TALES OF A DOG OWNER’S MISSTEPS

By Cliff Mazer , Ph.D
SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

 Early in my career, I saw a young Jewish couple who claimed their biggest problem was conflict over what kind of dog food to feed their Schnauzer Skippy. I helped them to negotiate their dietary differences but thought to myself at the time, “is that really such a big deal?” Well, apparently it is for some people and now almost thirty years later I can better appreciate how our pet problems often mirror and reflect issues we may struggle with as individuals and as parents of human beings.

Let’s face it. When people refer to their dogs, cats, and colorful squawking parrots as “family members” they really mean it. So okay, that’s my professional side talking…personally, I’m a prime example of “do as I say and not as I do” and if you don’t believe me just ask any of my three twenty-something sons, their lovely girlfriends or their five cohabitating canines. By outing myself as a case study in “doggie don’ts,” I’m taking a conscious, albeit self-deprecating step in the direction of what I usually encourage my clients to do – to aspire toward total transparency and emotional honesty right down to the well, “bone”. Here’s my dog story:

Recently I added a black Labrador to my empty nest in Sandy Springs. Everybody who knows me gave me AJT the following explicit warning: “Don’t turn your new dog into a spoiled brat or food whore. Don’t give her human food scraps. She will be just fine with dry dog food.” Even my sister in Colorado opined, “You’re not a Jewish mother. You’re a dog owner. Try to remember that.” Of course I nodded… with mock sincerity. I know what I’m doing, I thought. I’ve got a Ph.D. However, maybe they felt obligated to tell me this for a good reason.

One of my former dogs, Lucy the dachshund waddled like a contestant on “Biggest Loser” and looked more like a stuffed sausage or rump roast than something that was bred to hunt badgers. Hana, my Scottish Terrier and co-therapist in San Francisco would go out at night and beg Italian meatballs off the kitchen staff at the pizza place next door. I had to retire her from active duty in my private practice due to her non-stop farting during my psychotherapy sessions. Worse yet was Huck the Chow puppy who went rogue during an Epstein school carpool pick-up, attacking all of the kids in the back of the Chevy Suburban for their leftover Lunchables and kashrut after-school snacks.

I’ve never seen a small dog lock onto a juice box before (or since) and then refuse to let go even as it was being beaten senseless with a Ninja Turtle backpack. I won’t elaborate any further other than to mention the time Simon, the sneaky and illtempered mini-dachshund, levitated using some unknown form of power yoga or extraterrestrial technology and deftly nabbed a filet mignon off a dining room table. The point is I probably should have known better after all these years of dog ownership. Did I mention that I specialize in eating disorders?

After I got Harmony the Black Lab from the Labrador Rescue people, I easily rationalized giving her small bits of string cheese and an occasional bite of black forest ham due to her emaciated physical condition. She was a true rescue dog barely rescued from a kill shelter in Alabama. I don’t know why but Alabama is like the canine equivalent of Auschwitz. Dogs disappear there in droves and are never seen again. So, I immediately felt sorry for Harmony and I didn’t listen to reason. Now I know better. Her sweetness and gentle nature belies her supreme cunning. I already detailed on my Facebook page the incident several weeks ago in which she stole my chicken breast from Kroger, took it upstairs to one of my kids’ bedrooms, ate it like a ferocious shewolf and then hid the remains under a dresser by pushing it with her nose. I know this for a fact because I saw it with my own eyes and could hardly believe it.

I guess in retrospect I was still in deep new dog owner denial. By the way, Harmony lies about her food crimes like a seasoned psychopath. Her soft eyes, cocked head and happy, slightly-drooling smile show absolutely no sign of the conduct disorder and character issues lurking within. I want to believe her. I really do. But then this just happened today. Around dinner time I fed Harmony her “dog food only” meal. Then I decided to grill myself some turkey burgers on the backyard barbie. I thought I heard her sigh when I put down her food bowl full of Iams Premium dry bits. The quick furtive glance she gave me seemed to say, “Um, what’s this?” or “Hey, how about some rotisserie chicken, chopped liver, or lamb gravy, baby?”

Of course I wrote it off as just my imagination or free-floating Jewish guilt. I proceeded to season my turkey patties and flame-broiled them to perfection. Unfortunately, when they were done I put them on a large serving platter on my granite kitchen counter thinking to myself, “I need to keep in mind this dog is no dachshund. Sure, she has those long beautiful Labrador legs and amazing sense of smell but surely she could NEVER get up THIS high to nab these burgers while I go plug in my cell phone upstairs…right?” Again, Harmony looked at me with her radiant angelic face and seemed to say, “Certainly not!” Well, guess what? Two or three minutes later I heard a big crash and when I yelled her name and screamed, “What was that?!” (as if she would answer me…duh), all I saw was a black blur as she went bounding out of the kitchen area while smacking her lips. By the time I got there all that was left was a broken plate from Target. The pound and a half of grilled turkey burgers was gone like a bad magic trick. I didn’t even get a T-shirt.

Now I don’t know if I will ever trust her again. I would say I feel violated but I know a lot of this is my fault as I clearly enabled her doggie narcissism, inappropriate sense of entitlement, and foodie-like sensibility. Maybe I should go to a 12-step program but I don’t know which one is best suited for dog owners who spoil their pets rotten and then pay the price in poo and/or pooches who are picky eaters. Hell, with all the garlic powder, monterey steak seasoning, and liquid smoke I put on those burgers I’ll be lucky if I don’t end up scrubbing carpets all night. Perhaps I should just consider it an act of helicopter puppy parenting penance.Still, I’m crazy about her and hope she likes the seasonal tasting menu and food pairing experience I’m currently working on for her.

For more stories from Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. check out his web blog at http://captaincliff.wordpress.com.