I Want to Kill the Dog, page 1
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2012 by Richard M. Cohen
Illustrations © 2012 by Stan Mack
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Photographs here, here, here, and here courtesy of Nancy Murray.
Photograph here courtesy of Philip Friedman/Good Housekeeping.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cohen, Richard M.
I want to kill the dog / by Richard M. Cohen.
1. Cohen, Richard M. 2. Cohen, Richard M.—Family. 3. Dog owners—United States—Biography. 4. Dog owners—United States—Psychology. 5. Dogs—Social aspects—United States. 6. Human-animal relationships—United States. 7. Popular culture—United States. I. Title.
SF422.82.C64A3 2012 2012028039
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
This book is dedicated
to numerous individuals,
all of whom declined the honor.
Wolf sits by the fire, waiting,
rattlesnake in fur.
You’ve got to be kidding.
I Want to Kill the Dog
A History Lesson
Enter the Horse
The Monster from the Black Lagoon
Over the Edge
Born to Bark
About the Author
I ask you. Has a couple ever gone to war or a spouse moved to another country because a pet came between them? Have two people other than my wife and me ever had such opposing feelings when it comes to domestic animals?
The irony is that my wife encouraged—no, goaded—me into writing this book about our dog. Make that her dog, whom I came to dislike long ago. My good wife must have figured telling my story would calm me down, maybe even shut me up about the beast.
Not a chance.
Jasper is a loud little doggie, with an ear-splitting bark that explodes with clocklike precision. To make matters worse, the animal’s personality matches the noise. Jasper can be just plain mean, at least to me. Jasper has an inflated sense of authority that goes unchallenged. I gave up long ago.
My wife is a happy puppy prisoner and unreconstructed animal apologist. The woman lends a beautiful face to a culture that celebrates the pet pedestal, where lazy animals vegetate as owners pop grapes into their always-open mouths. Spare me, please.
I want to tell my story before my betrothed, a fauna fanatic, gets her version out. There is a context here, a culture overtaking and suffocating me. It is a pet culture, powerful and peculiar. My mate buys in big-time, and she is not alone. Out West, dogs are dogs, tough and terrific, roaming the plains. In New York, maybe in all metropolitan areas, most doggies are wimps, cute, cuddly, and coddled.
In fact, animal coddling is elevated to an art form. In the Big Apple, it is everywhere. There is doggie day care, a booming business serving privileged corporate canine clients that cannot bear to be alone during the day. These beasts luxuriate in splendor. I often spot vehicles marked with “Pet Limousine” signs being met by doormen on Park Avenue. What is wrong with this picture?
A new online service draws a distinction between a dog owner and a dog parent. A dog parent is someone who really, really loves their animal. They are people who cannot do enough for da’ darling dog. So now there is Bark Box (or Barf Box, as I like to say), an online product full of things like dog-bone-shaped ice cube trays that make dog treats or a dog massager. I think I need a Barf Box.
I believe the pet culture is over the top. Books help define any culture, and America devours loony literature that celebrates mass anthropomorphism by the ton. This goofy animal culture has seized America by the throat.
Doggie lit travels with warp speed from the sublime to the ridiculous. From talking to teaching, reality has no place here. Still, these books frequently land on bestseller lists. Go figure.
This fine literature actually seems to speak to people. Do dogs really have some mystical superhuman power to guide mere mortals through difficult lives? People sure seem to think so.
Take Garth Stein’s novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. In fact, take it as far from me as you can. “Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul.” You’re kidding. Right?
“He has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.” Stop right there.
Denny cannot be so swift if he drives souped-up cars around in circles and defies death for hours as he works out a teaching plan for his dog. It must be hard to teach a dog to be a person. The book, of course, is one of those runaway bestsellers.
Then there are Cesar Millan’s books about training your dog while being its friend. Important stuff. The author shares secrets about improving your relationship with your dog. If you stepped in that, you would be cleaning your shoes off for a month.
Don’t take my word for it. “Being able to set and communicate boundaries is one of the most important roles that you play as your puppy’s pack leader.” I am definitely not my puppy’s pack leader. I am readying my application to be his executioner. And this: “Communication, to me, is first intent, then energy, then body language, and lastly, sound.” What is this guy talking about?
