Tag Archives: dog walking

He Let Me Go

I believe that eyes are the mirrors into a dog’s soul. It sounds incredibly cliché, but it’s true—if I can look into the eyes of a dog and have them look back into mine, it’s a sign of trust and true connection. A sign of respect. When a dog knows that you respect it, that dog in turn respects you. I form relationships with my dogs; it’s what makes me so good at working with them. If I can get inside their heads, I can better help them.

My life hasn’t been easy. In my thirty plus years, the greatest lesson that I’ve clung to is to focus on doing the things I love. I don’t know how much time I have here in this world; no one does. Doing what I love makes it easier to get by, and I love working with dogs. I love the moment when a dog “gets” it, whether that be something basic like  sit, or something harder, like don’t lunge and bark at that passing dog. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Last week, I had a terrifying experience. I entered a client’s home and was attacked, unprovoked, by the dog––a dog that had shown no aggression of any type prior to the moment he latched onto me and refused to let go. I know that this happens, that sometimes dogs just snap. I’ve worked with human clients that have been attacked. But I never thought it would be me. I thought I knew what to do to prevent it, but I was powerless.

“What would you do if it was a man who attacked a woman?” a different client asked me when I told her what happened, when I asked her if she thought the dog should be put down.

“Well that’s a loaded question for me,” I laughed, as I do with anything serious, “but I’d kill him. I’d kill him, if that was a choice.”

I’ve been made to feel powerless before, and I never want to feel this way again. Not by a man, and certainly not by a dog. I didn’t expect this. I never thought I’d be the person who said a dog should die, because dogs are different than men. Dogs are inherently good; they just want to please us, and because of that, dogs are what we make them. Men? They choose to be bad.

I am gifted in that I have a brain that holds on to the smallest of details, sights, smells, feels. I can remember absolutely everything and transcribe it on paper like it’s happening right now. This is the best gift any writer could ask for, but it is also a curse. It is the worst curse, because I see things when I close my eyes. I see this dog. I see myself, perched on top of the couch like a cat on a phone wire, my limbs shaking, terrified of what will happen if I fall. I see myself the last time I was that terrified, on a cold night in March so many years ago. I see this dog when I try to sleep, his teeth bared; I hear his snarl, an eerie rumble of absolute rage like nothing I have ever heard. I see all of it clearly.

It was lunchtime. I entered the apartment the same as I always did, and saw the dog lying on the couch—that wasn’t expected. The dog had been in the home for almost a month, and in that month had become gradually more destructive. Gentle destruction—a little pee here, a moved pillow there, a tipped over coatrack there—but the owner had had enough. I recommended reintroducing the dog to the crate, because that’s what I would recommend to anyone in that situation. We talked about how to bring the crate back properly, and the owner had no issues getting the dog inside that first morning. But then I came in to the dog on the couch.

I took in the scene from the door of the apartment. The crate seemed to have all the doors shut, but a closer glance noted that the door in the corner, against the wall and the couch, had been broken away—leaving about four inches of space for this large dog to squeeze out. I squatted down to see what had happened, and when I reached for the crate, the dog was on me from behind and pinned me into the metal, spitting, snarling. He had my bag completely embedded in his teeth, and I turned towards him slowly, gently tried to slip out of the bag without scaring him. But he grabbed onto my calf with his teeth, and he held on.

In that moment, every ounce of training I had went out the window. I had deterrent spray, in the bag on my back, where I couldn’t reach it. I didn’t want to kick the dog, because I loved him, because he had always been good to me in the four weeks I’d known him, because he had never been aggressive before to people OR dogs. But then he grabbed for my butt, for my back, my side. He kept coming, and I did kick him then, not hard, just enough to scramble up the couch and perch on top. He pinned me there, his lips pulled back, and this dog had no eyes—just black holes. The dog I knew wasn’t there, not anymore. Whatever was going on inside his head had erased the part of him that knew me. That’s when dogs become scary, I think. When they no longer comprehend that their human respects them. I am good at what I do because I respect them.

I tried to step down off the couch and he grabbed my boot and sank his teeth into the  thick leather. Unable to extricate myself fully, I grabbed his tennis ball off the couch below me. I bounced it up and down in my hand, hoping it might spark something inside him of the dog I’d known. It didn’t. My heart slammed into my ribs as it dawned on me that I might not leave the apartment, that I might not be powerful enough to stop this dog. Yet I was. Powerful. And I knew enough; I knew what to do. Somehow, I moved the eight feet or so to the fridge while he tried to pull me in the other direction. I got the door open, and I found the sandwich meat, cheese. I started throwing food items in the opposite direction––any item, every item. I found his chicken jerky bag and upended it, scattering the nasty smelling sticks everywhere. Finally, he let go.

