A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
Canine insubordination will no longer be tolerated.
Gus has a really bad habit. Whenever we hit certain points along our route home, a little signal goes off in his very sweet but limited brain that says, “Know this corner. Corner near home. No dogs or squirrels or sidewalk candy at home. Home not park. No home. No. Nonononono.”
At which point he begins a pathetic series of attempts to lie down in the middle of the sidewalk. First, I’ll feel that telltale tug of resistance at the end of the leash, and I’ll realize that he’s now trailing very deliberately behind me. I’ll gather him closer to me and give him a tug to keep moving. That’s when he’ll enter phase two of his rebellion, which is to straighten out his front legs in front of him so that he cannot effectively walk but rather bumps along, his feet awkwardly crossed and now caught up in his harness. Often, that’s enough to get me to stop long enough for him to go belly-down, as it were, and spread out all fours like he’s a bear rug in a living room, not a stubborn dog on a busy street. Occasionally, I’ll try to power through the leg-straightening move, which is when Gus brings out the big guns. He will literally hurl his entire body onto the sidewalk from a standing position and then go limp.
I bend down to pick him up, and he is 48.5 pounds of dead muscle weight. I lift a paw, he lets it drop. I scoop him with both arms so that he is upright again, his legs suspended above the concrete like a marionette. I gently lower him until his feet make contact. He melts back into the sidewalk instantly, legs of Jell-o. I plead. I beg. I bargain. I demand! I say, “Gus, you get up right now! I am in charge!” No reaction. If only we could train him to play dead on command, this skill might actually be translated into an impressive parlor trick of some use. As it is, I am prisoner to his iron will.
I’m sweating and pulling until I am at the end of my physical and emotional rope. We are so close to home, and we’re stuck! This happens ALL THE TIME. I am a failure as a dog owner. He is alpha and I am subject to his whims. He has no respect for me! I meant to keep up with our obedience lessons, I really did. He’s so good in every other respect. But this is my fault, I’ve let myself down and I’ve let him down. I’m hanging my head in defeat and muttering to myself about my shortcomings, when is typically when someone will walk by and say: “aaw, so cute!” or “he must be hot!” or “aaw, he’s tired!” No he’s not! He’s not tired! He’s not hot! We live 3 doors down and it has taken us ten minutes to move one foot! Look at me! I’M hot! I’M thirsty! He’s taking a nap like he owns the world!
That’s not what I say, of course. I say: “Haha, yeah,” and the person smiles and moves along as I resume attempting to pick him up and drag his corpse-like body the rest of the way.
Finally, someone will pass who either has a dog or possesses that glint in the eye and the sympathetic look that tells me this person will understand. This person can help. If they approach and pet Gus, he will rise (complete strangers are exceptions to his “pretend I have no legs” policy). And when this happens, I ask if we can follow them until we get to our door. I’ve got no shame. I’ve forgotten New York social codes entirely. I’m asking random citizens on the street if we can “hitch a ride” for half a block because otherwise I WILL DIE ON THIS CORNER. Amazingly, everyone not only obliges but seems mostly happy and not too creeped out to do so. It’s a pretty easy way to get your good Samaritan badge for the day, I suppose.
So after a lifetime of feeling jaded, mistrustful, and slightly misanthropic, my stubborn, poorly-behaved dog has taught me the value of depending on the kindness of strangers.
I need to find a silver lining here, okay? You try walking Gus.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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