Shades

It’s six o’clock in the morning, way too early for me. I’m not used to not seeing the sun yet. I wore sunglasses when I left the house, but it’s too dark for them. So now I’m wearing the sunglasses tucked behind my shirt collar, because the sun will come up soon. It’s my dog Dunkin’s first walk and so he poops. We’re on our way to the parking garage, and so he poops in front of the highrise condo tower. As always. When I stoop to collect the poop with my hand in a blue plastic bag, my sunglasses slide out from my shirt collar. Onto the poop. It’s too early in the morning to be angry. Or to laugh. I stare at the glasses sitting on the poop and think about abandoning them. But I do like them, I’ve had them for ten years.

Confession

I didn’t want a dog. I really didn’t. I wanted one when I was six, seven, eight, nine, and ten years old. My mother didn’t budge. Because of the germs. The slobber. The dirt under the paws. Because I was at school all day.

Dunkin fell in love with Sanaz, my wife. He’s okay with me, but it took him two years to be okay with me. It took me two years to be okay with him. Maybe longer. When he’s alone with me he looks depressed.

We have an understanding now. We both understand that I will never match up with my wife. It’s our little joke. I’m happiest when, before falling asleep, I can hear him snore.

Smell

Dogs can smell death on people. Even Hemingway knew that and put it in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Whenever Dunkin avoids me or won’t come close, I get nervous.

 

Belt

When we got Dunkin he was already four years old. When we moved to L.A. he wouldn’t come near my closet. I would open the closet and he would leave the room. It took me a month, two months to realize the closet was the place where I hung my belt. My pants have been sliding down ever since.

 

L.A.

In Michigan, he was just a dog. In L.A. people come up to touch them. They ask his breed. His age. They run their fingers through his fur. Women coo, smile as though he’s been winking at them. They ask to be photographed with him. They forget about me while I’m taking their picture.

Chinook

The first three years my wife and I had our dog, we believed him to be a mutt. That’s what they told us at the Humane Society on Cherry Road in the Michigan backwater. Part German Shepherd, part Golden Retriever. Tan and white. He was found in Detroit under a bridge, ribs showing through his coat, keeping a dead dog company. I loved that story as much as our actual dog.

Dunkin is well-trained, well-behaved, timid and patient. How did he get away? How did he get this way? He’s so perfect, it was good to know he was a mutt. Smarter than the fancy dogs. A dog not for shows but for daily use.

But now we’ve learned he’s a pure-bred. A rare breed at that. In 1981, there were only 23 Chinooks left.

It’s as if what you thought was your daily coffee mug turns out to be a Ming vase. What do you do with it now, and what do you use for drinking coffee?

He seems worth more, I like saying ‘Chinook’ and explaining the New Hampshire origins of the breed. We’ve wasted so much time of our time together already.


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STEFAN KIESBYE is the author of Next Door Lived A Girl. His second novel was recently published by Tropen/Klett-Cotta Verlag in Germany; the American edition, titled Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone will be released by Viking/Penguin in 2012. Stefan lives in Los Angeles with his wife Sanaz and their dogs Dunkin and Nozomi.

38 responses to “My Dog in Six Fragments and Three Pictures”

  1. Zara says:

    Stefan.. This post broke my heart and made it dance in equal measure.
    What a treasure Dunkin is. What a very special dog to keep his dead companion company. You wrote this beautifully. The piece with the belt especially- you managed to portray so much by saying so little.
    Ah dogs. The lessons that they teach us are so precious.
    Gorgeous piece.

  2. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, man, that belt line is sad.

    And it’s interesting to see the bonding between animals and people, and animals and other people in the same house. Especially when you have that moment when you look at the animal and you know that he or she knows exactly what the score is, and knows that you know it too.

    Chinook, huh? I can’t say I’ve heard of the breed, so it’s off to Wikipedia for me.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      The score. Yes, Simon, that is a weird thing. Also really weird, and I often wonder what the dogs perceive.

