Dogs are not tiny humans, OK? Now please just read ‘Cesar’s Way’

Essy Knopf Cesar Milan Cesar's Way Anxious Seeks Canine
Reading time: 5 minutes

My 18-part blog series on dog ownership, Anxious Seeks Canine, was, firstly, an admission of guilt, written before I had gotten my hands on such classics as Cesar’s Way

Between picking at my own stitches, I was also skewering the role my neuroses had played in my shaping relationship with my pup Cash.

Yet for all the self-awareness writing Anxious Seeks Canine demanded of me, one year on after giving up my dog, I was no closer to a better understanding of what exactly had gone wrong.

Sure, Cash had been an anxious dog; about as anxious, in fact, as I myself was. 

Sure, I had done the best according to what I knew at the time. And yet, walking away from the experience, I found myself wondering what exactly I could have done differently.

This is what ultimately led me to read celebrity expert Cesar Millan’s book, Cesar’s Way

Millan highlights the fundamental error owners commit when adopting dogs. Specifically, our habit of trying to understand them from a human-centric perspective.

Dogs may share our mammalian heritage, but their needs and priorities are inherently different from our own. 

And it’s when these needs and priorities clash with our own that problems develop.

Cesar’s Way: Exercise, discipline, affection – in that order

One of Millan’s key points can be distilled into the following statement: dogs require “exercise, discipline, affection – in that order”.

Too often these priorities are placed out of order, with affection first.

Consider the owner who matches their dog’s over-excited response upon returning home.

Believing that their dog has suffered through loneliness or even the perception of abandonment, s/he may over-empathize and lavish them with attention.

The problem of course is that this is a very human attempt to interpret a distinctly non-human thought process. 

anxious seeks canine cesar milan cesar's way dog ownership
Iz not human. Cannot do.

As Millan points out in Cesar’s Way, dogs don’t necessarily live in the past or future as we did, in remembering and anticipation. They don’t construct causal narratives about their relationships. 

Rather, they dwell in the present, responding less to memories than to prior conditioning.

As gay men, many of us have all experienced some measure of abandonment, if only as a result of our sexuality, be it from friends or family members. It stands to reason therefore why we act so lovingly towards our “fur babies”. 

Yet the downside of giving affection first is that you may be unwittingly reinforcing whatever behavior the pet is engaging in at the time.

In this case, the owner is conditioning the dog to work itself into a state every time they leave or return, thereby intensifying their emotional response and instilling greater and greater levels of separation anxiety.

Take for example my habit of greeting Cash with squeals and baby-talk. In time, my dog came to connect my response with his feelings. Very quickly, my infantilizing patter began setting him on edge.

Any wonder then I never made true headway with easing Cash’s separation anxiety.

The importance of being active

From day one, Cash was bursting with excess energy. When I stood up from my desk, he would rocket to his feet, n preparation for what, I never knew.

Our daily walks involved Cash tugging me behind him, like a freight train climbing a mountain.

Three 20-minute walks each day was, in my books, more than sufficient exercise. Not so in Cash’s. 

Even after hours-long hikes, my dog still somehow found the energy to chase me to the door.

Suffice to say, my largely sedentary lifestyle was not working for him. Being cooped up in my apartment went against his very genetics as a Husky-Corgi.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay cesar's way
My high-maintenance pooch.

As a result, Cash remained perpetually anxious, freaking out when left by himself or exposed to other dogs, barking incessantly, snarling when they got too close, and trying to mount them.

If my squeals had only fuelled Cash’s anxiety, his anxiety only fuelled the conflict he’d anticipated fear, my dog’s aggression inevitably drawing retaliation. 

It didn’t help that during my visits to the dog park I was, as Millan terms it, “punching out”. Rather than actively monitoring my dog, watching his body language, intervening early, and correcting undesirable behaviors, my attention went instead to a book or laptop screen.

Suffice to say, adjusting my lifestyle to better accommodate my dog would have gone a long way to remedying the situation. 

Setting and following rules, boundaries and limitations

Shelter, food, and affection – none of this guarantees your dog will necessarily respect your place as head of the household.

However hopelessly dependent your dog may be upon you for their survival if given an inch, they most certainly will take a mile.

As Cesar Millan notes, dogs are pack animals. They seek to establish hierarchical relations. When human beings treat them as their equals, dogs may respond by attempting to assert dominance.

They may, for example, disobey you, or engage in other less obvious behaviors, like insisting they be the first to go through a doorway.

In Cesar’s Way, Millan argues that your dog doesn’t necessarily want to be the leader. Their response is simply an attempt to fill a perceived power vacuum. 

Feeling forced to take the job of “top dog” can have the effect of creating anxiety for your pet, not to mention frustration for you. 

By employing discipline – setting rules, boundaries, and limitations – however, we can avoid this situation entirely.

