I’m a dog owner. That’s a relatively new moniker for me but within the past couple months, I’ve become a dog owner. There’s a cute quip to make here about how I thought I was adopting a dog but really the dog was adopting me, or perhaps about how I thought I was changing his life but really he was changing mine. Both are gross. Both are true.
I didn’t intend on adopting but I saw this little guy’s face on my computer screen and knew he was mine. Two days later, he was. He’s become my favorite thing in the world and I’ve become his servant. Yes, I’m fodder in his paws every time he unleashes his puppy eyes to get what he wants. You’ve seen Shrek when Puss in Boots turns on the sad kitty eyes? Well they modeled those after my Joey. I smile thinking about his puppy eyes looking up at people while he wears all manner of clothing during the fall. No, his wearing a Baylor football jersey, a Rangers t-shirt or a Hulk costume wasn’t the reason I adopted him. Okay. Not the only reason.
A little more than a year old, Joey’s moving in has been an adventure in which many new dog owners can relate. Aside from his affinity to both commandeer and chew through my favorite socks in the blink of an eye, he’s a near perfect furry companion. He still thinks all food is his food, something I’m working to train out of him, but he’s a happy, sleepy, playful dog. He loves chewing on his rope or on a pig ear and after a long night’s sleep in his puppy bed, he wakes up with my alarm to tell me I’ve had enough sleepy me-time and now it’s back to being all about him. If I had the ability to stay home with him all day, I would. On the whole, puppies are better than people but as I tell him every morning, one of us has to go to work so we can afford to eat.
He’s not a fan of that—of my leaving. The first week he lived with me, he barked fairly steadfastly, confused as to why he was in a crate and not atop the bed chewing on socks as he preferred. I’d walk back into the building and could hear his barks as I walked up the stairs. Lovely. But, after that first week, I came home to a dog asleep in his crate and though he may have shredded the blanket I put in there for him, he was quiet and happy to see me. I felt less grief about him being alone during the day and figured we were finding a rhythm. He wasn’t barking when I left for work and he wasn’t barking when I got home. We were making progress.
That was until last week when a neighbor left a note on my door. It said, “Your dog barks all day long during the week. We’ve been patient for months but it’s very irritating and difficult. Please take steps to teach it to bark less and relieve its separation anxiety.” They then listed a website they said may help.
Upon reading the note, I immediately felt like Miranda when she wasn’t able to make her baby stop crying on Sex and the City. I had visions of sheepishly ducking out of the building in the morning to hide my face from the neighbors who clearly hated me and were tired of hearing my dog wail at all hours.
Except my dog wasn’t barking at all hours. My dog was barking in the mornings when I left for work. Again, I know in that first week he barked all day, but he eventually figured out he wasn’t being abandoned. Now when I came home, he was asleep in his crate, so I knew he wasn’t barking “all day long” as the note said. Not only that, but when my other half got to my apartment and found the note, it was 1:30 in the afternoon and he was asleep in his crate. So no, he hadn’t been barking all day. Perhaps all morning, but not all day. This is important because it means I wasn’t entirely wrong. Progress had, in fact, been made. Maybe we weren’t entirely out of the woods yet, but we were a hell of a lot closer. And, who’s to say he wasn’t just doing his part in the barking chain, helping Pongo and the other Dalmatians get to safety? Did you stop to think about that, neighbor?
Still, my neighbor complained, as was their right to do. I’m sure it’s annoying to hear a dog bark for hours, but let’s call a spade a spade, I live in Harlem. People are loud all the time. There are nights when music echoes down the halls of the building until the middle of the morning. I understand that we live in close proximity to each other and while I don’t love it when the same Bachata or Reggaetón beat plays on repeat for hours into the night, I eventually tune it out and go to bed. That’s how things work in my building and my neighborhood. But regardless of their professed patience, they were now done being patient.
And with that, my mind went into overdrive. They don’t know what I’m doing to try to fix this problem. They don’t know how many websites I’ve scoured to find tips on making a dog stop barking. They don’t know my life!
My internal dialogue became a bit overwhelming. My headspace was beginning to sound like a combative personality on a VH1 reality show and when my internal frustrated self said, “You don’t know my life,” I realized I needed to reel in my feelings. The truth is, I had spent copious time on websites and talking to other dog owners about the barking situation. The tips on the website hadn’t worked and the actual humans I talked to all said the same thing: “It just takes time.”
So, resisting the impulse to write “It just takes time, go away,” on a piece of paper and leaving it on the door, I chose to play nice. Joey continued to play with all the dogs in the building and I continued being kind to their humans. One of them wrote that note. One of them is done being patient with me and my dog who is not a person and therefore can’t be reasoned with in any real way. But I will be kind. I’ve moved on to a new problem now anyway.
At the end of the week, when I opened the door to my apartment, Joey met me at the door. To most people, having their dog excitedly welcome them home by meeting them at the door is a fun thing; something to look forward to. But for me, it came as a complete surprise in that when I left my apartment in the morning, Joey was in his metal crate in the bathroom. I looked around the apartment to see if an intruder was playing a prank on me—something I realized was a stupid thing to think—and I peeked into the bathroom at the crate thinking he’d found a way to open the door. No, Joey hadn’t used the crate’s door for his exit. He hadn’t figured out a way to jimmy open the latch and he hadn’t found a gap through which to squeeze through. No, he’d pulled down the entire side of the crate by separating it from the hinges, after which, he trotted gleefully through the wide open end. One of my friends’ reaction was, “Joey is part Hulk,” and as much as it brings me indescribable joy to have an Avenger in the family, this was not something I was prepared for.
Joey is part dachshund and part Labrador. He’s not a big dog. He’s long, but not big. How he managed to pull down the metal crate wall so he could go sleep in his favorite spot on the couch still escapes me. And there he slept for who-knows-how-long until I came home and he greeted me at the door, tail wagging, excited and oblivious. I couldn’t help but laugh. In the words of the great Ron Burgundy, “Heck, I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.”
In the days since he demanded his independence from his crate, his alone-time behavior has vacillated between being picturesque and being a bad dog. It’s a less-than-fun guessing game if he will become bored enough to start chewing on my things or if he will be content and sleep through the day. Still, he’s my favorite thing in the world. His favorite moment of the day is when someone walks back into the apartment. It doesn’t matter if I only stepped out to take out the trash, that six seconds was just long enough for him to miss me and become ecstatic that I’m back. That’s my favorite moment of the day too; coming back to him.
Ryan’s book of essays, I Really Like My Hands Today, is available now on Amazon.