      Dunkin never barks at people outside, but once, on a winter walk in Venice, CA, he suddenly barked aggressively at a young woman (who was walking with her boyfriend or husband). And the first thing she says is, “I’m not possessed.”

  3. Irene Zion says:

    Stefan,

    You didn’t say what you did with your sunglasses. Did you bag them up too and wash them back home?

    Dogs can smell death on people. I took my therapy dogs to an old folks home for a couple of years and they got visibly depressed. There was imminent death in the molecules of the air. Dogs can smell it.

    I have a belt story, but I won’t tell it now.

    He’s the same dog he always was. Loyal enough to stick by his dead friend. Loyal enough to stick with you and Sanaz. He just has a fancy breed name now. Some people will be impressed.

    I really liked this story.

  4. Doug Bruns says:

    S ~ This is a lovely piece. I am, admittedly, a sucker for dogs and stories about dogs. My beloved Maggiehas been subjected to too many “studies” for her own good. Photographically, she runs from my camera now, as if to say, “enough already.” Anyway, Dunkin is a cool dog and, from the sounds of it, a good friend. I realized some time ago that my dog is the zen master of my experience. I am, the eternal grasshopper, still learning.
    Thanks for the story. Really wonderful.
    D

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Thanks for reading! And I totally agree. Dogs are Zen, in a strangely playful, sometimes bone-headed, always touching way.

  5. Don Mitchell says:

    I know Dunkin, so I was predisposed to like this piece. But it was also a good one.

    Here’s my Dunkin story, which I think shows he cares a lot about what you do. Remember when I sat in your chair at your desk and was reading something funny from the screen? And Dunkin got increasingly unhappy at the situation – someone who wasn’t you, sitting in your chair, at your computer, raising his voice. He didn’t like that at all, and he didn’t settle down until I went back to the couch. And even then, he wasn’t happy, and never did get happy, and I think I earned myself a big Dunkin Black Mark.

  6. Gloria says:

    What a love letter.

    This is so beautiful.

    Now I want a dog.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Dogs rule!

      • Gloria says:

        Well, I mean – – I also want a cat. I just want a new animal friend. I’ve gone through this feeling several times since I left my exhusband four years ago, but I think I may actually be at the point where I’m willing to add a new member to my family. It’s a huge commitment. I see myself with two pugs when I’m no longer raising children – Penelope and Raul. Penelope will wear bows and Raul will wear bowties. But then…there’s something about a pound puppy. And the chances of finding one, much less two, pugs at the pound are pretty slim. However, I did hear recently of a pug rescue nearby. I’ve been thinking about looking into that. Apparently, that’s a breed that is prone to health issues, so people dispose of them when they start being more burdensome than cute.

        Anyway – YES! Dogs rule!

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Don’t know where you live, but in SoCal you might even find pugs at the pound; they are very popular here. And yes, huge commitment. Cats, in that way, are easier to accommodate, since you can leave them alone for some time. I had a neighbor who litter box-trained her small dog, smart that…

        • Gloria says:

          I live in Portland. Your neighbor to the north. I think litter box training a dog is just about the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard. That’s actually why I’m leaning more toward a cat – – because you leave cats alone all day without worry. I’ve been trying to research which dogs are best with being left alone for long stretches of time, but I think it’s just a craps shoot. Like Dunkin is the dog he is because of the X factor, not necessarily because of his breed. Maybe I’ll just get a Beta. They don’t really need much – not even companionship.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Portland. Is it raining there now? I always hear these stories, but have never been. A student of mine said it’s raining pretty much nonstop, but I’m not sure she meant it…

          Good luck with the dog search!

  7. Wonderful post, Stefan. You know, I once attended a party where I spoke with this woman about all sorts of topics. When we got onto animals, she told me how much she disliked dogs. She even went as far as to say: “I could live in a world without dogs, and that would be fine with me.”

    I thought that one of the saddest things I’d ever heard. I found it so haunting that the phrase still sticks with me to this day. In fact, when I die, someone could inscribe on my tombstone:

    Here lies Rich Ferguson. Never did he want a world without dogs.