While regular obedience training can certainly help, if you fail to apply the same discipline to other facets of your dog’s life, there’s a good chance the training won’t take.

What’s important here is consistency. A dog is more likely to be happy and stable if it knows =what to expect to you. This means being firm with not just enforcing rules, but ensuring that you yourself uphold them. 

For example, Cash only dragged me during our walks because I had failed to set clear, consistent rules about his role and place in the pack.

By removing food bowls after a certain amount of time had elapsed, and always ensuring I was the first to eat, I managed to quickly communicate my role as pack leader.

A no-pull halter also had the effect of stopping all attempts to dive through doorways, while forcing my dog to walk at my pace. 

But most importantly, it communicated to Cash that he no longer needed to take the lead. 

And for all my dog’s dislike of the halter, I sensed immediate relief on his part, as he no longer felt compelled to play a role for which he was not able.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay cesar's way
Infantilization. A case in point.

When to use positive reinforcement

According to Cesar’s Way, we should give attention only to those behaviors we want to positively reinforce.

As for undesirable behaviors? Millan says they should be corrected immediately, by providing a replacement activity indicating what it is you would rather your dog do instead.

Affection is a form of positive reinforcement and is best earned, for example, when the dog respects a rule or obeys a command. Even then, Millan says we should only offer it so long as our pet is calm and submissive. 

There are times as well when affection should be withheld: “When your dog is fearful, anxious, possessive, dominant, aggressive, whining, begging, barking – or breaking any rule of your household”.

By clarifying and reinforcing your expectations of them you condition your dog to behave in desirable ways. This not only encourages obedience but establishes your pet’s place in your household’s “pack”, thereby strengthening her/his sense of purpose and wellbeing. 

This is key to dispelling the anxiety Millan notes dogs can develop as a result of living with human beings and is the cause of many of our difficulties as owners.

For those of us with firsthand experience with highly-strung dogs, the Cesar’s Way philosophy thus offers a clear path to a more balanced and content life, not just for pets – but owners as well.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 1: ‘I am sending you’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 9 minutes

This is a story about how I almost died. Almost. Well not exactly. But I COULD have died. I could die anytime, as a matter of fact. Is that a lump I feel in my armpit?”

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.


“I think we have good energy.” I stared at Derrick, trying not to laugh. 

“You realize horses cost a lot of money, right?”  

“A few thousand dollars, at most,” Derrick replied.

“Really,” I said. “And where would you keep it?” Our tiny apartment was hardly big enough for two people and a dog as it was.

“At the stables,” Derrick said. “See, I think it would be a great investment. I could rent it out to other riders. Before long the costs would cover themselves. I’d even be able to turn a profit.”

I was on the verge of disputing the claim when the pointlessness of it all struck me.

Derrick was mercurial when it came to life decisions. This I figured was him trying to persuade himself as much as me. 

And sure enough, when Derrick returned from his riding lessons a week later, he was under a cloud.

“Bitch,” he muttered. I gave him a look. “The trainer,” Derrick added. “She quoted $12,000 for the horse. Can you believe it? Then she had the nerve to ask for a commission.”

I knew better than to rub vinegar into my boyfriend’s wounds. But still, I had to ask the question.

“So…are you still going to buy a horse?”

“I’m not giving her a damn cent!” Derrick said, storming into his room.

Reality had dealt his modest dream a death blow. But by the next day, his mood had changed.

“Good news,” he said, bouncing through the door. “I’m going to buy a motorcycle.”

“You’re- What?” I replied.

“I sat on one today,” Derrick explained. “It was so cool. Look.” He showed me a photo.

“But you don’t even know how to ride,” I pointed out. Derrick scowled.

“I’d learn,” he said.

Still, I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for this latest obsession. Last time it had been a trip to Coachella. And the time before that, an overwater bungalow in Tahiti. Derrick was quietly treading the waters of a mid-life crisis.

I made myself a bowl of cereal. Derrick’s expression got all furtive.

“So… How’s your therapy going?”

It was a fishing expedition – I was sure of it. I tried to keep my tone neutral.

“Pretty well so far.”

“Have you told her about us?” I hesitated.

“No, not yet. See, she’s Christian,” I said. “I’m worried she’ll pass judgment. You know, about us.”

“You should really tell her,” Derrick insisted. As if doing this might somehow help crystallize our relationship.

Right now, Dr. Kukosian was impartial. Trying to keep your private life private while stretched out on a therapist’s couch might sound like a losing battle, but the last thing I wanted to do was incite her prejudices. 

Defending one’s “lifestyle choices” was not a task I particularly looked forward to, especially when it might result in me being more or less kicked out of therapy. 

The therapist pickings were slim. Los Angeles was a city ripe with dysfunction, with not enough sympathetic ears to go around.

