Ali Fenwick is a writer, editor, and social media strategist living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ali spent over five years as a reporter at Sports Illustrated before transitioning to work with brands like Versace and the Tribeca Film Festival. She is also the social media manager for the Resistance Revival Chorus, a 70-member chorus of female-identifying and non-binary singers who have performed at Carnegie Hall, the Grammys, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and local rallies, protests, and marches. They are currently crowdfunding their album, and in summer 2020, they will be performing at musical festivals like Bonnaroo and Outside Lands. In the meantime, Ali is celebrating a decade of good living with her senior French Bulldog rescue, Tank.
Did you grow up with dogs?
No, I didn’t grow up with dogs—I had little brothers and a sister. My folks thought there were too many humans in the house to also add an animal. I remember a phase my little brother went through in which he would go in the backyard to pee. He was basically a pet animal. Instead, I had sad pets, like goldfish and turtles.
“It’s always the sweet dogs that pass away early. But the stubborn ones that have a bit of a fight in them? Tank might live forever.”
I got the turtles in college. I bought them in Chinatown—two of them. Their names were Skipperdee and Skipperdoo, like in Eloise. I would race them on the floor of my apartment in college with friends.
Did you know that you were a dog person, though?
No, I was actually a bit scared of dogs. Once, when I was riding home from school, a neighbor’s dog got loose and chased me. I had also gotten bitten by a dog while working in a garden shop selling cut flowers.
So, if you weren’t a dog person, what led Tank into your life?
I moved to New York, and there is such a strong dog culture here. Also, in high school, I had a boyfriend whose dad was a veterinarian, and I was surrounded by animals and people who loved their animals in a way that I hadn’t experienced before—that unconditional, trusting love of an animal.
I didn’t know much about dogs when I got Tank. I knew I wanted a French Bulldog because I had done some research into breeds, and I knew he would be a good match for a city dog. I found him through a rescue group called SNORT (Short Noses Only Rescue Team), and they specialize in short nose-faced dogs. People think [Frenchies] are hard to find as a rescue, but unfortunately because they’re popular, lots of people get them, don’t know what they’re in for [because] they do have a lot of problems that are bred into them, and [then] they put them up for adoption. So, that’s how I found Tank. He was being fostered nearby in Brooklyn.
Tank was even on a list of names I liked. I had a list of dumb jock names I thought would be cute for a dog, like Brick. He came with a lot of problems. He had allergies. He had rubbed the fur off his face. He came with a bag of t-shirts that he had to wear because he would scratch himself up. His foster moms before me were these two roller derby superstars, Bonnie Thunders and her partner, Drew Flowers. They owned a skate shop down the street from me, and they really wanted to hang onto Tank, but they had cats and Tank was not a good neighbor to cats. They ended up adopting him out, and he matched a lot of what I was looking for, and he was right across the street. He was two-and-a-half years old.
As a first-time dog mom, what were you not prepared for?
I adopted Tank with an ex-boyfriend. That relationship ended, he moved away and left me with the dog. At first, I was really overwhelmed, but I’ve come to see it as a blessing. Tank also had separation anxiety. He would race you to the door and try to fight you and nip at you when you left the house in the morning, which is a weird way of getting someone to stay. He can be very territorial, especially with men, but sometimes I would have to put him in my room when female friends are over, too.
I learned a lot of patience and communication. It’s kind of a miracle that you can communicate with a creature that doesn’t speak your language. With repeated behavior and trust and lots of treats, you can turn things around. I would fill a Kong treat with peanut butter and kibble and tie it to the table in the kitchen so he wouldn’t leave that room. And he would learn that he would get a really good treat when I left, and that I would come home every time.
You’ve had Tank for a decade and you’ve watched him grow old. How has he changed, and how has he remained Tank?
Despite the insults of old age, he’s very much himself. He’s always been very stubborn and has a lot of opinions about where we’re going and what we’re doing. He’s still a very food motivated dog. He’s a garbage man—when we go on walks, I have to keep my eyes on the ground because he has not lost his love for eating garbage. You know, this used to annoy me but now it makes me happy because it means he’s still himself. He loves attention, and can very naughty when he doesn’t get it. The real change is in me: The things he does that used to bother me or annoy me, I now find them endearing, because he’s still himself.
Tell us about day in the life with you and Tank.
Tank is not a purse dog and he has too many opinions about what’s going on to just bring him to places that are a bit hectic. On a typical day, we’ll go to the coffee shop. I’ll tie him up outside, leave a pile of treats by the window where I can see him. As a consequence, he’ll pull me towards any place where I’ve tied him up and given him treats.
