Burke rescued from a local park, now lives with a friend. The actors’ existing relationships with the dogs grew as they worked on the play together.
It will also come as no surprise to any dog lover that the human actors learned a lot from being on stage with their canine counterparts.
“When you’re an actor, you always talk about ‘being present’ on stage,” says Burke. “With the dogs, they’re present all the time. It was certainly exciting to see.”
Now that Comfort Dogs has closed, the director hopes to work on a longer piece that incorporates more dogs. One of his ideas is to partner with a local shelter so that audience members could adopt the canine actors, making the play even more immersive.
It was refreshing to see Comfort Dogs explore canine theater in this manner, and I look forward to Burke’s next work. Incorporating shelter pups would be an exciting way to give back to dogs, who give us so much.
Ruth Silverman is a treasure. She combines a curator’s eye for fine photography with a lifelong passion for dogs. It has resulted in two seminal books The Dog: 100 Years of Classic Photography and The Dog Observed, numerous photo exhibits and a personal collection that rivals many museums. The Bark crossed paths with Ruth many years ago, and she has been an invaluable advisor to our efforts on many fronts, introducing us to a host of great photographers and art of all kinds that have graced our pages. Ruth is one of those people who seem to know everyone, after having been a curator for the International Center of Photography in New York, as well as a successful photojournalist. She takes delight in connecting creative parties, be it in art, writing or publishing—Ruth is a cultural matchmaker.
Visiting Ruth in her home in Berkeley is like a trip to gallery row. Every wall, shelf and corner is filled with fine prints, paintings and photographs … a framed André Kertész, a William Wegman Polaroid, a classic Nicholas Nixon. We were excited to hear that Ruth has donated a good portion of her collection to raise money to help the dogs she so dearly loves. Friends have organized a month-long online auction to benefit both the SPCA’s “Take Your Best Shot” program, which increases the adoption rate in high‐kill, low-income shelters by presenting quality, attractive portraits of available pets to potential adopters, and the HSUS’ “Pets for Life” program, which addresses the need for spay and neuter services in underserved communities.
The appropriately named “Good Dog Art Exhibition and Silent Auction” can be viewed online at http://tinyurl.com/GoodDogArt through February 26, 2015. It’s a wonderful opportunity to acquire first-rate photography and art while helping animals in need and the programs that serve them. And if you happen to be in the Bay Area this month, you can view the art in person at two venues—Wag Hotels and San Francisco SPCA. A special Good Dog Art Party is being held at Wag Hotels on the closing night of the auction, February 26. Tickets can be purchased at the URL above. We hope you’ll expand your art collection and help the dogs!
Culture: Stories & Lit
Learning that life can be good
She and I are alone. When I say the B-word, she rushes to my side and goes into a sit, the first thing she learned, and so far the only one: sit comes before treat the way head comes before tail. It’s not open for discussion.
“Bagel! Maxine! Bagel!”
She’s so wiggly, she can barely hold her bum to the floor. The eyes that were sad and dull in her adoption photo are now bright. Her long tail goes back and forth at the rate of maybe a hundred swishes per second. Come to think of it, since she came to live with us a month ago, she’s also learned something else: incredibly, there is such a thing in life as feeling alive.
Maybe she remembers that a frozen blueberry bagel was what I gave her to chew on after I brought her home for the first time, after she had torn apart every toy in her crate— toys that were supposed to be (ha-ha) indestructible. Last week, she got hold of her adopted brother’s yellow rubber duck, which now has no head. Yesterday, she attacked the only toy her other new brother loves, a small purple bear he’s had for seven years, since his puppy days. She pulled it from under his chin while he was sleeping. Now, it looks like someone put it through a miniature leaf-shredder, after pulling out the stuffing.
She’s close to a year old: a chocolate Lab/Wirehaired Terrier mix, bearded, scruffy, skinny, long-legged. On our walks, strangers who stop to ask about her haven’t always been kind. It’s been pointed out to me that she looks like an Irish Wolfhound crossed with a monkey, a Labradoodle with ancestors who were porcupines, a Schnauzer crossed with a Whippet. I’m never bothered by these observations. I happen to know my new girl dog is one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.
The woman who rescued and fostered her told me during a phone conversation that she was guessing Maxine would turn out to be Retriever-ish, but maybe she said that to make me feel I’d have some experience to draw from (my other two dogs are Retrievers). I thought it would be nice to live with a dog who has two different but equal sides, like kids on a seesaw who weigh the same. That was a fantasy. I know a lot about Terriers now. I know the Terrier part of any dog has no interest in being equal. Terriers feel they should be allowed to do whatever they want, all the time, and if you don’t agree with that, something must be wrong with you.
“Maxine, this is a lesson! School time! School and bagel!” I home-school my dogs, making things up as we go along in a trial-and-error sort of way. I’m a dog-training amateur, and sometimes, their behavior drives me crazy, especially when other people are around. Anyone who comes to my home, stranger to the dogs or not, has to hurry to a chair (as in, “sit down and hang on!”) because the dogs get carried away greeting and checking out humans and vying for attention. If I shut them in another part of the house when someone’s visiting, I break their hearts. They act like eager students who do not understand why their teacher won’t give them a lesson in something they’re dying to learn.
I don’t have dog-education credentials, but I taught creative writing to humans for a long time. Also, I’m a mom. I love teaching and it’s always come naturally to me, and I do think my students and my son fared okay with me pushing them to try things they never thought they could do, and then pushing them a little harder to do those things as well as they possibly could. But they’d probably, every one of them, welcome any chance to say I was tough, or I was demanding, or I was “Terrier-like.”