Though if I was being honest with myself, Dr. Kukosian’s religion was an excuse, and Derrick had good cause to be worried.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
This picture captures my initial joy and optimism during the first few weeks of my relationship with Derrick.


Dr. Kukosian’s office was on the ninth floor of a high-rise at the heart of Glendale. This floor, I eventually learned, had been rented to a private Christian college. The doctor’s counseling room – more of a booth, really – occupied a far corner.

Dr. Kukosian sat in an armchair, clad in a cardigan, capris, and an unfaltering smile, listening patiently as I ran through the week’s events.

Fifteen minutes into the session, I ran out of things to talk about. Dr. Kukosian’s encouraging smile loomed before me.

Her non-directive therapy style had left me with a chronic fear of silence. Broaching the subject of Derrick was no longer a choice, but a necessity. It was time to let the homo out of the bag. 

I opened by mentioning that I had a partner. Then I casually slipped in a masculine pronoun, carefully watching Dr. Kukosian’s face for a reaction. Nothing. 

“So you moved in with him after only two months of dating?” she asked. Her lack of disapproval was anticlimatic…disappointing, even.

“Well, my lease was up at my old place,” I said. “He had a spare room. The rent was cheaper. I wanted to save money.”

Here I was, trying to justify my decision, less worried about being condemned for being gay than I was for being, well, reckless.

“Seems like that happened very quickly,” Dr. Kukosian observed. 

“Anyway, it’s just temporary,” I said, hearing a criticism where there wasn’t one. Dr. Kukosian processed this with a sagely nod.

“And how are things between the two of you?”

I considered how best to respond.

“Well, he has an anxiety problem,” I began.

My therapist would have to be deaf not to hear the irony of this. I was here, after all, because my own anxiety had recently migrated to my face, leading to weeklong bouts of jaw clenching.

“Derrick’s a workaholic,” I continued. “He’s often go-go-go all day, night, and weekend. We don’t have any time together. He forgets all our couple’s appointments and blames me for not reminding him. I’ve basically become his maid and dog-minder.” 

“And how does that make you feel?” Dr. Kukosian asked, perhaps sensing my exasperation.

“Like I’m a…a fixture in his household,” I said, grappling for a metaphor. “Like a lamp or a chair. Like my needs don’t matter. The dog isn’t mine. She shouldn’t be my responsibility.”

That, however, wasn’t the worst of it. I’d known from the beginning that Derrick had anger management problems.

Early on in the relationship, he’d mocked my taste in music during a car ride. I’d mimed slapping him and an instant later his fist connected with my face. 

It had not been deliberate, but rather a knee-jerk (or should I say elbow-jerk?) reaction. Still, it had made me cry, and in an unexpected show of contrition, Derrick had pulled over and gotten down on his knees to apologize. 

A few days later, on the return drive from a visit to see his family in Sacramento, Derrick had woken from a nap to hear me telling his dog, who was misbehaving at the time, that she was “out of control”.

“Maybe you’re the one out of control!” he shouted, before turning over and promptly falling back asleep.  

At first, I was bemused. But the outbursts had continued, eroding my sense of security.

Another time, we were driving through his friend’s neighborhood while he was in the car. I made what I believed was an inoffensive observation, noting that the houses around us looked “rather squat”.

Perhaps Derrick thought I was, by extension, insulting his friend’s home, because his reaction had been to snap at me.

“Just shut up, okay?”

And when Derrick wasn’t taking his frustrations out on me, he was usually humblebragging.

As a manager at a tech startup, Derrick had crossed paths with more than a few industry luminaries. But after weeks of namedropping, I’d taken to joking about Derrick’s claims to fame.

“Elon Musk and I are totes besties,” I’d once exaggerated. “You don’t believe me? I’ve got his father’s number on my phone. Look, see? Wes Musk. We’re on great terms.”

Derrick retaliated by threatening to kick me out of his apartment. 

Derrick was in his 40s, so my expectations had admittedly been skewed towards him possessing a certain degree of maturity. Skewed, if not faulty.

Over the course of months, Derrick had gone from charm offensive to lashing out at random, until finally, I’d withdrawn into my room, taking with me all my goodwill.

Our lives from then on had been parallel, occasionally crossing but never connecting. When my attempts to bridge the divide had been ignored and even scorned, parting ways had seemed the inevitable conclusion.

“It sounds like a very stressful situation for you,” Dr. Kukosian said. “Maybe for the sake of your relationship it would be best if you just moved out?” 

Later, after the session, as I stood at the university urinal relieving myself, I noticed a poster taped to the wall.

“I am sending you,” it read. It was a quote, attributed to none other than Jesus Christ.

Sending me where, I wondered? And more importantly, why? 

I considered the Korean characters beneath the quote. Supposing this wasn’t just a mistranslation, the phrase could have once made sense, in some other time and place. It was also equally possible it never had, and never would.

