Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Atomic Dog, by George Clinton. 🎵
Daniel Ortberg wrote about "dogweight" in anticipation of putting down his dog, and his partner Grace wrote a very sweet eulogy. I loved the title of Grace's piece, and got to thinking about What I've Learned From Sapo (and how we got together in the first place).
The story starts when I moved East from Texas in 2013. When Charly and I dated in college, she always said that she was going to get a dog and name him George, because it's such a satisfying name to scream. Four years after our breakup, when we decided to give the relationship another try, she'd already acquired him, and been living with her George for 4 years.
I was in love. This dog was 11 pounds of sweet. He wasn't particularly bright! He wasn't social with other dogs; he was the kind of chill dog that you had to remind to eat his food. He was always happy to see you, always happy to snuggle up to you, and growled at footsteps coming from the hallway. I had a variation of her old joke: I was going to get a dog and name him Sapo ("I'm getting a dog and naming him Frog").
Wilf is a slightly weird, wiry George. He's the same size class, extremely adorable, and very gentle unless you're a squirrel. If you give him a toy he puts his teeth on it and "pulses" it with his jaw, never actually harming the toy.
My friend referred me to the adoption agency they got him from, Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. I submitted an application, got approved 4 weeks later, and braced myself for sole ownership of my own little Wilf.
Except… Sapo is no Wilf.
Enter Sapo 🐸
Catch me in person sometime, I'll tell you why I was lovestruck and very hungover the day of Badass's Howl-o-ween adoption event. In retrospect, I was not in the position to be making Life Choices. I came thinking I'd like to adopt a large black dog who'd been given back twice, named Majordomo. I took him for a walk around the block and didn't feel quite the connection I'd hoped for. Also, the reality of an 80lb dog became very real. I took two other dogs on trial walks, and they all seemed alright, but I didn't feel that spark.
Then I took out "Ichabod Crane," who was considerably smaller than I thought he would be from the photos. Now this dog was alive! He was yanking the leash like the floor and everything else was made of lava. He had curiosity! Spark! And as soon as you went to pet him, he'd stop immediately and gratefully receive your attention. He was adorable, he was popular, and I knew if I put him back in the pool he'd get snapped up by someone else. I took him to the organizer and adopted him immediately.1
We got rejected by two cabs before a third offered to take us home. He farted the whole way. What's really funny to me about the day-of photos when he got home was that I now recognize that he's terrified.
I'm far enough away from this that I can speak candidly about it: I was miserable, and living with Sapo nearly broke me. Anytime I left my apartment, he destroyed everything he could get his teeth into. He was uncontainable: he could leap into and out of any structure, he jumped baby gates, he could push open doors without great bolts (as my apartment lacked). Here are some of his greatest hits:
I always came home to accidents, regardless of how often or recently he'd been walked. It's technically incorrect to call them accidents, I started calling them "expecteds."
The property damage can't be overcommunicated: everything was torn, always. Books. Exposed leather (you have more than you realize. My college diploma was a favorite find). Clothes, hats, gloves, pants. Garbage! This dog loves garbage!
Given that he loved to chew, I got a Barkbox subscription, which gave me fresh toys every month. It also gave me fresh treats, which I'd hold onto for later training because he was already gaining to much weight under my care. This meant I had a "bag of bag of treats" stashed away for whenever I needed them.
Surprise! One day, he got into the bag of bag of treats while I was away. I cleaned up 9 vomit piles that night. Which meant there was a point when Sapo had just finished vomiting for a 5th time, looked around, and thought "what do I do now? I guess I'll eat more treats!" and did that until he vomited 4 more times.
Everyone's favorite headliner is the fire.
My kitchen was miniscule, and elevated space on counters or shelves was extremely hard to come by (especially since I was hiding all my material possesions to prevent his chewing them), I'd left his harness and leash on the stove. While I was gone, he'd tried reaching up to it, and lit a burner. It's the stuff of insurance commercials. I now own children's stove covers. Since the fuel was his dogwalking equipment, I call it political protest. I am monumentally lucky the fire didn't catch in the rest of the apartment.
