Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.
My tendency to plunge headlong into things often created problems that could easily have been avoided. My relationship with Derrick was just another case in point.
“It’s the anxiety,” Dr. Kukosian said at our next session. “Anxious people move too fast.”
A politer version perhaps of “fools rush in”. But was there anything I could do to fix it?
“My patients who have overcome their anxiety continue to face this problem for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Kukosian explained. I stared at the ceiling.
“You’re saying I’m stuck with it?” She nodded slowly.
I eyed a canvas print of an oil painting on the wall behind her. It depicted a scene of biblical rapture. What right did these apostles have, being so happy?
“So… What should I do?” I said, feeling more than a little helpless.
“Every time you feel yourself rushing into something, slow down,” Dr. Kukosian said.
Slow down? I only had one speed, and as far as I could see, the gear stick was broken. But if the Derrick experience had taught me anything, it was that I shouldn’t jump into another relationship ever again.
My new resolve lasted a total of four months.
One day, while scrubbing myself in the shower, I caught myself talking to my dead dog. By talking I mean babbling, something between doggolingo and baby speak.
“Oh Deedeesco, bwye you so kyute?” I said in a singsong voice. “I bwanna sqbuish dat. Gib cuddle?”
To the casual listener, it would have sounded like I was suffering from pathological echolalia. But it all made perfect sense to me.
Soon I was babbling while dressing and cooking dinner. I stopped strangers in the street.
“Can I pet your dog?” I’d ask, my hand already halfway to their pet’s mane.
“Oo… You iz berry sbweet, isn’t you?” I’d coo to the dog. “Oy loik dat.”
The owner would force a smile, but their body language would be practically screaming: “Could you just please get AWAY from my dog?”
Before long I was staying up nights, scanning pet adoption websites.
Many of the ads read like personals, some adopting a pitiful, pleading tone.
“Marisol is a sweet, affectionate pit bull cross. Her previous owners were, unfortunately, unable to keep up with her energetic nature.”
Other ads bordered on insolent.
“Must have a large yard. No small children. Adoption possible after two weeks of successful fostering.”
Some came with detailed questionnaires or requests that struck me as a tad over-the-top.
“In the event your dog became ill, how much would you be willing to spend for treatment? $500? $1000? $3000.”
“Record a video tour of your home to give a sense of where the dog would be living.”
Most hotels didn’t even offer a video tour, and yet here was a pet adoption agency demanding a visual guarantee you could offer their homeless dog a picture perfect abode.
I winnowed my options and made a few calls. The first on my list was a scruffy, adorable-looking Chow by the name of Thompson.
“That dog is not available for adoption,” the lady at the pound told me.
“Well, why not?”
“He has aggression issues,” she said. “He’s only available for adoption to specialist shelters.”
“So why list him at all then?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. The woman hung up on me.
Moving my way down the list, I fired off emails. My selection criteria, as it turned out, were entirely superficial, cuteness prevailing over practicality.
One response arrived. Yes, Sandra the low-slung black mutt with tender eyes was still available. I sent an email back, expressing my interest in meeting her.
“Unfortunately you cannot meet her until after you have adopted her,” went the reply.
Say what? The lister confessed then that Sandra actually lived in South Korea.
Only once I had forked over the adoption fee would the agency fly Sandra out to Los Angeles to begin her new life with me.
It was potentially the canine equivalent of a catfish – a dogfish – and a risk I was not willing to take.
A few days later, a shelter contacted me about a tan Jindo called Ki.
“Ki’s foster Miska has offered to come by and talk you through the ins and outs of Jindo ownership,” the email read. “Miska will bring Ki along for you to meet. Please do not touch Ki during the meeting, as Jindos are generally wary of strangers.”
I crammed information about the dog breed in preparation for the meeting.
There were a few warning signs. Jindos for example were wary of strangers. But as had been the case with Derrick, I chose to focus only on the positives.
Wow! Jindos were a breed known for their bravery and their loyalty towards a single person – traits largely absent in the people I dated. What was not to like?
That afternoon Miska arrived with Ki in tow.
“First thing you should know,” Miska began, sitting on the edge of my desk, “is Jindos kill.”
“Er,” I blurted.
“They have a high prey drive,” Miska explained. “Ki kills something about once a week.”
“How-” I began, and stopped.
“Just last week we were walking and he suddenly pulled free,” Miska went on, oblivious of the effect her words were having. “Next thing, I see him tossing a rat into the air.” She mimed, laughing in what I hoped was chagrin. “Then he broke its back.”
My eyes went to the dog perched on the windowsill, staring intently at something I couldn’t see. Prey.
“He’s killed pigeons before, and a few stray cats,” Miska added. My eyes returned to her.
“How do you know they were stray?”
“They didn’t have collars,” Miska said, as Ki came over to study me. I dry-swallowed.