All the same, I decided to take it as a sign. Jesus or no, I was going to leave Derrick.


The following day, Derrick asked if I would be willing to volunteer my services as a personal assistant at his startup.

The business was short-staffed, and given Derrick had helped me with picking out my first car, I figured I owed him the favor.

But shortly after I arrived, I witnessed Derrick ball out another manager in front of several other employees.

Over lunch, I hinted to Derrick that I was worried about the possible fallout.

“Perhaps it would be better next time if you just walk away?” I suggested. Derrick glowered.

“Well, maybe next time I just won’t ask for your help,” he replied.

I studied my lunch. For the better part of the morning, I had been running around doing errands on Derrick’s behalf. Was this his idea of gratitude?

That night, Derrick missed yet another couple’s dinner, returning home hours later to find me practicing yoga. Trying to look as defiant as I possibly could from my position on the floor, I announced I was moving out.

“Okay,” Derrick said. Uncertainty flickered across his face, hardened into something else entirely.

“I don’t have any hard plans yet,” I said, trying to soften the blow, “but I have started looking around.”

I braced myself. Having laid the groundwork, I figured now was as good a time as any to pull the trigger.

“I was thinking,” I began, “it might be best if we both took some time out from the relationship.” 

The subtext being forever – not that I was going to spell that out. Right now, Derrick was a powder keg I had no intention of lighting.

Derrick leaned back on his heels.

“I think that’s a good idea,” he said.

“… You do?”

“I’m pretty busy right now with work,” he said, playing it cool. “And you want more than I can give you.”

Was that a jeer I heard in his voice? If Derrick was hoping I would rise to the accusation, he was going to be sorely disappointed.

“Are you sure you’re okay with it?” I pressed.

“Fine,” Derrick insisted. His refusal to meet my eyes told me he’d suspected this was coming. 

And really, how could he have not? I’d told Derrick on multiple occasions how his behavior was driving me away. His response had been to label me “too sensitive”, or worse still, ignore me completely.

Fearing my short credit history and lack of savings would hinder me in my search for a new apartment, I’d dragged my heels. But then my mental health had taken a turn, and moving out had become a matter of survival.

Over the next week, Derrick wavered between anger and brittle formality, staying away from the apartment. I began to walk on eggshells, fearing that if I wasn’t careful, Derrick might try to evict me on the spot.

A friend heard I was looking for a place and asked if I might want to take over his lease. The studio proved tiny, but it had recently been renovated, with exposed brickwork and a kitchen sink the size of a drydock. Cute, serviceable, and – most importantly – available right now.

In less than 24 hours I’d signed the lease, packed my belongings, and booked a moving truck. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
I suspect Derrick thought I was bluffing, that sooner or later I was going to “come to my senses”.


Moving day rolled around and I received a text message from Derrick, stating in precise detail the condition in which he wanted my room left. 

“Make sure when you move out to vacuum,” he wrote. “I want you to clean all the dust off the skirting boards.”

This, from a man whose idea of cleanliness involved letting his dog defecate in the house while the Rumba was on.

All week conflict had been brewing. And soon it would explode.

At 9.30 pm, I made my final trip back to the house to collect some potted plants. While collecting the last one, I spotted movement through the open front door.

After a day’s absence, Derrick had returned home. His earlier silence over text told me he was itching for a fight. 

I leaned over the threshold and dropped the keys on the TV stand. 

“Here’s your keys!” I called, turning to leave. Derrick poked his head out of the bathroom.

“Wait a second,” he said, drying his hands and hurrying over. “I want to talk to you.”

“Really – I have to go,” I replied. My friends were waiting outside in the car, and we were long overdue for dinner.

“That’s fine,” Derrick blurted, using a word I’d come to associate with its exact opposite. Then he launched his opening salvo: “You need to stop talking shit about me.”

I stared, deadpan. Derrick forced a smirk.

“It’s actually kind of sad, the fact you need to go around talking about other people behind their backs.”

Yes, I had complained to a mutual friend about Derrick’s emotional abuse. So far as I was concerned, I could shout my story from the rooftop if I wanted to.

Suffice to say, Derrick didn’t really want an apology. He wanted a scene. But I was not going to give him one.

“Bye,” I said. And off I went, bounding down the front steps. Derrick rushed out onto the landing after me.

“Good luck with your writing career!” he screamed. “I hear it’s going really well so far!”

It was a knife twist out of some soap opera playbook. 

Giddy with the ridiculousness of it all, I launched myself into the waiting car. 

“What happened?” my friends wanted to know.

I looked back at the security gate to Derrick’s apartment complex. Any second now I expected him to burst into view, a spurned lover set on shrill revenge. The idea left me torn between laughter and mortification.

“Just drive!” I said. “Quickly!”