In the end, the dog let me go. He didn’t have to let me go, but he did. I think that counts for something.

I have so many questions, so many feelings. What happened to this dog in the past to make him lash out this way? What hurt him so badly that he couldn’t get better, even in a happy home? I’ve tried to analyze this case the way I would have had it happened to someone else, but it’s harder being in it than looking from the outside.

I don’t think this dog deserves to die. I can’t connect him to my past, beyond the level of terror that both inspired, beyond the level of power that both stole from me. So while I’d have no trouble saying kill the man, I could never say kill the dog. I hear the saying often that we get what we deserve, but I did not deserve this, any of this, and this dog does not deserve to die. What we deserve is never black and white; it’s never easy. Yes, it was scary, and yes, it sucked. It took me a week to figure out how to approach the subject at all. But really, maybe, I’m stronger for this, like I am stronger for every experience I’ve had. Maybe this happened to show me that I do indeed know my shit.

The dog bit me, yeah. But sometime, before that, he did love me.

And, he let me go.

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Dear Sara Friend

Dear Sara Friend,

You’re my best friend. I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. But don’t tell your other dogs. It would make them sad. Honestly, we all know I’m the best. But it’s okay to love other dogs too. Just none more than me. I was your first pittie love, after all. Okay, I mean, there was that OTHER pittie. But I am your first REAL pittie friend.

You always know how to make me smile. I think that we’re a great fit, you and I, because we’re the same really. Really fun, super caring. Massively socially awkward with others of our kind. I couldn’t ask for a better walker.

I might not like dogs, but I live to make my humans happy. In fact, nothing makes me happier than to see you all smile. All I want is to sit in your lap and give you hugs and get hugs back. You give the best hugs, after my mom and dad, of course.

I love it when you come way before my walk and spend all your extra hours with me. I love when you teach me new things, even though I sometimes forget them by the next week. (Sorry about that–I try really hard!) I love helping you answer emails and make all your work phone calls. I love when you read me books, especially when you read out loud and I love how you understand that I understand what you’re telling me even when other people just think you’re a dork. I would never call you a dork. I love that you spent hours and hours making me a sweater with big paw holes because I’ve always been a big jerk about having my paws touched. (Sorry again. Kinda.) I love that you taught me about aliens and zombies and everything scary, and I love that you didn’t laugh at me the first time we watched The Walking Dead together and I hid my face in my paws.

You’re my best friend.

You’re my best friend because you see when I am sad, and you always figure out how to make me less sad. If there’s a scary noise outside, you turn on the tv for me–you get that I’d do this for myself if I just had opposable thumbs. When my mom and dad go away, you make sure our slumber parties are epic and fun so that I forget how sad I am that they’re gone. You give me hugs and long walks with my tennis ball. You bring me fun stuffed toys to merrily slaughter. You keep my attention outside when there are other dogs. If I have a problem, you want to fix it.

You are one of the people who helped me to trust people again. When we walked by that greyhound today, I didn’t bark at it because I was looking at you. You helped to build my confidence. You always remind me I am a good dog, even when I forget and bark or go crazy and then feel bad. No matter what, I am a good dog. And you are too, Sara Friend. Well, not a dog. Obviously. But you know.

I never gave up hope that I had a place out there. When I found my real, forever mom and dad, or rather, when they found me, I was the happiest I’d ever been. And then you started coming to walk me, and everything was perfect. You all taught me how to fit. And because I fit, you fit too.

And so, dear Sara Friend, you must finish writing your book. I’ve taught you a lot, just like you’ve taught me a lot, and you should use that. Be brave, and find your own place in the world like you helped me to find mine. I will be here every step of the book writing AND editing process, including when there are cheese snacks. Especially when there are cheese snacks. Because what is writing without your favorite pittie to drool on your leg at every page?