Today, he chews objects far less (though will always appreciates a toy). He's taken well to crate training, so I can leave the house for a few hours in peace. I love this dog. He's my wizard's familiar. It breaks my heart when he's sick and I miss him when I leave town. I love walking him, I love when he comes and snuggles up to me. These days, I'm firmly of the belief that I got very lucky with Sapo.
Things I've learned from being Sapo's caretaker
Things I've most learned from Sapo:
Despite what your self-image is, you may be running away from and in denial of many of your problems. The most frustrating part of being Sapo's caretaker was that while he was a big part of my life's misery, I couldn't pin it on anything but my own lack of foresight when choosing to adopt him, or my failure in commitment to caring for him. He wasn't dangerous. He's always been incredibly sweet, he's never harmed another dog or person. Anytime he did something that I didn't love, I'd have to tell myself: he's a dog. He's not doing this to fuck with you. He may be ruining many of your possessions, he might have needs you're not able to identify or easily meet, but between the two of you, he's a dog and you're the human (and the caretaker). Fucking own it.
I think one of the ways we self-sabotage is to feel like we're working past our traumas or demons by identifying them, when we've really just cultivated a comfortable relationship with them nearby. We hit the first milestone (admitting something like "I have depression" or "I struggle in romantic relationships because of [X]") and by merely identifying it, we're most of the way to moving past it. I don't mean to demean anyone's journey! And identifying a roadblock is a major step in getting past it! But to use a metaphor: spotting a roadblock is important, making a detour is a decent temporary measure, but Sapo taught me of my tendency to settle for the detours, rather than do the work to clear the roadblock entirely.
I'd reached this point with Sapo where I learned to live with many small resentments, but wouldn't fix them. I'd joke about The Dog Life to myself, or with friends, but I truly did resent him, while also feeling that a better relationship was hopeless.
This wasn't fair to me, or to Sapo. It was still an embarassingly long time before I committed to improving our life and relationship. Eventually, I worked with a trainer (reminder: dog trainers don't train the dog, they train the owner). I read a bunch of books, and have been applying much of what I've learned, especially this year.
Similarly, it's never too late to make improvements. I wish I'd committed harder years ago, but the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is right now.
Sapo knows what he wants and wants it unabashedly; I think that's rad as hell. He can be a persistent little bastard and Karen and I have a lot of phrases we use to try to describe his behavior (e.g. "Sapo doesn't really understand boundaries as a concept; he'll violate yours and never object to you pushing his"); one of them is just how we imagine his voice saying "but, but… I want it" after we've pushed him away from our dinner for the 11th time.
Sapo is gentle, curious, and almost overly-enthusiastic in giving affection to all living creatures, except Wretched Creatures, who he justifiably seeks to destroy. Other dogs? Sapo is happy to sniff and chase. Babies and children? He's a dream. Cats? FUCK OFF FOREVER YOU POOR, UNGRATEFUL, FAILURES OF A MAMMAL. Birds? I WILL EAT YOU, THE CRUNCH OF YOUR CARTILAGE WILL FEEL GOOD IN MY STRONG JAWS. I try to fill my worldview with love and charity for others but I'm also a righteous motherfucker against what I believe to be injustices and evils. In this way, Sapo is my boy.
Have a good bark of disproportionate size to your frame. Use it persistently It's great to see people's alarmed reactions, and even with people knowing not to reward it, they frequently will anyways if you're good enough.
A good snuggle can fix anything. Well, it can fix a lot.
Be you, you fucking weirdo.
1. ^ What I didn't know was that every other dog acting "tired" and "lifeless" was behaving normally—they'd been with ~30 other dogs on a long car trip, and now were at an event with ~50 people. They were tired! Ichabod… was made of different stuff.
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