Brandy Jensen is a writer, former academic, and power editor at The Outline, where she also writes an advice column called “Ask A Fuck-Up.” If you already follow her on Twitter (highly recommended!), you may be well acquainted with her rescue, Gracie, originally from southern California. Together, they live in a railroad apartment in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn—recently moved in after a fire in their previous apartment building.
Did you grow up with dogs?
I did—sort of. We had a dog growing up who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. I have two younger sisters, and I think we all promised to take care of the dog. And then clearly abdicated on our responsibilities entirely. I still like to think that my parents re-homed the dog. As an adult, I have never asked my mom exactly what happened to the dog ‘cause I’m afraid of the answer.
You’re not the first person tell me about their childhood dog disappearing under mysterious circumstances.
I think it used to be a little bit more acceptable to get a dog and then not want it anymore.
“My dog eats a grain-free, high-protein, all-organic diet, and I shovel McDonald’s into my mouth.”
Was Gracie your first dog as an adult?
Gracie is the only dog that I’ve had as an adult because I was really determined not to get a dog when my lifestyle just wasn’t going to accommodate it. Because I had friends who would get a dog and then complained bitterly about how they had to be home and then the dog would not get as long of a walk as it needed or whatever. So, I got a cat first because I figured those were pretty low-maintenance. And then, once I felt a little bit more settled and moved into a place in southern California that had a yard, I decided to get a dog with my then-boyfriend who became my husband, and is now my ex-husband.
How did you know Gracie was The One?
We went to an adoption event and I told my ex that we were just going to look, which of course, was a lie. And there were hundreds of dogs from various rescue groups in southern California. I thought that it would make more sense to get a smaller dog, but it was love at first sight when I saw Gracie and she took to me immediately. My ex had to be convinced—he wasn’t sure because she was a little bit bigger than he was expecting. So I pulled out all the stops and I convinced him that we would foster Gracie first just to make sure that she wasn’t too high-energy and that she wouldn’t eat our cat. The moment that I picked her up, I was like, this is my dog. She’s never living anywhere else.
She came immediately over to me and was very affectionate, and she just had these sweet eyes and had this terribly tragic backstory. She had been picked up by animal control—she had been tied up with a chain around her neck to something for so long that she had grown into the chain and it had become embedded all the way around her neck. She had to have it surgically removed. But she was so sweet and just wanted to hang out with you and just sit by your side. It was love at first sight. I knew immediately.
So in your divorce, how did you decide who would keep the dog?
I knew that she was going to be coming with me, but it also worked out that my ex worked really long hours and I work from home mainly. It just logistically made sense. When I kept the dog, my ex got an oil painting I had commissioned of Gracie when we lived in Minnesota. So, my ex husband got the painting of the dog and I got the dog.
How did you end Gracie end up in Brooklyn?
New York seemed like a good place to start over. I knew a bunch of people who lived here, so that made the transition a lot easier. It’s the first time that I’ve ever lived anywhere with Gracie where we didn’t have a yard, so that took some adjusting. But she likes the city.
You recently moved into this beautiful apartment after your previous apartment building caught on fire. What happened?
I’m still not entirely sure of the cause of the fire. It happened three floors above where we had just moved in the week before.
I noticed that there were fire trucks outside my window and then I noticed that there was smoke billowing out from the windows above. Then, we got evacuated. Gracie was pretty okay throughout that whole experience, although she has developed a new fear of fire trucks. We went walking the other day and there was a fire truck at the end of the block. She just wanted to turn around—just go the other direction. She has some memory of that day and not a good one.
How does a typical day look for you and Grace?
I get up and I make myself an entire French press of coffee. I’ll have one cup sitting at the table, and then I’ll put a cup in a thermos and I’ll take that on our morning walk.
We do like a 15-, 20-minute walk in the morning. Mainly, I just need the coffee to make sure I’m awake enough that I can keep an eye on her because she is incredibly determined to eat anything that even slightly resembles food on the ground. And we just moved, and there are a lot of chicken wing places in the neighborhood, so that’s been something that I’ve had to be extremely mindful about in our new neighborhood, that she can find a chicken bone from a mile away and have it in her mouth before I’ve noticed what happened.
We interviewed the writer Sofija Stefanovic earlier and she had moved her dogs from Australia to New York and she was telling me that her dogs love New York because they can just eat trash off the street.
The world is a buffet. All of Brooklyn is a buffet from my dog.
Do you ever get recognized while you’re out, since you’re Twitter famous?
It’s happened a few times. I think that’s probably just because I live in Brooklyn and so many Twitter people live in Brooklyn.
Do you follow any dog accounts on social media then?
I don’t really follow dog accounts on social media. I like my friends’ dogs. My friend Amanda Mull has an adorable dog named Midge. And my friend Barbara McClay has a really cute dog named Boswell. And Jami Attenberg has a cute dog.
Yes, the puggle! I love the puggle. As an editor at The Outline, do you work from home most days? Do you ever bring Gracie to the office?
In our old office, I brought Gracie in once or twice, but we’re out of a WeWork now. So, I work from home most days. I go into the office maybe once a week, but not even for a full day. So yeah, it’s just her and I hanging out. I usually sit at the kitchen table and work, although sometimes she’ll whine at my feet until I get in bed. I’ll work from bed while she’s snuggled up beside me.