  8. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Awesome, Stefan. Growing up in New York, all my childhood dogs had been found wandering the street. All had some version of “the belt”. None, to my knowledge, had been keeping company with a dead companion. Dunkin is a dog of character and you two are equally lucky to have found each other.

    I have a good relationship with my next door neighbor but he’s the “friendly antagonizing” type. He was giving me a hard time over the fence once while I was picking up after our hundred-pound German Shepherd. I asked if he wished to reconsider the wisdom of talking smack to a man with a large bag full of large dog crap and a good throwing arm. What did you do with those glasses?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Throwing poop at people has occurred to me before, you know, at cars (and into open windows) when they nearly miss you and your dog at intersections, etc. Haven’t yet, and it’s maybe better that way, what with guns in glove compartments, but still, I love that thought.

      Where in New York did you grow up?

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        Yes, I would say, aside from interactions with chimpanzees, poop-flinging is more of an opening salvo leading to escalated violence rather than a be-all, end-all to an argument. I don’t believe I know anyone who would think, “Well… I suppose I had that coming. Perhaps I’ll toddle off and wash up now.”

        And I am an escapee from the Bronx.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          “Well… I suppose I had that coming. Perhaps I’ll toddle off and wash up now.” That’s hilarious, and yes, I always dream life could be that easy…

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Oh, and I picked up the glasses, through them in a container with suds and water, washed them twice, smelled at them to be sure. Thing is, whenever I use them now, I have to think of poop.

  9. M.J. Fievre says:

    “How did he get away?”

    I’m sure glad he’s with you now! That’s the sweetest piece ever… I love it.

  10. Stefan, this was fantastic! I read it yesterday, and I keep coming back to it because it’s just so touching, so charming. And *Dunkin* is so charming. Look at that mug! I am smitten.

  11. Poor little guy. It’s so awful to think of the pain in these animals’ lives. I’ve never owned a dog, but when I lived in America I shared a barn with a dog called Billy. We lived together for a couple of months. He had also been rescued from the side of a dead companion. He also had a history of abuse. So sad.

    I was away from the farm for three years, just waiting to see him again. Of course, life is cruel. Five days before I returned, he died. A tragic end to a tragic life. Who’d be a dog?

  12. Erika Rae says:

    Thanks to your lovely experience, my brain is in a stoop over the poop loop.

    I do love your style, Stefan. And your dog. I even forgot for a minute that you were the writer here – my fingers were buried so deep in his fur.

  13. Sung J. Woo says:

    Oh, you lucky dog (you, not your dog, though I guess your dog, too, actually!)! My wife and I were gunning for chinooks, because they are supposed to be great dogs, but the waiting list from the breeders we saw were all more than a year. So we ended up getting our German shepherd Ginny, and it’s a vast understatement to say that she’s been a handful.

    Dunkin looks and sounds like an awesome dog. Thanks for the great piece!

    – Sung

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Sung, thanks for reading. My wife and I were of course “lucky” enough to not have to train Dunkin. His wild early years we can only imagine. But friends of ours have a Chinook, and it does seem that overall, they are as mellow as they come, even when young. They “know how to hang out.”

      Did you get Ginny as a pup? I imagine lots of chewed-up shoes…

  14. angela says:

    aww! i’m not so great with dogs in person but i love them from afar.

  15. Gary Shelley says:

    Our Chinook, Keller, was a wonderful, loving friend. He’d let you rob the place blind for a treat, totally useless as a watchdog…but he was family, our “other” child. He was a momma’s boy, chuckled like an old man and though blind…knew his way anywhere he wanted to go.

    Keller was simply the best companion we’ve ever had, and we were heartbroken when at 14, he developed a tumor on his spleen that was inoperable. But, he stood fast and went hard up to his final day. His ashes and portrait sit on our mantle, a place reserved solely for him. We’d raise another without a second thought. Chinook’s are funny, loyal, loving, great with kids, and gentle with us old folks. We miss him, always will.

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