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Why I Love Dogs August 17, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Pets.
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Mario's dog Spaghetti belts out a tune

My dogs keep me sane. Just when I’m taking myself or the world way too seriously, our two mutts Petey and Reese engage in their nightly wrestling match that is every bit as entertaining as Lucha Libre. Same thing every night, and every night I laugh hysterically. Every morning Reese sits just inside the dog door so our pig Maisie can’t come in the house. Then later in the day, Maisie lounges in front of the dog door so the dogs can’t go out. It’s like having toddlers again.

The pig thinks she is a dog and lines up with them for a treat. We refer to them as The Three Amigos. Petey, who we believe is half coyote, is the hunter. His prize catch is a sock, which he carries proudly around the house. Thank god dogs threw their lot in with humans, or Petey would have starved to death in the wild.

I recently read two interesting articles on dogs. MSNBC featured an article Dogs are Smarter Than ToddlersNeither of my dogs would qualify for Mensa as they’re blissfully happy to be canine underachievers.

Pet Dogs Rival Humans for Emotional Satisfaction in New Scientist is also a good read. Researchers found that after playing with their dogs, people showed an increase in oxytocin, known as the “cuddle chemical.”  I could have saved those researchers a big wad of cash and told them that up front. Nothing helps put the problems of the world in perspective like a good game of fetch.

My father-in-law’s dog, Penny, recently died after a long happy dog life. He so misses her company that he’s taken to walking his neighbor’s dog every night. Our friend Mario, who’s an opera singer, took the picture of his dog Spaghetti who loved to sit alongside him at the piano and play and sing.Spaghetti has since gone to doggie heaven. Spaghetti’s successor Linguini is no musical prodigy, but more importantly, he’s a dog.

Devil Dog September 28, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Pets.
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You need to know that the base word for terrier and terrorist are the same. This is no coincidence because terrorists are terriers at heart and vice versa. Trust me.  After three terriers, I know.  (When you’re writing a script, this is what’s called Foreshadowing).

My husband and I’d only been married a few months when we drove to Idaho to see his family.  We needed some camping gear and that’s how we made the fateful stop at a Salt Lake City mall.  We wandered into a pet store, where we saw The Dog (yeah, I know you should never buy a dog at a pet store). The Dog was a Smooth-Haired Fox Terrier with one black ear and a black patch over one eye.  We put down a deposit and said we’d think about it. 

A week later, we were driving back to Los Angeles with “Roo” (named after Kanga’s joey in Winnie the Pooh). A week after that, we were looking for a new apartment, as we’d knowingly violated the “No Pets” clause. But we didn’t care.  We were in love.  Dog love is a powerful thing.  But unfortunately this story isn’t about our wonderful dog Roo.  No, it’s about her evil stepsister – Annie.

Fast forward three years.  A vet told us there was another Smooth-Haired Fox Terrier at the Pasadena Humane Society.  This poor dog was on the home stretch (the doggie equivalent to death row).  Seized with compassion, we raced to adopt the dog.  It was only after we got home that we read the fine print. The previous owner had recommended that “Cindy” needed to be an only dog.   

Obviously, the previous owner wasn’t up to the challenge.  For starts, she’d named the poor dog Cindy.   We promptly gave Cindy a real dog name – “Annie” (as in Little Orphan Annie).  Annie was also a runt, but she was an alpha dog with a capital A.  So she already had two strikes against her.  But dog people don’t give up so easily.  In our heart of hearts, we were determined to make this work.  Ah youth!

Now Roo was the consummate dog.  She chased a ball, she chased her tail, and she buried ice cubes (only to be disappointed later).  Roo had a Sophia Loren wiggle to her walk and was hopelessly photogenic.  Then there was Annie.  Annie walked stiff-legged like a chicken across hot coals.  She was a neurotic Woody Allen in a dog’s body.  Her face was pinched, her expression worried.  Annie was the vivacious cheerleader’s homely sister.

This was the early 80s – long before Cesar Millan had his own show, The Dog Whisperer.  Cesar was only a young pup himself, and he should count his lucky stars.  I’m afraid if he’d taken Annie on as a client, he’d have opted for another career.

Two months later, we moved to New York City.  Annie almost didn’t make it. She wriggled out a crack in the window of the U-Haul in New Jersey and ran out into traffic.  If you know anything about New Jersey, this was not an entirely insane action.  It was Roo’s barking that alerted us to her escape. Do you think dogs ever have regrets?

We moved into the Hotel Chelsea.  Most people rented by the month, but there were still rooms that rented by the night, so we had a “house” phone. Every time the phone rang, Annie reacted like Pavlov’s dog. Only instead of drooling, she attacked Roo.  (Cell phones had yet to be invented, so there was no way to put the phone on vibrate).  This put a serious crimp in our home life. Things took a turn for the worse when Annie went into attack mode anytime someone knocked on the apartment door.  It’s not like people could call ahead to let us know they were coming.  

I tried to keep the dogs separated.  After our son, Taylor was born, I stooped to letting him crawl around the house while I kept Annie in the playpen.  I didn’t think this was all that odd until the cable guy showed up and I saw him looking at me in a not so funny way. I designed and handcrafted a muzzle for Annie, which she promptly chewed through. 

Desperate, we called a highly recommended animal behavioral specialist who came out to observe Annie and Roo interact.  After 45 minutes, he announced that he could get to the root of Annie’s problem.  All it would take, he said, was a team a graduate students and a $100,000 grant.  What? 

That’s when he broke it to us.  The only solution for Annie’s problem behavior was a “high speed cranial lead injection.”   He put it more bluntly – A bullet to the head.  We wrote him a check, and no, we didn’t buy a gun. We proceeded to bite the bullet instead.  For the next two years, Annie attacked Roo regularly.  I continued to break up the fights and began to dread hearing a knock on the door.

Once we gave Annie away to a woman upstairs.  But after Annie growled at the woman’s young daughter, Annie was returned the next morning. We were at wit’s end.  The solution to the problem, however, was one we never could have anticipated.  Our sweet Roo was diagnosed with bladder cancer and died before she turned seven.  Although we were devastated, she finally was at peace.  

Annie lived for another four years and was much nicer as an only dog, though she was far from perfect.  We used to come home and find her stuck inside the four-foot-tall industrial trash can in our kitchen.  She’d dive in head first and then couldn’t extricate herself.  I liked to leave her in there thrashing about for an extra few minutes, just for Roo’s sake.  But we did come to (dare I say it?) love Annie.

When Annie was 12, she died a peaceful death in my arms.   Unlike Roo, who was buried in Vermont, Annie was sent off to be cremated.  

Two weeks later, Richard was on the phone with an important client when he heard pounding on his office door.  A brusque voice with an unmistakable Brooklyn accent barked, “Hey, mister, I got your dog out here in a can.” Annie’s ashes were returned to us in a faux Americana tin can inside a white box with plastic flowers on top.  It looked like a prom corsage.  A pre-printed label identified the contents as “Beloved Pet.”  Later when we finally left New York, we packed “Annie” with the china.  For years, my husband swore whenever he walked past the can, it growled at him.  

We moved back to Los Angeles and bought a home only a few miles from the Humane Society where we’d adopted Annie so many years before.  We’d come full circle.  Eventually, we scattered Annie’s ashes beneath the lemon tree.  We hoped it might sweeten her disposition in the afterlife.