And do not overlook Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout, an estrogen-drenched animal love story between a golden retriever and the editor of The New York Times. So much in common. No staff reviewer is going to scream to Jill Abramson, “Hold the syrup. You’re drowning the pancake.”
So I will have to live with our psychotic dog and his screaming, screeching bark. Jasper will continue going for my neck when I go near my lovely lady, who the dopey dog thinks is his trophy wife and, coincidentally, happens to feed him twice a day.
So far, we are surviving, but something has to give.
The following is a true story.
I Want to Kill the Dog
First of all, Jasper is not my dog, just the family animal, a mutt, to be precise. Jasper is nothing but trouble. But of course, I am the problem. That is how it works in our house. That crazy animal has turned the place upside down, but I usually take the blame for causing chaos and provoking Jasper’s chronic bad behavior. I am innocent, I swear.
Jasper belongs to my wife and to the ages, though few will believe my story. And a sad story it is. And noisy. Jasper runs around barking like a maniac, as if his tail is caught in an electric socket. This version of man’s best friend is just plain annoying.
It all began the day my wife bought Jasper from a pet store. Who buys animals from pet stores anymore? Poor, sickly, undernourished creatures with smoker’s cough arrive at homes from pet stores, animals that are down and out. Maybe they have TB, worms, or whatever. In Jasper’s case, it surely was distemper, and it proved contagious. Now I have it, too.
The seedy pet emporium sat across the street from my kids’ school, next to Jasper’s, a favorite pizza joint. You can guess the rest. The owner of the pet store told my wife Jasper is an Aussie poo. Never give a sucker an even break.
Genetic tests later indicated that Jasper is a dog of many flavors and what is known as a mutt.
The dog’s only papers covered the kitchen floor where he slept as a puppy. The poodle palace is gone now. Not so the dog. Meredith claims Gabe, our second kid, predicted that Jasper would return joy to the family. Return joy? Where the hell was happiness hiding?
Gabe denies he ever said such a thing. I reached him at college and he seemed to wonder why I was bothering him with this foolish question. I explained that it was his goofy mother who probably made the whole thing up to head off buyer’s remorse. Mine.
Please allow me to present my opening argument in Richard M. Cohen v. Jasper, the Hideous Shrieking Pig Dog. This is an open-and-shut case, and I want damages. Jasper’s ear-piercing bark is continual and is disturbing the peace, the animal screaming as if our car is rolling over his private parts, not that they still exist.
Jasper dislikes me as much as I loathe him. The animal bares his teeth and lunges at me whenever I go near my wife. He tries to tear my face off, because the animal is possessive, if not pathological, and believes she is his betrothed. Your Honor, these are only the highlights of my case. Please hear my story.
My wife is Meredith Vieira, journalist, television star, and fabulous mom. Jasper is simple enough to believe what he sees on television: Meredith sane and serene and fully in control. The problem begins with the fact that my good wife has her moments when she is none of the above. Ms. M. has a few loose screws when it comes to pets and other living things.
Of course, the public thinks Meredith can do no wrong. But when you walk on water, sooner or later you get wet. Right now no jury in the land would give me a fair shake. If Meredith and I stand on opposite sides of an issue, such as a crime against humanity—that would be Jasper—we all know who is going to prison.
The fact that the woman is a fanatic animal person will be held as inadmissible. Besides, no one will believe that she takes orders from our hairy creatures, except people who know the lady has a big heart that overrules her brain.
Meredith routinely chases insects around the house to capture them in a glass or jar to be released in the great outdoors, where no doubt they will be devoured by birds or frogs, which is precisely why the bugs hide indoors in the first place. Meredith never will step on an ant. Big deal. Neither will I, though I refuse to walk in front of an approaching train to avoid insect carnage.
Our kids just watch in wonder, smiling as they silently roll their eyes. They know their mom pretty well. And they can predict my stunned silence. Their eyes go back and forth between the two of us as they hold their tongues.