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
My new studio apartment.

The next day I received a text message from Derrick, written in the frosty prose of a job rejection letter. I was hereby notified he would be invoicing me for all outstanding bills. Derrick also demanded I remove myself from our shared auto insurance plan. 

“Well ahead of you there, buddy,” I wanted to reply. Derrick was so out-of-touch he hadn’t even noticed when I’d cut the tie two weeks prior.

If I’m being honest, the relationship had been a slow-motion train wreck.

It was not the first, and as circumstances would soon prove, it would not be the last.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 2: ‘Too soon bro’.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 2: ‘Too soon bro!’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 7 minutes

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.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
If I’m being honest about myself, my tendency to plunge headlong into things almost always resulted in disaster.

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.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The dog I would ultimately adopt would prove to be a husky-corgi called Cash. 


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.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
My first glimpse of Cash. I was smitten.

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. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash following his arrival at my apartment.


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.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash lost about half his body weight after I brushed him. He had that much hair.

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’.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 3: ‘You’re weird’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 6 minutes

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.


“Why do you want to date me?” The question hung in the air for a few awkward seconds. Derrick scrambled to find an answer.

“… Because I like you,” he said, his face devoid of emotion.

“And why do you like me?” I was like the four-year-old who’d just discovered the word “why”. Once I started, I absolutely refused to stop.

“You’re weird,” Derrick replied. “I like that.” As good a reason as any to be with someone, I suppose?

What Derrick had failed to articulate, however, was that I was there – and that was enough.

Whether we were actually compatible was a question to which Derrick was not interested in devoting his attention. And I accepted this. Broken, complicated ol’ me. Probably didn’t deserve any better.

You see, when I met Derrick, I was recovering from the worst illness of my life. Since my teen years, I had struggled with an undiagnosed gut disorder. 

For a decade, I had believed my symptoms – gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, eczema, fatigue, severe mood swings – to be the result of gluten intolerance. After removing gluten from my diet, these symptoms improved but didn’t resolve completely. 

Gradually I removed other possible offenders like dairy, with varying degrees of success.

After years of on-and-off illness, I made an appointment at a leading allergy clinic. Every single test came up negative. 

At one specialist’s suggestion, I adopted a diet eliminating naturally-occurring food chemicals: salicylates, aminos, and glutamates, which can be found in anything from fruits, to cheese, chocolate, and sauces.

While these chemicals can cause reactions in some people, they didn’t appear to be a source of bother to me. Next I trialed going off animal products altogether…only for the symptoms to intensify. 

A large red rash appeared on my back, and neither anti-fungal or cortisone creams could persuade it to go away. My gut became permanently distended, prone to swelling every time I ate.

With my health in shambles, I had no choice but to cut back completely on dating.


WebMD told me I was probably suffering from a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS was a somatic condition linked to anxiety and depression, and given my predisposition to the latter, this made me an ideal candidate. Notwithstanding the fact that feeling like I was in the third trimester of pregnancy wasn’t depressing in its own right…

A doctor confirmed the diagnosis and suggested I undergo a test for a secondary condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

The results confirmed that I had indeed had well and truly become a human incubator for single-celled organisms. At last, I had an explanation for my symptoms.

Where IBS could be treated with ongoing dietary restrictions, SIBO required antibiotics. A couple of weeks of treatment reduced my gut to its normal size, only for new symptoms to emerge: chronic fatigue, followed by dizzy spells.

After petitioning my doctor for help and receiving a handful of taciturn emails, I flew to Australia to stay with my folks while trying to figure out what the hell was happening.

A helpful country town doctor put me through a battery of new tests. Receiving the results was like opening a grab bag, only to find a cluster bomb.

IBS and SIBO had left my gut ravaged, and in their wake some kind of parasite had set up shop, requiring yet another course of antibiotics.

On top of this, I was suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency, on account of all the sunlight I was not getting from lying in my sickbed.

But the kicker was that the cause of my chronic fatigue was something altogether unrelated: infectious mononucleosis – the so-called “kissing disease”.

Turns out I hadn’t been wrong to stop dating, only that I probably should’ve done it sooner. In my ailing condition, I had sought comfort in the wrong person, and he had given me a case of mono. It had been a teen rite of passage, a decade too late.

I swung very suddenly from a state of chronic fatigue to one of chronic embarrassment.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The mono let me bedridden for weeks on end.


Still only partially recovered from my illness, I returned to Los Angeles. To say the experience had left a dent in my spirit was something of an understatement. 

Look people – I almost died. Almost. Well not exactly. But I COULD have died. I could die anytime, as a matter of fact. Is that a lump I feel in my armpit? 

Being so sick had only heightened my existing anxiety, leaving me overwhelmed. It might’ve helped if I’d had friends or family around to care for me in LA, but I was a newcomer to the city.