“Otherwise Ki is just lovely,” Miska said, as if this would negate everything that had come before. “He’s so protective. As a woman I can walk him anywhere at night.” She stared down at her foster pet. “I’m going to really miss him.”
“I bet,” I said dubiously. Doubts piled on. “So the shelter told me Ki would need more than an hour of walking every day?”
“At least,” Miska said.
“But Ki wouldn’t like it if my friends touched her, right?”
“Definitely not,” she said. “Sometimes if I touch her while she’s lying down, she growls at me.”
And there it was: the soft hiss of escaping air. The balloon of my Jindo aspirations had been pricked and was rapidly deflating.
Maybe Miska was trying to be funny. Maybe she’d overstated her case. But truth be told, any murderous tendencies were for me an immediate dealbreaker.
My reservations expressed, I thanked Miska for her time and saw her and Ki out.
Days later, I got a callback for an ivory-haired husky-corgi called Cash.
There had been a lot of interest in Cash, the adoption agent informed me. Given how cute he was, it was any surprise he was such a hot ticket. But, the agent told me, I was still welcome to come by and meet him tomorrow.
Nursing the beginnings of a cold, I drove to the adoption center in Eastside Los Angeles. As I walked through the door, I spotted Cash sitting beneath a chair, a red bandana twined about his neck.
He peered up at me, bushy tail wagging, and I was smitten. To hell with all the other contenders – this dog was going to be mine.
I sat down beside his current owner Anja, a silver-haired woman with a voice as soft and sweet as cotton candy. As Anja gently patted Cash, she explained she’d only recently adopted him, but that he hadn’t been the right fit for her household.
“He kept jumping all over my other dog, who’s pretty old,” she said. “Once he scratched her in the eye. I had to take her to the vet for treatment.”
The excitable fur ball between her knees strained to the end of his lead, sniffing the gap beneath a door.
I made kissing noises to get Cash’s attention and he trotted over to lick my hand. Next thing I was squishing my face into his. This was my attempt at affection – and probably the textbook definition of the worst way to introduce yourself to a dog.
Cash gave a Husky growl of protest.
“I’ve never heard him make that noise before,” Anja said, fascinated.
The adoption agent came over to ask how things were going.
“I want him to adopt Cash,” Anja said. “Can he take him today?”
The face squishing trick, it seemed, had worked. Anja had sensed our special, instantaneous bond; had recognized that there would be no greater owner than I.
The agent frowned.
“There are still a few families who would like to meet Cash first,” she said. Anja insisted. A gentle tug of war ensued, until, finally, the agent caved.
An hour later I strolled out of the agency, Cash’s leash in one hand and a box of dog supplies in the other.
Getting my newly adopted child into the car proved something of an ordeal. The instant Cash realized what was happening, he flailed, bracing his paws against the frame of the door, like a cartoon character resisting a lifetime of imprisonment.
It took two of us to get him inside. Cash immediately settled on the floor, unmoving and unresponsive.
I searched for “dog relaxation music” on YouTube then connected my phone to the car’s audio system. Soft, languorous synths oozed from the speakers.
These were the kind of sounds you’d expect to hear in a crystal shop…and probably the closest thing to musical waterboarding. Whether Cash enjoyed it, I couldn’t tell, huddled as he was beneath my chair.
When we got home, I carried my new pet over to the bath and ran some warm water, rubbing strawberry-scented shampoo into his fur.
Cash struggled with a desperation born of certain hydrophobia. I drew the shower curtain to prevent him from leaping out, and when that didn’t work, blocked the path of escape with my body.
Afterwards I dried him and he sat, staring at me with doleful eyes as I ran a brush through his tangles. The adoption was beginning to hit home.
But so was my cold. My throat in the last few hours had grown raw, and my nose was watering.
Binning a fist-sized wad of hair, I flung the brush away and sat, exhausted, on my bed. An uncomfortable pressure built inside my sinuses, giving way to pain.
“Cash?” Cash wandered over. I sat him on the edge of the bed, buried my face in his fur, and proceeded to cry.
Cash was having none of it. His eyes bulged. “Too soon bro!” they seemed to say.
He leapt down, vanishing into the kitchen.
I lay back, trying to repress a sneeze and failing. Lying on my back, with my face parallel with the ceiling, this had the unfortunate effect of simulating rain.
There came a noise, like someone trying to squeeze ketchup from a bottle, and levered myself up. That was when I spotted Cash squatting, in preparation to defecate.
“No, Cash! No!”
Diarrhea spattered the tiles. Completing the motion, Cash stepped backwards, directly into the puddle.
“Cash stop- No! STOP STOP STOP STOP!”
At the sound of his name, Cash trotted back over to the bed, leaving a trail of muddy pawprints.
His pale, arctic-fox face peered up at me. Wary, expectant. My tear-stained face stared back.
Here we were: two sick, miserable beings in need of love and comfort. It was, if anything, a promising beginning.
Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 3: ‘You’re weird’.
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