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. Our first author in the literary salon was Carmen Maria Machado writing about her Beagle mix, Rosie. This week, we are honored to have Iranian American author Porochista Khakpour writing about her Poodle, Cosmo. She is the author of the personal essay collection Brown Album: Essays on Exile and Identity, the novel The Last Illusion, the novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects, and the memoir of chronic illness Sick. She is the recipient of a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Literature Fellowship in Creative Writing, and was the Writer in Residence at Bard College from 2014 to 2017. Her work has also appeared in publications like Guernica, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Times, and Condé Nast Traveler. Cosmo and Porochista currently reside together in Queens, New York.
In mid-May, I found myself tweeting, “I can’t believe we are married to our pets now.” It was two months into the pandemic lockdown, and I realized that for the past 60 days, I had no physical contact with anyone but my dog. Cosmo is a seven-year-old Standard Poodle who has been with me since he was eight weeks old. He came to me at the Albuquerque airport, all the way from Georgia in a box. After years of adopting and fostering rescues, Cosmo was my first breeder dog—a bit regretfully, but chronic illness gave me few options. As a squirming black ball of fur, he fit into just one of my hands. He was supposed to grow as big as 35 pounds, but he is now close to 60. According to the breeder, he was a Moyen Poodle, which meant he would grow to be medium-sized, and the only black Poodle in his litter. These were lies. As it turns out, he was probably just a Standard Poodle. His black coat quickly became charcoal, which is known as “blue” among breeders.
“Lockdown Cosmo wastes no one’s time.”
Who rescued whom? That’s the question everyone asks. Cosmo was supposed to be my therapy dog, but after several rounds of puppy school, he seemed best suited to being an emotional support animal. He came to me in my final months of excruciating Lyme disease treatment in 2012, when I felt well enough to consider taking care of something else, but was still ill enough to need the help of an assistance animal.
I had never had a puppy before. All my old dogs were elderly rescues—Greyhounds and Salukis. People had warned me: Poodles are unlike any other dog. “How should I put it,” one friend wrote. “It won’t be another dog basically. A poodle is partway between dog and human, but truthfully more human, I’d say…”
From day one, Cosmo and I were locked in battle. His willful, bossy personality was unlike any of the other dogs I had, who were shy and needy and demure. With Cosmo, it was and always is The Cosmo Show. At the dog park, he announces himself with three fast laps around the run, to let everyone know he’s arrived. In the house, he is an aggressive snuggler, cuddling against you until you remember to reciprocate. He has a food drive unlike any other dog I’ve seen—and he has real preferences, like Pink Lady apples are swell but the Granny Smith variety is unacceptable. He has the worst bark I have ever heard—unbearably loud and ready to go the minute anyone, including myself, shows up at the door. He loves few things more than getting professionally groomed, and he prefers flights to road trips.
Because Cosmo is always extra, to put it mildly, I had to establish boundaries. For example, no jumping on my bed—that was a big rule, but come lockdown season, it began breaking down. I bought a blanket, patterned with dogs, from the local drugstore, and let Cosmo sleep on my bed during the day. At night, I kicked him out—he was a terrible sleeper, always thrashing away in dreamland—thinking he would be happy with his own bed in the living room, but during lockdown, he began sleeping right outside my door, on the hardwood floor. Certainly not a comfortable position, but a place to sleep if you were, perhaps, tasking yourself with holding vigil.
Once our local dog park closed, another ritual was our daily walk. He used to know the words “dog park,” and now he knows “walk.” We go two miles around the neighborhood in the middle of the afternoon, and it is always the same spectacle: me tugging at him as he meticulously sniffs every bush on every block, and him tugging at me to lunge at every teen on a skateboard or kid on a Razor scooter, the two devices he hates most in the world.
During lockdown, he has learned how to communicate better. This is new: He locks his legs and becomes a statue when he does not want to do anything. On our evening walk, when he wants to tell me that he is done, and that number two would not come until morning, there it is—the lock in the legs that means it’s time to go back up. Lockdown Cosmo wastes no one’s time.
We have never been this inseparable. Usually, I come and go, occasionally for many hours, but during lockdown, we have never been apart. I see it as a huge blessing. You do not have to practice social distancing from your pets. You can hug and kiss and cuddle them all you want. What a blessing that has been! I cannot imagine how the pet-less among us are faring. I suppose we have both grown rather needy in our attachment—he suddenly gets bites from every bowl of ice cream I eat to drown my sorrows at odd hours, and he often falls into deep sleep on top of my legs, making it way past his blanket boundary on my bed, and eventually slithering into my arms. I am all for it. I don’t know what life will be like outside of this strange moment, and I hesitate to find any silver linings, but I can say, more than ever, I am so happy to be owned by a dog.
Illustration by Simone Martin-Newberry