I wear my dog obsession on my sleeve — literally. I have four dog tattoos, not to mention a phone filled with photos and videos of my dogs’ latest trick accomplishments, or splashing into the pond, or sleeping. Everything my dogs do is endearing, probably worth tweeting or posting to Facebook, and definitely something I should tell people about while making small talk in airports or those awkward moments at parties where there isn’t a dog around so I’m stuck talking to people. I’m always excited about the chance to connect with other dog folks, so was thrilled when the folks at Dogster approached me about writing a weekly column.
I have a long history as a dog addict. In elementary school I could (and did) identify every breed of dog I came across. I carried a dog-breed encyclopedia with me at all times, and I studied it far more than any subject I was learning in school. The obsession only grew as I got older — as a teenager I was a dog agility competitor. I talked about dogs nonstop at school, so I’m sure you can imagine just how popular I was.
One of the darkest moments in my life was when I had to step away from the dog sports world at 17 when I came out as gay, and I was kicked out of home and had to leave my two dogs behind. I’ll never forget crying myself to sleep on borrowed couches, not sure where I would sleep the next day, what I would eat, or what was going to happen to me — and yet all I could focus on was that my dogs were gone.
Thankfully, that was a long time ago, and over the years I’ve built a home and a pack of my own. My partner and I live in Brooklyn with our two dogs, Mercury and Charlotte; I assist at agility classes in Manhattan, and I recently completed my trick dog instructor certification. Life in NYC with dogs is never dull. Just this week I wrangled both dogs into a cab to and from the vet in a thunderstorm. I’m always on the prowl for fun things to do with the dogs — stay tuned when later this month we take the pack to Provincetown for a week at the seaside!
So, on to my dogs! Mercury will be 11 next month and is a Chihuahua/Dachshund mix, who I’ve had since he was six weeks old. He has always been quite the charmer with many fans and admirers spread around the world. Mercury is the most stable dog I’ve ever met, and nothing fazes him — strange people, other dogs, ferrets, loud noises, crowds, trains, airplanes — he just calmly rolls with everything. Last month the little guy had to have 16 teeth and two tumors removed from his mouth. I’ve never been an adult without this little dog, but I am slowly (with much resistance) starting to begin thinking about his mortality. But then again this week our vet said he was “just perfect,” so hopefully my little guy and I have many more years together.
Two years ago our lives turned upside down (in the best ways) when we adopted Charlotte, our special German Shepherd/cattle dog mix, or, as we like to call her, a wild thing (I actually have a huge Where The Wild Things Are wild thing blended with Charlotte’s face tattooed on my shin). We had talked tentatively about adding a second dog to the household, and then one Saturday on our way to the grocery store we saw her through the window of a rescue group’s adoption van. It was like a moment from a movie, my partner and I were like: “Why is our dog in that van?!” Instant attraction and love.
Charlotte is a survivor. She was found at seven months old, emaciated, living on the streets of a small southern town with her litter of puppies. She was put into an overcrowded shelter and luckily before being euthanized was pulled by a rescue group. Charlotte has grown a lot in the two years since she came home. She likes the magic of toys, swimming, snow, and having a family. Charlotte’s biggest challenge is her dog/dog reactivity. In future columns I’ll talk more about reactivity — which, in her case, is becoming overly aroused at the sight or presence of dogs who aren’t Mercury.
We work with her using a method called BAT, or Behavioral Adjustment Training. We have seen huge improvements over the past two years. I’m amazed at how much she has grown in her training and her enthusiasm for life; I’m also amazed at the lessons I’ve learned as a trainer from sharing my life with her.
I’m really excited that Charlotte, Mercury, and I have joined the crew at Dogster. We look forward to sharing our training and big city adventures with all of you.