Life on the Other Side of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
Until March, when I took care of Walter and Kenny for my friend Rachael, I didn’t understand the whole dog thing. I loved Hoover, my father and stepmother’s dog, but most of the dogs I encountered here in LA appeared to be accessories. They were cute, but impractical – accessories should come in a size 9 or be designed to hang on a shoulder — and they definitely should not be needy. (I realize that a small dog might be willing to give my shoulder a shot, but he or she would be unable to hold my wallet and would probably lose my keys.)
I could take them or leave them; dogs just didn’t do it for me. But then Rachael asked me take care of Kenny and Walter when she went on tour last spring, and everything changed.
It wasn’t easy. I’d done days with Walter and Kenny, but I’d never done an overnight. I was a wreck. I worried constantly.
Despite hearing the phrase “sleeping like a dog” a million times, I didn’t know that dogs slept heavily, and, on night number three, Kenny went disturbingly still. I yelled at him and shook him, trying to wake him up, and finally, in a complete panic, I punched him in the nose. He lifted his head, glared at me, and walked slowly out of the bedroom. For the duration of my time at Casa De Rachael, Kenny kept his distance.
I didn’t know that dogs had a lot of nipples, and I completely melted down when I found four bumps on Walter’s underside. My stepmother reassured me after I urgently texted her photos, and although she was kind, she was unable to suppress her laughter. A week later, convinced that a floating rib was a mast cell tumor, I took Walter to the ER, and even the vet, an affable white-haired guy, made fun of me. “Those growths at end of his legs?” he said. “Don’t be concerned about them. They’re paws.”
I always googled before I freaked out, but the first result for “dog is sick” is usually PetMD. PetMD — like WebMD — is run on advertiser dollars, and, as such, never ever advises letting sleeping dogs lie. Dogs who bark are in horrible pain, eating grass could be a sign of stomach cancer, and if a dog crawls under a couch, he’s preparing to die. Eventually I figured it out, and looked for answers to my ever-present questions on the ASPCA site and cesarrmilan.com. It never eased my mind, though, and I’d always email Rachael. Eventually, her responses were terse.
“Good morning!,” I’d write. “How’s the tour? How are you? Everything good? Anyway. I’m worried about Kenny. He wouldn’t eat breakfast this morning.”
“Don’t take him to the vet,” she’d reply.
I didn’t spent the entire four months that Walter and Kenny were in my care in a panic. I fell in love with
them — which isn’t surprising given that I refused to leave them alone for more than an hour at a time — and the worry was replaced by an uncharacteristic joy. I chose restaurants that were dog friendly, arranged play dates, and took them on field trips. We went to the dog park in the mornings, and hiking in the afternoons, and, on one gorgeous summer day, we went to Katie’s in Malibu. (Rather than bask in the pleasure of her glorious company, I frantically set up photos of Walter and Kenny. Katie, incredibly well-mannered and a full-on dog person herself, pretended not to mind.)
When Rachael came back, I was gutted. She was ecstatic, though, which made me feel better, but so were Kenny and Walter, which did not. It was a difficult transition for me. Thankfully, Rachael understood, and continues to be generous. She’s even loaned me Walter a few times, and, a good and trusting friend, she never worries that I’ll refuse to give him back. Which, one day, I might.
This year’s been twenty times better than last for a lot of reasons: I’m sober, working, and in awe of my friends and family, who show up for me each and every day. But when I look back at this year, that won’t be what I remember. 2013 has been all about Kenny and Walter, and that means it’s been a very good year.