I adopted my first dog, ever, after age 50 and after a career as a full time travel writer. He was an adorable pound dog, a terrier mix being fostered by my friend Rebecca. She convinced me, in spite of my protestations that I was on the road too much, that I really needed a canine companion – which turned out to be true, though it took a while for me to discover that.
When Rebecca brought him to my house, Frankie proved as cute as his picture, friendly and perky. As soon as she left, however, the scruffy pup made it clear that I was not what he was seeking in a caretaker. He cowered when I approached and declined to move off my couch, not even to eat or to use the backyard facilities. He lay tightly curled in silent reproach, a depressed, compressed comma.
I was certain that I was doing something horribly wrong or that I’d gotten a lemon. Either way, it was humiliating. Between bouts of weeping, I consoled myself with the knowledge that Frankie and I were together on a two-week trial basis. If need be, I could make us both happy by returning him to Rebecca.
When a travel-writer friend phoned and heard my tale of woe, she encouraged me to do just that. “Give it back,” she said, referring to Frankie. “It’s not too late. You don’t have to do this.”
That’s when I realized I did have to do this. I was frustrated, sure, but Frankie was not an “it,” to be returned like a purse. I was determined to win him over, if only to prove to myself and everyone else that I could.
Pride and obstinacy have their rewards. I don’t think I ever worked as hard to make a relationship work as I did mine with Frankie. Slowly, ever so slowly, he came around.
I began to understand that Frankie was a serial monogamist, a one-woman dog. Once he understood that I wasn’t going to injure him, at least not deliberately—when you live with a klutz, small objects rain from the sky—he transferred all the affection he’d had for Rebecca to me. It got to the point where, when she visited, Frankie would regard her with mild interest, as though to say, Do I know you? He was no fool. It just took him a little while to figure out which side his kibble was buttered on.
So much for the myth that dogs are forever bonded to their rescuers.
A great many other popular myths fell by the wayside as I started a course of intensive reading. Getting a dog proved more intellectually stimulating than getting a PhD. As part of my continuing education in applied biological science, I pored over scholarly articles about wolf-pack behavior as a model for canine family structure and cited dolphin studies to support my advocacy of positive reinforcement–based training.
Combined with my empirical observations of Frankie and a small sample of his fellow canines, I concluded that:
- Not all dogs enjoy the company of other dogs.
- Some dogs are picky about food and don’t eat when they are nervous.
- Many dogs don’t like loud noises.
- Not all dogs like riding in cars.
As you might imagine, this last was a problem for a travel writer. Frankie didn’t drool, throw up, or manifest other signs of car sickness, but he shook in fear during every journey, short or long. I tried everything—soothing music, car-seat elevation, open windows, closed windows. Nothing worked. I couldn’t afford to get an Escalade to see if better suspension might be the key to his comfort.
The irony of overcoming a driving phobia only to adopt a dog scared of riding in cars was not lost on me.
By then, however, I was well beyond caring about anything except Frankie’s happiness.
I barely recognized myself. I’d always been annoyed by men who expected me to prepare food for them; not only did I not enjoy the activity, but they could bloody well do it for themselves. Frankie did not have the opposable thumbs required to use a can opener, and he was too short to reach the microwave. I had no choice. What started as duty soon morphed into pleasure. I found that I enjoyed hunting for healthy food my finicky pup would deign to eat.
I also sought out toys that he particularly liked. He had a fondness for a squeaky chili that was taken off the market. To compensate, I bought a plush carrot intended for a cat, removed the feathers, and inserted a squeaker—bought separately for that purpose—into the Velcro compartment designed for catnip. I’d become the Martha Stewart of the dog world.
Frankie made me feel like a natural woman. A mildly deranged natural woman.
Publisher’s Weekly calls GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All an “insider’s view of the travel industry” with a “keen sense of humor.” Edie and Madeleine are about to embark (in one case literally) on The Author and Her Dog Book Tour starting in mid-June. For details, see www.WillMyDogHateMe.com