The dog was a leaner. He wouldn’t just sit next to you when he wanted attention, he’d lean into you, pushing into the petting hand until he flipped upside down across your lap, his head lolling back in full-body-rub ecstasy. After I’d unpacked and settled in, I decided to meditate a little before I got to work. I sat on the floor, my legs in a faux-lotus, and as I focused on my breathing, the dog came and nestled against me, leaning into my ankles. For an astounding moment, there was nothing but my breath, the warmth of the dog and the sound of the rain on the air conditioner. Then I suddenly sneezed, and before I’d even pulled out of it, the dog was up on his hind legs, paws on my shoulders, licking me a god-bless-you. Thus the pact was sealed in dog breath. Maybe I was there to feed him, but he had me eating out of his hand.
His name doesn’t matter, since I rarely called him by it. I called him Pugsy, Pugster, My Little Pug-Pug, Pup-Pup, Puppy and Dog. He didn’t care what I called him. I was just there to rub him. I could call him Mittens for all he cared. From then on we were inseparable: he followed me wherever I went, sat at my feet as I worked at the computer, waited outside the shower for me in the morning. Before bed we’d watch some TV together, and he’d bark at animal noises and sirens in the shows.
Something I googled said Pugs can be “yappy,” and My Little Pug-Pug had a pretty good vocabulary: a throaty moan when he wanted a treat; a gurgly growl when he was playing with his ball; and a what-in-god’s-name-are-you-doing-out-there-in-the-hallway yip. He also had exquisite diction. The first night, he was snuggled up alongside me in bed and I was just about to fall asleep when he heard something in the hallway. He jumped up, leaned over the edge of the bed and said, quite distinctly, “Woof!” (The articulation of the “w” was extraordinary.) I said to him, “Did you hear what you just said?” He also had a good ruff-ruff, a ruff-ruff-ruff and a pretty good arf as well.
While my affection for the animal grew stronger by the minute, it was a feeling I entertained as a fully cognizant Homo sapiens. I felt very clear on the relationship. I never saw the dog as a replacement for a child, though he was a perfectly good replacement for a boyfriend. There’s much to be said for being wildly adored by something really cute. OK, you have to pick up its shit, but anyone who thinks being in a relationship doesn’t entail picking up someone’s shit has no sense of metaphor at all. And, properly trained, boyfriends make heartwarming companions. I once had a boyfriend I taught to play fetch. (He rolled over pretty well, too.) Women, it’s said, can be feline. But men are definitely dogs.
And drawn to other dogs. Pugster’s daddies had told me he was a man magnet, and they were right. Puppy has an intense cuteness aura, and the leash connected me to the very heart of it. A lot of guys talked to me who, sans chien, I imagine would have regarded me, if at all, with the Chelsea Chill. But I didn’t care. For the nonce, I was perfectly happy to bask in canine glory. For a week, I was a gay man in Chelsea with a little dog. I had a Pug and I was proud.
The day I left, he knew something was up when I put the duffle bag on the bed. He sat outside the bedroom door and watched me as I packed. When I came out of the room, I told him it had been fun, and that his daddies were coming back. I tried to sound excited. I threw him a handful of kibble and locked the door behind me.
* * *
I’m back home now, in my room. My roommate’s cat really likes me, and is sitting by me as I write this. I call her Purr-Pot. Or Chicken. She’s purring as I pet her absently, my gaze drifting out the window, drifting south, downtown, to Chelsea. My fingers run over her black fur, she purrs and pushes against them, and I wonder if she can feel the distance in me, if she can tell that part of me is elsewhere. But then, how could she possibly tell, possibly know, possibly understand?
She’s a cat.
This essay originally appeared in The Morning News.