Since you’ve moved to New York, has Gracie helped you make new friends?
Probably not. Gracie is not universally good with other dogs, and because she is a little bit bigger and she looks like she might be some sort of a pit mix, I get a little concerned taking her to dog parks. I mean, Gracie has never started a fight with another dog, but she’s finished them. You worry about the stereotype of the fussy Brooklyn dog owner who would probably end up blaming the larger brindle dog if something happened at the dog park.
We get our exercise just on walks and stuff. I live near the park, so I’ll take her over to the park sometimes. But usually it’s just the two of us. I would say that what she has done for me is she’s really sort of mediated like how bad I can let my depression get. I have a history of chronic depression, and the thing about a dog is, no matter how bad you’re feeling, you’ve got to put on some pants and take her outside.
You have to go to the store to make sure she’s got food. And while you’re there, maybe buy a vegetable or two for yourself. So it’s always been good for me to have a dog just because having to be responsible for her and having to care for her often helps me care for myself a little bit better than I maybe would otherwise.
I understand. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, but I have to take my dog on a walk, so I do. She gets me out of bed every morning.
I don’t want to know how long I could go without leaving the house if I didn’t have Gracie to make me. Like in the winter, especially, it can get real bad.
Sometimes you Tweet about your dating life. We’ve spoken to dog owners who bring their dogs on first dates to vet the person. Has Gracie been involved with your dating life at all?
She really likes having attention from guys that I’m seeing, which is not necessarily a good thing because then I’m like, oh Gracie loves them. They must be nice. But they aren’t always nice.
“I have a history of chronic depression, and the thing about a dog is, no matter how bad you’re feeling, you’ve got to put on some pants and take her outside.”
What are some of your nicknames for Gracie? What do you call her in private?
This is embarrassing. So, I can sort of trace how it started, but she was Gracie and then she was Gracie Face—and then sometimes Gracie Poo, and then that turned into Poo Face or Poop Head, which is a horrible thing to call your dog, but the nice things about dogs is that you can say whatever you want as long as it’s like it’s in a singsong tone.
Yeah. You don’t have to worry about the trauma they’ll have when they grow up because you called them Poop Monster or something.
Yeah, because I call her Poop Head.
So, do you consider yourself a dog mom? How do you define your relationship with Gracie?
I don’t know that I would even necessarily think about it in the ways that I think about my relationships with people. It’s just something completely unique. She has just always been there for me and has been incredibly loyal, sweet, and dependable and I sometimes just hug her and whisper, “Please live forever.”
What you’re saying reminds me of this essay that comedian Maria Bamford wrote about her pug, Blossom. She wrote, “She slept with me face to face, as if I was loveable [sic]. If I loved her so much and she accepted me, maybe I wasn’t so bad. I had tried to meditate off and on for years, but it was when I meditated on how much I loved Blossom that I was able to feel some sort of unconditional love for myself.”
Oh, absolutely. I think that dogs can be incredibly therapeutic on a number of levels for mental health issues.
Tell us your favorite dog products for Gracie. She seems to love her donut.
A friend of mine on Twitter recommended this dog hair squeegee, the FURemover Extendable Pet Hair Removal Broom, to me because Gracie, bless her—everything I own is covered in dog hair constantly, no matter how much I vacuum. And so, I’m constantly on the lookout for anything that will help me in my ongoing war against dog hair. It’s like $14. It’s just this weird plastic squeegee thing and it pulls up all the dog hair from all the weird little corners and under your furniture and everything. It works so well. I love it.
I go back and forth between a couple of dog food brands, but generally, she eats far healthier than I do. I currently have her on Castor & Pollux Organix Grain Free Organic Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food, and she likes it a lot. My dog eats a grain-free, high-protein, all-organic diet, and I shovel McDonald’s into my mouth.
What about toys?
Gracie likes to dismember her toys. She likes to chew until she can get a little bit of an opening, and then it’s just four days of all of the stuffing coming out. And then I replace it and we start all over again.
I’ve found tougher toys on Amazon that they make out of luggage material. Those ones are good because they actually last a little bit longer—otherwise I’d be getting her a new toy every week. The TrustyPup donut was an impulse purchase.
You write an advice column for The Outline called Ask a Fuck-Up. Do you feel like when you’re with Gracie you’re less of a fuck up? Do you really think of yourself as a fuck up? Because when I look you, I’m like, oh, she’s a successful writer. She’s really funny. She has a cute dog and she has a nice apartment.
Part of the idea of the column is that I’m somewhat of a reformed fuck up—that I have made a few strides since I was like a real dirt bag. And certainly Gracie has helped with that. I mean, you have to come home at the end of the night. It’s honestly as simple as that. I need to force myself to make somewhat smarter decisions.
“I sometimes just hug her and whisper, ‘Please live forever.'”
I love that and I can relate to that. I feel like I didn’t become an adult until I got a dog, and then suddenly I was really responsible in a lot of ways.
A lot of people have found that you have to be fully grown up and put together before you get a dog, and I don’t think that’s true. I think that getting a dog helps you become that, in a lot of ways.
Photography by Tayler Smith