I take him on a lot of errands in my neighborhood. A lot of shops [in Williamsburg] welcome dogs and have treats. Like the hardware store—he’ll drag me there and doesn’t understand that they close at night. We love going to our neighborhood produce place. The owner, Maria, has a couple bodega cats and a dog at home. She has a soft spot for Tank, and I don’t know when we figured this out, but he loves string beans, and she feeds him string beans every time we go there. He would probably eat anything. One time, he accidentally ate a jalapeño and that was not pleasant. He’s a scavenger.
I used to live one block away. Now, I live three blocks away. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 10 years, in three different apartments in a three block radius. It’s nice. We know our neighbors and the shops we can stop in.
He’s not much of a dog park dog anymore, as it’s a bit of a hike to get there. Even when we used to go, he would just go up to the people to get scratches. He isn’t the most social dog. He would play policeman when the other dogs run around in a scrum. He would barrel in from the left like a football linebacker and t-bone the other dogs running.
I work from home. Sometimes, I work out of The Wing, but when I’m home, he’s just sitting on my lap or on the chair. He wants to know why I’m leaving when I leave, and that makes me not want to leave. What I want to do now is make sure that he enjoys the time he has left. Who knows, he might outlive us all! He’s a very stubborn creature.
What are his aging health problems?
When I adopted him, he was allergic to wheat and grain, so he has to have grain-free food. We used to have to wrangle him and give him allergy shots. Not fun. And then, he developed IBD, irritable bowel disease. It’s kind of like Crohn’s for dogs. It’s an autoimmune disease and it makes it hard for him to absorb nutrients from food. So, he’s pretty skinny. There are not cute number twos involved. If that ever happens to your dog, it’s a good reason to bring them to the vet. He now gets medications for that. Then, he gets a steroid and an antibiotic. Those are maintenance meds, and they have their own side effects.
The steroids make him lose hair. He’s got little patches of hair. It also affects connected tissue and muscles. He doesn’t have any fat on his cheeks. It also affects his ligaments, so he has two torn ACLs in his knees. He’s blind in one eye and has a corneal ulcer in the other [one]. He’s going deaf. His left ear used to point straight up in the air and now it sags.
An ex-boyfriend once joked that I should have named him Rasputin. Everything happens to him and he never dies. There’s a peach tree in my backyard, and he once ate a peach that clogged up his digestive system, and he almost died. He had to get surgery. That didn’t stop him, His ACLs haven’t stopped him. Deafness hasn’t stopped him. It’s always the sweet dogs that pass away early. But the stubborn ones that have a bit of a fight in them? Tank might live forever.
As he’s gotten old, what are some of your indulgences for him?
Honestly, we’ll sit on a sunny stoop. He’s not interested in doing a ton of walking. We’ve developed this nice little ritual on sunny days where we’ll sit on the neighbor’s stoop on the sunny side of the street and we’ll just soak up the sunshine together. It’s a really nice way to slow down. I feed him snacks that I wouldn’t have done before. I’ll sneak him a piece of lox if I’m eating it.
He wasn’t super into his kibble that he’s been eating for a long time, so I started baking a batch of sweet potatoes every week. I cut those up and put them into his food every day. I eat some, too.
Even though he’s gotten really skinny, he’s still 20 pounds. He’s like a deadweight bowling ball. Once it gets warmer, I might put him in a bag or drive him to the park, so we can hang out in the grass and sun together. He loves that. He’s like a little charcoal briquette in the sun. He gets really hot because he’s black colored, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.
You joked, during our photoshoot, that Tank is an “off-brand” dog. What are some of your favorite dog brands?
I like Solid Gold Beef Bone Broth with Turmeric Dog Food Topper for his joints. The turmeric in the bone broth also helps keep his IBD tummy from getting inflamed. I also feed him The Missing Link Pet Kelp Formula Joint & Bone Dog Supplement, which is a seaweed powder I sprinkle on kibble.
In light of the plastic bag ban in New York City, I recommend Frisco Planet Friendly Dog Poop Bags. No reason anyone shouldn’t be using eco-friendly biodegradable poop bags in this day and age. They’re sturdy, don’t smell weird, and aren’t impossible to open.
When it’s cold, he wears his Flannel Dog Jacket from The Vermont Flannel Company. It’s easy to put on, which is a blessing.
How has Tank changed your life?
I didn’t know that when you get a dog, you meet people. People stop you on the street. They look up from their phones. Sometimes, I’ll catch people smiling at Tank. I’ve made friends at the dog park. Once, I bumped into an acquaintance from the dog park at a bar. He was with his group of people for trivia night. And he was like, “Do you want to play? Do you want to be on our team?” Five years later, these are some of my best friends.
Tank opened up my world. It’s hard to make friends as an adult, and he helped me make friends in my neighborhood. I have a friend who lives a block away. She popped in last night to let him out to go to the bathroom while I was at a show for the Resistance Revival Chorus. He has made me feel more like a New Yorker, and a person who is connected to other people.
I don’t know how much longer Tank will be around, but in a way, he’ll always be around because of the people he’s given me.
Photography by Tayler Smith