I imagine them waving a Swiss flag and declaring their neutrality. Yet it never ceases to amaze the three of them as they witness their mother running around in what should be a Red Cross uniform, jar in hand, yelling to no one in particular, “Open a window. I have to free the poor bug.”
Case in point: About two decades ago, when the kids were young, we had two cats, Spike and Beanbag. Spike had a kidney disease, and we taught Ben, our older son, to give him IV treatments each day. We came home one night to learn that Spike was dying. Ben was maybe halfway through elementary school and needed to be consoled.
What’s a mother to do? Actually, I am not certain Mom was up to the assignment. Meredith walked around the house, crying and holding the dead cat in her arms. When I awoke the next day in an empty bed, I ventured into the library to find Meredith asleep in a chair, still holding a rather stiff cat.
I awakened her and suggested she put the cat in the frigid garage. “It’s cold out there,” she cried. That is the point, dear: the house will smell a little better. These cats were our first animals in the house. I thought my wife would don sackcloth and ashes in mourning.
Meredith hired a band of workers from somewhere in South America to dig a hole in the frozen ground. They dug a grave large enough for an elephant and fled the moment they were done, no doubt believing the resting place was for a person.
Meredith opened the windows and blared out music from The Lion King, conducting a funeral exotic enough for Simba to attend. Dr. Dolittle was invited, too. I don’t remember if he made it.
I do have confirmation that Meredith and the kids danced around the giant grave and Ben was lowered in, carrying the cat corpse and notes to the cat’s spirit from the three youngsters. I could not get away from the office that afternoon.
It is fair to say all of us are acutely aware that Meredith is an animal acolyte. She tells the story of growing up close to her grandfather’s farm near Newport, Rhode Island.
Meredith’s grandfather had chickens, a cow and bull, and assorted barnyard animals. And he could not bring himself to slaughter any living thing. By all accounts, he was a very nice man. So he survived by raising and selling strawberries and vegetables.
This gentle farmer also put food on his own table by running a laundry. Feeding animals and feeding animals to people are certainly different ways of looking at farming. Apparently the man loved having animals too much to lose them.
Meredith visited the farm constantly as she grew up. Her family’s cats, Cesar, Cramden, and Norton, plus a few others, all came from her grandpa’s barn. Her love of animals is due in large part to his. So Meredith comes by her love of animals honestly.
That does not mean her animal affection is not carried to extremes. Beasts are elevated to ethereal heights, furry spirits on our tiny suburban farm. Meredith certainly likes Jasper, our scraggly pain in the ass, a lot more than she likes me. Who doesn’t?
Plenty of our friends have no use for the animal. Yet few want to burst Meredith’s bubble. People are tired of the hideous noise, weary of being accosted, teeth flashing, if they are brave enough to kiss Meredith on the cheek when they arrive for a visit. The dog feels a special enmity for guys, which he used to be. That may be because women show patience while their husbands try to kick the wretched animal in the face.
No. I am not envious of my sexy wife’s devotion to Jasper. Nor am I suspicious of it, so don’t even go there. I will not allow you to dismiss my feelings as the product of petulance. I do not want to be a dog. I refuse to eat dry food on the floor, and besides, the meals suck.
Plus, I dislike authority figures. Dogs are supposed to serve people, not vice versa. The relationship is called indentured servitude. Jasper seems to take no offense at the fact that Meredith is a slave owner.
And Meredith routinely dismisses my complaints about Jasper. She has heard them one too many times. “Richard hates dogs,” she will tell anyone with ears.
I have ears myself and do not hate dogs. I grew up with one. He was a Welsh terrier who met his end under a station wagon, traumatizing the entire family. If you are a shrink, don’t even start.
I believe in tolerance for people and pets, a live-and-let-live attitude toward household animals and their wacky owners. The problem is that, in my joint, anything short of unbridled love is up there with war crimes, punishable by . . . you do not want to know.
I like the strong silent type. Large, loving beasts are a joy. One deep-throated woof of warning when necessary is enough. Message sent. Our dog is a windup toy, a stuffed animal that runs around in circles, loud and self-absorbed. He has elevated yipping to an art form. Our family has been domesticated and serves him. What is wrong with this picture?