Love, Tubs

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The Beginning, Part Two

I didn’t come to New York City to be a dog walker. I came to be a writer. In my fantasy of Manhattan life, I imagined I’d work in a book store and write in my spare time, which I did for twelve weeks, until that book store fired me and I spent two months after in the city with no job and eleven dollars in my bank account. Desperate, I turned to Craigslist and followed up on an ad for a dog walking coming; I never expected to hear back, but somehow, three weeks later, my employee trainer was placing my first leash in my hand—Delano, a six month old tan and black Shiba Inu puppy.

“You absolutely can’t go left on Wall Street,” my trainer informed me as we reached the first intersection. “Something must have happened to him there, because he freaks out and cries if we try to go that way. Oh, and he’s stubborn, because shiba, so he probably won’t walk for you.”
I took the leash, seriously doubting my skill and ability to handle the adorable little miniature fox at my side. I had always loved dogs, but to walk and train them in the middle of Manhattan was an entirely different story than playing ball in a fenced in backyard in the suburbs. Delano stuck to me like glue and trotted next to me all the way down to the Staten Island ferry and back without issue. I remember my trainer being greatly impressed and slightly jealous that he had never walked that well for her. She told me I was a natural. I decided then and there that maybe I was. You see, I understood Delano; he couldn’t go down Wall Street because he was scared. There were a lot of places that I could never go because I was scared. We were the perfect match.

Fast forward nearly a year. I stood on the corner of Union Square at the weekly adoption drive I volunteered for, the leash of rambunctious orange-y red pit bull Georgie clutched in my hand, when one of the organization board members approached me.

“I may have a client for you. I’ve been told you’re great with this one.” She pointed at the dog sitting at my feet, his eye focused on mine. She didn’t have to say it—Georgie was crazy. “Do you remember Thumbelina? Tubs?”

I remembered her vaguely, remembered how she had always been kept at the complete opposite end of the drive from Georgie and I because we keep the reactive dogs apart, remembered that she barked at ALL the dogs, remembered that I’d never actually gotten to meet her.

“I remember.”

“Her foster parents want to adopt her, but they’re worried about managing her dog aggression. They’d need a strong walker every day. Do you think you could fit her in?”

Less than a week later, I found myself on a living room floor in East Village, a black and fawn pit bull slobbering all over my face and balancing her two front paws on my crossed legs. We were instant best friends, Tubs and I. She whipped me with her red rope toy, and we played tug in the corner while everyone talked about the logistics of her adoption. And then we went for a walk. I took the leash, completely confident I could handle whatever she threw my way. We walked down the street towards Tompkins Square Park, me on the lookout for any dogs. I wanted to see what Tubs would do. The first one approached from about ten feet out, and I decided not to push my luck with three people standing, chatting, pretending not to watch. I took a piece of chicken jerky in my left hand and turned Tubs attention away from the dog.

“Tubs, sit!” I commanded. She did immediately, as her eyes followed the treat up to mine. She held my stare and paid no attention to the black and white lab mix behind us.

Everyone was quiet, until her potential mom broke the silence. “Wow,” was all she said.

I steered them all intentionally towards the dog park. I wouldn’t dare go in, but I wanted to see what might happen if dogs got too close. I pushed Tubs’ challenge line, repeatedly asking for sits and looks, seeing how close I could get before she barked. The reaction was ferocious when it finally came, but easily contained when we backed off. She was scared, but she already understood even in the first hour of our relationship that I would keep her safe. Safety was priority one; we feel comfortable when we feel safe. I had so often felt unsafe in my life that I zeroed in on precisely the thing that would break through to Tubs—my open heart, my willingness to connect. These were the things that people had used to help me, and I, in turn, could use them to help Tubs. I could make myself new by making her new.

Her mom and dad signed the adoption papers when we got back to their apartment.

I didn’t come to New York City to be a dog walker. I came to be a writer. But I knew in that moment that I was taking a different path, that I was precisely where I was supposed to be.

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On Being More

Sometimes my life doesn’t seem real. It happens at random moments, different times. I’ll be walking my favorite dog client, Tubs, around Tompkins Square Park. We’ll stop at the dog park outskirts for a little redirective rehabilitation. It is bright and sunny and 72 degrees on this hazy blue day, and it occurs to me that there is a very large possibility that I’m not really here. That the last time was really the last time, that I am lying in a hospital bed somewhere in my hometown in a white washed hospital room in a coma from which I will never wake up. It is easier sometimes to think that than to think that this life I have now, writer, dog walker, extraordinaire, in New York City is really mine.