Any surprise then that I warmed so quickly to Derrick. From the very beginning, he lavished attention on me, taking me out to dinner at least twice a week. 

He was solicitous about my health, swearing I could always count on him for help. It was the kind of care I’d secretly longed for.

Other people fantasize about filthy rich dreamboats, but not I. What I wanted was a nurturing parental figure who doubled as a part-time chef. Realistic, I know. 

But Derrick couldn’t have been any less equipped to provide that, given he himself wanted to be parented. By the three-month mark, suspicion had set in.

Derrick had a mantra he liked to repeat, usually every day, sometimes at three-minute intervals: “I’m tired”. I’m not entirely sure what he wanted to accomplish by telling me this.

Around this time, Derrick also shifted from charm offensive to preoccupied and avoidant. We went from eating out every second night to not eating together at all.

While I could make do without bribery by takeout, a complete lack of companionship was pushing it.

At first, I tried sympathy. When Derick continued to complain about being tired however, I changed tactics. I bought a shirt with the phrase printed on it and gifted it to him, “so he wouldn’t have to keep telling me”.

Derrick was so offended he threw the shirt into the bottom of his closet. There it remained, until I, tiring of my boyfriend’s tiredness, dug it out and wore it myself.

They say there are five stages of grief. When I broke up with Derrick, I discovered a sixth: absurdity.

In the week after, I’d broached the subject, and Derrick had airily declared he was “done with this relationship”. “This relationship” being the one from which he’d quickly become absent anyway.

With that, he had stalked from the room, only to reappear moments later to ask if I would mind his dog over the weekend. When pressed for an explanation, he said he was going away on a road trip to Vegas – and I was not invited.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Anxiety had a way of keeping me stuck in situations that were ultimately detrimental to my wellbeing. This is me during a research trip to Turkey, for one in a string of projects I was juggling at the time.


To his credit, Derrick made a few tangential attempts to ingratiate himself after the breakup. Once, he dangled the possibility of ex-sex. Another occasion, he coyly asked if he could wear my hat…because he “liked it”. 

Once I even caught him spritzing himself with my cologne, as if he were trying to savor my soon-to-be lost odor. It was almost too painful to watch.

Having weathered Derrick’s outbursts, forgiven his shortcomings, and soothed his insecurities, I’d been forced to overlook my own needs, until at last my reserves of empathy had finally run dry. 

Soon I began drawing lines in the hardwood. When I caught Derrick trying to smuggle yet another bland mid-century credenza into our apartment, I responded simply with: “No”. 

Derrick hadn’t allowed me to bring my own furniture into his home, telling in me in uncertain terms that it looked “cheap”. To diss my taste in furniture was one thing, but furnishing his apartment without my input? Unforgivable.

When Derrick insisted on keeping his latest acquisition, I wrapped a clawhammer in newspaper and placed it atop the credenza.

I’m not entirely sure if I’d “nailed” the Godfather reference, but the next day, the credenza was gone. Still, the little battles waged on.

Derrick had a habit of burning California white sage in the house in the place of air freshener. The smell had a rancid quality which he seemed to favor over that of his dog’s various messes. 

It was an odor that happened to leave me with blinding headaches, such that I was forced to keep the door to my room closed. During the Vegas trip, I started throwing out every bundle of the stuff I could find.

The day before Derrick returned, while doing his laundry for what felt like the fiftieth time, two twenty dollar notes fell out of Derrick’s jeans pocket. I didn’t hesitate, pocketing it as compensation for all the thankless janitorial duties that had been fobbed onto me. 

This moment turned out to be the last high point in our steadily declining relationship.

Did I linger to savor it? No. What I did instead was divide our Q-tip supply into two neat piles, stuff my share into a zip-lock, and departed his life as fast as humanly possible.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 4: ‘See cash? Like this’.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 4: ‘See Cash? Like this’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 7 minutes

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.


With Derrick gone, I fumbled towards the appearance of equilibrium. 

My employer agreed to put me on part-time hours so I could focus on a few side projects. Superficially, conditions changed, and yet the very same thing that had first propelled me towards Derrick did not.

Not a desire to be cared for as such, but rather, the inability to look after my own wellbeing. I was still a devout workaholic, cooking up responsibility after responsibility for myself.

For weeks on end, I would work around the clock, rarely taking breaks for socializing, leisure activities, and exercise. I’d eat at my desk, and when there wasn’t even time for that, I’d skip meals entirely.

Adopting a dog was my attempt to embrace a more well-rounded, enriching life. It would, so I told myself, be opening the door to the company and peace of mind I’d long denied myself.

And there was also the fact that I did, and always had, loved dogs, so much so in fact that I often preferred their company over that of other human beings.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash wasn’t just a pretty face. He represented new resolutions.