“Yes! It’s blueberry!”
Maxine watches me take the bagel out of the freezer and drop it into an empty cereal box. Her tail stops moving, like an excited voice going suddenly silent. She’s confused. Why don’t I hand her this favorite thing? Is something wrong? Did I stop loving her after only one month, when I had sworn to love her forever, when love was the first word I taught her, even before sit and bagel? I set the cereal box upright on the floor. She is baffled. She takes a step toward it, then two steps back, tail drooping, head low.
When I do this with Andy, my giant, high-strung Golden, he gets whatever big carton I have. It takes him just minutes to jump the box and jaw it, paw it, crush it and rip it. When he finishes the treat, he commences to see how much cardboard he can eat before I take it away. Skip, my undersized Nova Scotia Duck Toller, gets a shoe or boot box, the lid secured with duct tape to thwart him. He is the MIT student of my household. He takes forever to paw-push and nose-nudge the box around, tipping it, studying it, until he figures out exactly where the treat is. When he creates an opening, it’s the right size for him to reach in with his snoot or a paw, and there you go. It would never occur to either of them not to liberate the treat.
Maxine went into a high-kill shelter when she was a tiny pup. There is no information about her past except that her mother is a chocolate Lab owned by a “backyard breeder.” Somehow, the Lab had mated with an anonymous bearded Terrier—definitely not one she was supposed to step out with.
The woman who saved Maxine is connected with the adoption group I had applied to. This is how she described the rescue to me: “I ran to the shelter when I found out they put her name on their euthanasia schedule for that day. Her time had run out and no one wanted her. I don’t suppose anyone going there to adopt had looked at her twice, her being so unusual. She’s the only one of that litter—they were all surrendered— who didn’t get homed. I opened her cage and grabbed her and tucked her under my arm. I wish you could’ve seen how she looked at me. She was real quiet, but she knew what was what. They always know.”
Maxine looks at the box. She lies down. Her eyes are the eyes of one who feels defeated about trying something before the trying has even begun. In her head, she is still in her cage. Everything she wants is outside it.
They say that dogs don’t cry like humans. But anyone who has lived with a dog knows they do. They just don’t get wet about it.
I whisper to her, “Don’t cry. It’s okay.”
I’ve been afraid that all those months in a cage damaged her in ways that cannot be undone. She has space issues; she’s always banging into things. Her vision checks out perfectly, but she has trouble seeing anything that isn’t straight ahead and up close. If she hears a noise behind her, she still doesn’t know she can learn what it is by simply tuning around. When you throw her a tennis ball, she leaps to catch it, but by the time she jumps, the ball is no longer in the air; then she freaks out a little, not knowing how to look for it. And she was terribly ill when she arrived: parasites, malnutrition, poor digestion. Then came a scary infection that put her into emergency care and hospitalization. This is a dog who, in her first year of life, has twice been at the brink of death.
What am I doing? Why am I forcing her to confront a task she clearly can’t handle? Why didn’t I know right away that expecting her to try for the bagel is the same as asking her to grow wings and fly around the room like a bird?
For a second, I comfort myself with the thought that maybe I rushed this. It’s only been a month. Surely, when I try again at some point in the future, all will be well, and she’ll make a tiny effort to at least put one paw on her box. But the signs aren’t good.
The top flaps of the cereal box are open and folded back. In the moment before I reach for the box to tip it and let the bagel fall out so she can at least retrieve it, I smile at her and try to tell her with a look that what I’m about to do is completely right, and what I’d meant to do all along. I didn’t really want her to do to the box what she had done to her crate toys, Andy’s bear, Skip’s rubber duck and all the other things she’s destroyed. It’s fine that she doesn’t do what Terriers have done historically to small animals, such as rats. I want her to be happy and safe and okay with herself exactly as she is. I want her to …
There’s no such thing as ES P, right? There’s no such thing as thoughts in a human mind transporting, somehow, to the mind of a dog, right?
This happened. I was thinking something along the lines of Get this box and kill it, Maxine. I was thinking, I want …
She jumps up from what was nearly a stupor so fast that I almost don’t see it. She pounces. She sinks her teeth into the side of the box, then tips her head and hoists it, and shakes it and shakes it and shakes it. Her head is going side to side almost as fast as her tail. She doesn’t know the bagel flew out until she takes a break from the shaking to catch her breath.
She spots where the bagel landed. Oh! How did that happen?
She is awestruck. She grabs it and jumps to the couch, which is covered with an old cotton blanket. As soon as she’s up there, she licks the bagel like it needs to be cleaned. I see the way she settles into the blanket. Her cage had a floor of cement.
I go to the treat container to get a biscuit. Andy and Skip are out in the dog pen and they’ll soon be inside. I know what will happen if they smell blueberry bagel and not a ordinary treat on their sister’s breath. I’ll never hear the end of it, but they’re both on a diet.
I send Maxine this thought: no way am I leaving the box lid open the next time, no way. She doesn’t tune in. She’s too busy chewing.
Crumbs are stuck in her beard. She’s holding the bagel between her slim, strong paws. She seems too fixated to know she’s about to get a biscuit, too, but of course she knows. Her tail starts thumping the couch, up, down, drumstick-like, sounding out a beat I want to listen to forever. A heartbeat.
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