I blink, and I am brought back to where Tubs sits on the edge of the enclosure that is full of her greatest fear—other dogs—her tail wagging as she waits for her chicken jerky treats. Tubs does not speak dog. I think that’s why we get along so well; she doesn’t understand her species, and I don’t feel like I understand mine. As we’ve gone through months of working together, Tubs is learning to confront her demons by associating them with good things rather than bad. As we’ve gone through months of working together, I am also learning to confront mine. I am more than rape; I am more than abuse; I am more than any bad word ever applied to me, because I am my own construction. I am my own person.

Tubs is not afraid because I am not afraid.

I am not afraid.

I give Tubs her treat and release her from the sit, and we walk all around the perimeter of the dog park, a feat we could not have accomplished without issue six months ago. I know that it is possible to learn to be okay because I see Tubs being okay, and I believe that Tubs is okay because she sees me being okay. Our relationship goes two ways, and even though she is just a dog, I am certain that she understands this.

When I take Tubs back to her house, she doesn’t want me to leave and flops in front of the door to try and stop me. I give her a scratch behind the ears and promise her I will see her the next day, and the next, and the next. I am a natural at dog training because I let myself understand her feelings, and I know that Tubs loves me. By reciprocating that love, I have gained Tubs’ trust—it’s just like relationships with people work.

I picture that other woman as I walk to the bus stop, the one I thought I might be, lying somewhere in a quiet room, alone, and I vow to say goodbye to her because when I let myself get stuck there, it holds me back. I am not sleeping; I am wide awake; I am in this life and not the other, I think, for the very first time.

To be a survivor, to be more than what happened to me in the past, means being awake.

Tubs is awake.

I am too.

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The Ghost Ship

“What do I do after … this?” I gesture around the room, and while I’m well aware that this could be interpreted as any number of things, I’m aware that H understands what I mean–graduate. Leave academia. I am comfortable here. I may not have always been the biggest fan of graduate school, but I can still negotiate a classroom setting like the best of them. Can I negotiate a world setting? I’m not sure. Other people think so, but I find myself continually pondering my capabilities. I want to write. I don’t want to walk dogs forever; it’s not how I’m interested in earning a living.

“Well, you’ll publish. And then you’ll teach. You have all this teaching experience, and as a published MFA, you’re qualified to use it.” Her expression indicated this should have been obvious to me. It wasn’t.

I have two lives for the first time. I am not just a girl who hides in the corner and scribbles in a notebook; I am also a dog walker with many regular dog friends who has to deal with doggy parents day in and day out. My boss has a life path for me that involves me getting certified as a dog trainer and helping the training side of the business. I love my each and every one of my dogs for different special reasons. I love what I do. But it isn’t what I thought I’d do. It’s a different ship than the boat I sailed to New York on.

I am interested in dog training, but I’m not. I can’t see how it would work with the life that I want, but I don’t how to say no to my boss. Have I ever said no? To anyone? And the most important question: When would I write?

Writing used to come easily to me; I did it all the time and everywhere. But now that it’s a thing I am supposed to do, I don’t really do it. I sit on my bed when I’m supposed to be working; I stare out the window. I watch people walking down the sidewalk without coats—it’s 70 degrees out today in New York City. It’s bright and sunny and warm and I am not a writer, because I am too busy being a dog walker. I have to make time. This is new to me recently, this idea that writing is something that has to be worked in, new because I never worked it in before. It just happened. 

“How do I get here?” I ask H. I stop just short of saying How do I be you? What I want, what I have always wanted, is to be where she is. A professor, working one on one with students and teaching classes, but a writer first and foremost. It is obvious as we sit across from each other, her bare feet up on her desk and mine tucked beneath me as the sun sets out the window behind us, that she has a different plan for me. We talk about my future, about the position that is mine for the taking next year, should I choose to teach. It is a good position, with benefits, and it has always been my dream. But I don’t say yes right away. H can see farther ahead than I—she can see all the books that I will write, the students I will teach, the relationships I will form, where all I can see are dogs. All I can see is my writing life sailing away because I am too scared to get on the boat I worked so hard to start moving. By not writing, by stopping myself, I am standing on the pier and watching it move away.

In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed writes, “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

I want my writer life to be the life I choose. I don’t want writing to be my ghost ship. I am ready to catch that boat that is already sailing away.

So, today, I make myself a schedule for the first time ever. I write. I sail. And next year? I teach.

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