Cash arrived at my home in what I believed to be a lull in life commitments, but what was in truth a franticness of my own making.

While trying to meet multiple writing deadlines, I was also finalizing the release of my first feature documentary. Cash’s adoption added yet another stressor to the equation.

When you tell people you want to get a pet, some may try to caution you: “It’s not going to be easy.”

“Well,” I’d thought, “point me to a single thing in life that is easy.”

The absence of fine print disarms you. Yet I, ever the responsible pet owner, had vowed to be as informed as I possibly could with the help of my trusty friend, Google.

The forum posts I read warned the first few days would be rocky. A bit of tummy upset, a possibility of separation anxiety. But Google alone could not have possibly prepared me for what was to come. 

The first week, I was woken every day at 7 am to the frantic sound of nails against fabric. This was the sound of Cash trying to escape his foldable dog crate. 

The walls shook and bulged in what looked like a cartoon punch-up. Cash’s shrill machine-gun barks suggested he was enduring some heinous form of torture, rather than mere separation by canvas.

No sooner had I managed to work the zip open an inch than he was launching himself out like a fur cannonball.

The crate was meant to serve in principle as his “den” – a place of rest and familiarity. But to Cash, it was the equivalent of an iron maiden. 

To me, it was a sea wall holding back waves of diarrhea.

Cash, I had been told, was housebroken. Yet the stress of the adoption – and his recent surrender by not one, but as I later learned, three owners – had thrown all of his training out of whack.

Having a dog and being mildly OCD were two things that did not mix well. Still, if being occasionally triggered was the only cost of a cute dog’s company, it was one I was willing to pay.

But after climbing out of bed in the middle of the night and stepping into a foul-smelling puddle, I’d decided it was time to try containing the issue.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The first few weeks were as trying for Cash as they were for me.


I had entered dog ownership knowing there might be complications. But I had also gone into it expecting an emotional support pet…only to find myself becoming a dog life support system.

Years prior, I’d witnessed the antics of a friend’s equally needy dog and vowed I’d never adopt an animal like that. And here I was new with a puppy who nudged me the second I stopped patting him.

My expectations may have been unrealistic, following as they did the high bar set by our household dogs.

The first, Kimi, slept beside my crib when I was a baby. The instant I awoke crying, he would go into my parent’s room and wake my mother.

On weekend picnic trips with my family to a local river, I’d push Kimi into the water, cling to his tail, and wait for him to tow me to the far side like a dutiful rescue dog. Never mind he was half the size of his lookalike Lassie.

I mean, what was not to love?

As for his successor, Rumi, he had been a gentle, refined creature who could only be stirred to a state of excitement by my mother’s return from work.

Early on, I learned he could be duped by a single phrase: “Mummy’s home!” Within seconds, his gullible bottom would be waggling.

Rumi’s worst offense was howling when left alone. Compared to Cash’s daily hysteria, Rumi’s crooning was a deeply moving show of love and loyalty.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Kimi was tireless in his love of my family.

Notwithstanding the fact Cash was lacking the same degree of charm as my previous dogs, his “accidents” would have been forgivable had he been actually capable of going potty outside.

The closest thing to “outside” Cash had ever known it seemed was a suburban yard, with none of the distractions and threats of a street frequented by people and other pets. 

Each outing thus proved fraught. The sight of people, other animals, or babies sleeping in their strollers would often spark bouts of temporary madness.

Cash would growl at anything that moved, bark at every approaching figure, lunge at other dogs. Having never been lead-trained, he would pull me down stairs, into walls and car doors with careless abandon, leaving me with an assortment of cuts and scrapes.

When we finally did get to a grassy verge that served as a toilet for the neighborhood dogs, Cash would just stand there. Sometimes he might pace, other times he would sniff the leavings of his predecessors. But he would not, for reasons I could not fathom relieve himself.

After twenty minutes of exasperated waiting, I’d take him back up to the apartment. Before long, however, Cash would be at the door, crying to be let out. Up and down the stairs we would go, over and over again, with nary a bowel or bladder movement. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Rumi was Kimi’s equally adorable successor.

I wondered if I was being subjected to some kind of canine mind game. But then I would look into Cash’s gentle eyes, and my exasperation would soften into pity.


One day, upon returning from my seventh lap to the grassy patch, I found my own bladder was full. As I stood at the toilet relieving myself, Cash entered the bathroom, hunkered down on the bathmat, and urinated in tandem. 

Cutting myself off mid-stream, I turned and gave him a look heavy with disapproval.

Cash for his part stared up at me in what appeared to be guilt…or perhaps blame. I’d made him wait, after all, inflicting my unreasonable expectations upon him.

This? This was payback.

The stair-climbing routine began to grind on my nerves. I was facing down multiple deadlines, and to make matters worse, I was still ill.

