To complement our Sit, Stay (In), Treat Yourselves box, we are publishing our Sit, Stay (In), Read literary salon featuring original writing from some of the most talented writers (and dog parents) of our modern age alongside original illustrations by acclaimed artists. We hope this gorgeous series helps deepen the relationship between you and your dog, just as our Sit, Stay (In), Treat Yourselves box does. Feel free to make yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger), invite the dog on your lap, and settle in for the timeless tradition of storytelling about dogs and humans. The first author in the literary salon was Carmen Maria Machado writing about her Beagle mix, Rosie. The second author in the literary salon was Porochista Khakpour writing about her Poodle, Cosmo. This week, we are honored to have acclaimed memoirist Meghan Daum writing about her Newfoundland puppy, Hugo. Meghan is a self-professed lover of giant dogs and has written about it in her essay, “The Dog Exception,” published in The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion. She is also the author of My Misspent Youth, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, The Quality Of Life Report, and most recently, The Problem With Everything, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 2019. Currently, she hosts the new podcast, The Unspeakable, and is a columnist for Medium’s GEN. Earlier in her career, she was a Los Angeles Times columnist, and has written for publications like the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Vogue (where she interviewed fellow dog mom Reese Witherspoon for the February 2019 cover story).
Don’t ask me how I did it, but I recently went 339 days without a dog. It’s the longest I’ve gone in 20 years. My previous record was 15 days. That was 15 days of uninterrupted sleep. That was 15 days of not punctuating every departure from the house with “Be back soon!”—a painfully disingenuous call. It was intolerable, and not just because I was mourning the dog I’d just lost, who’d been by my side for 13 years.
It was intolerable because, when it comes to dogs, I have Stockholm Syndrome. I crave the limits they impose on me. I don’t exactly enjoy being awakened before dawn with heavy breathing at my bedside, but I guess I need it. On some level, I must be addicted to that sinking guilt of rushing home after being gone out longer than you should have been. What will you find when you walk through that door? A half-eaten sofa? A ravaged rug? Some other type of “gift” better left not described—and much better left outdoors?
For nearly a year, I lived free of all of that. My home wasn’t just neat and clean. It actually smelled good. My social life was unencumbered. I even traveled out of town a few times and, no longer beholden to a dogsitter, spontaneously decided to extend the trip for a whole five days. It was pure hedonism. And it was hell. I hope never to be forced back into that lifestyle.
“An hour of uninterrupted Zoom meetings on the computer for me must be paid for ahead of time with an hour of uninterrupted zooming-around-time outdoors.”
As I write this, I’m happy to say that I’ve been free from that terrible freedom for 97 days now. Ninety-seven days ago I got a new puppy, a Newfoundland named Hugo. I haven’t slept past 5:30 A.M. since then. I haven’t left the house for more than an hour. Speaking of my house, it’s once again covered in dirt and hair and drool. My schedule is really Hugo’s schedule. Any activity that requires some modicum of peace and quiet must be planned around his circadian rhythm of needs and corresponding puppy tantrums. An hour of uninterrupted Zoom meetings on the computer for me must be paid for ahead of time with an hour of uninterrupted zooming-around-time outdoors (followed by a solemn prayer that he sleeps through my meeting). If I want to be left alone during my own dinner, I need to feed Hugo dinner first—followed by a post-prandial walk to, well, drop off some “gifts” to the neighborhood. Even then, he’s often known to start up with the zoomies again, tearing madly around the yard and leaping into the air to tackle me with no regard to the fact that I’m the one who feeds him. He’s drawn blood several times.
You might say this is no way to live—but for me it’s the only way to live. I may, technically speaking, sleep better when I’m not sharing a room with a creature whose idea of REM sleep is getting up, turning around, and plunking himself back down every hour throughout the night. But there is no sound at night as soothing as a dog letting out that last sigh before it falls into its first round of slumber. There is no better way to wake up than to the sound of heavy breathing at your bedside (or, more recently for me, giant paws propped up on the sheets). If there is any feeling worse than leaving your dog at home alone, it’s the feeling of coming home to no dog at all. May I not have to do that again for a long time to come. And may Hugo soon learn to sleep until 6 A.M. I know he has it in him.
Illustration by Jia Sung