Over the past few days, I’d coughed so hard I was pretty certain I could now see my abs. It was a first, but one I wish I had only achieved by virtue of exercise, rather than repeated attempts to lose a lung.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Caught in the act!

The combined stress sent me into a downward spiral of dog shaming.

“Pee or do not pee!” I caught myself screaming at Cash. “There is no try!”

My wisdom, however, fell on deaf ears.

Once more, I turned to the forums for help. One post suggested I could fix Cash’s problem by collecting a sample of Cash’s urine and using it to “mark” the desired spot. 

Ever the dutiful parent, I squeezed the contents of a puppy training pad into a jar. I took Cash downstairs, dribbled the pee onto a patch of brown, stunted grass and told Cash to go potty.

Cash didn’t so much as look at me. Instead, he sniffed at a passing homeless woman, pushing a trolley laden with garbage bags at the far end of the block.

“Cash! Go potty.”

Still he ignored me. 

Growing up, I’d seen parents accompany their toddlers into toilets. The idea of guiding anyone through such a process had revolted me. Helping someone perform a basic biological function? No thank you.

But what choice was left to me now? The situation called for desperate measures.

Checking to see the coast was clear, I lowered the front of my pants and urinated. Not a full stream mind you – just a few discreet squirts.

“See Cash? Like this.”

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash, in one of his frisky, post-bath moods.

Cash looked at the pee puddle, then his attention returned to the homeless woman.

I had just publicly exposed myself – all for the sake of my dog. But if I was expecting gratitude, I certainly wasn’t going to get it.


It was some days before Cash mastered outdoor peeing. Around this time the fount of diarrhea dried up, and now he was suffering from the exact opposite problem. 

My relief was swiftly replaced by concern. So, back to the online forums I went.

One post suggested I give Cash some pureed pumpkin to help move things along. What it mostly did was earn me some serious canine side-eye.

Cash’s symptoms were, as it turned out, psychosomatic. He was a very anxious dog, and his anxiety prevailed long after most dogs would have otherwise “settled in”. 

Losing sight of me sparked for my pet what sounded like an existential crisis, every departure and arrival greeted with a furious storm of barks. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
As for closing the bathroom door, that was not happening – not on my dog’s watch.

A dog training website told me I should ignore Cash until he calmed down. Yet my snubs only made him double down with the protesting.

Another site suggested I desensitize Cash to all the familiar cues of my leaving. I began jingling my keys at random intervals. I’d go through the motions of putting on my clothes and shoes before sitting back down at my computer.

Each time, Cash would leap up as if he’d just heard an air raid siren. If I dared move, he would stick to me like a piece of Velcro. If I closed the door on him, he would bark incessantly. It was like having the world’s clingiest boyfriend.

One morning, tired of my dog’s bottomless need, I decided to try sneaking away. As I quietly prepared to head out for work, I paused to listen. Cash seemed to be still sound asleep in his crate. 

Finishing dressing, I crept over to the door, unlocking it. Carrying my shoes out into the hallway, I eased the door closed. 

It was two inches from the jamb when a sneeze came on. I tried to hold it in, but the effect was like trying to swallow a sneeze: all the air went out my nostrils.

Snot geysered, dribbling only my chin.

And just like that, my cover had been blown. The apartment rang with a series of high-pitched yelps. 

Scrape-scrape-scrape went Cash’s nails against the canvas as the crate bounced in place. 

Sighing, I closed the door and walked away.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 5: ‘Doesn’t like cuddles’.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 5: ‘Doesn’t like cuddles’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 7 minutes

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.


After weeks of preparation, I released my first feature documentary, marking the occasion with a free screening at a local community theater.

It should have been an occasion to celebrate, yet my mood at that point was far from celebratory.

Juggling work, my side projects, and Cash had left me drained. Then I’d gone and added organizing venue hire, promotion, and catering into the mix. 

There was only so much time in the day, and so I’d been forced to cut down on my sleep. My immune system crumpled, and within days came down with yet another cold.

When it came time to stand in the wet, open-roofed lobby of the theater and greet attendees, I was in the height of my illness, complete with a croaky voice, stuffy nose, and fits of sneezing.

At my back stood a promotions board, covered with faded photos, dogeared flyers for elementary school productions, and posters celebrating a one-woman show by a Jewish comedian titled “I’m Just Yidding”. 

Within stood what might have passed for a wood-paneled rumpus room that hadn’t been renovated since the 60s. Even with the lights turned on, it was dim, grotto-like. The chairs were fuzzy plaid, the color of mulch, and the projector was about as bright as my phone screen. 

Backstage, I’d found an antique computer for controlling the lights. It came equipped with a monitor so antique it displayed one color only: acid green.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Before the big sure.

It wasn’t much, certainly – but it was the best I could afford on my budget. Having not yet sold the film, I was paying for the entire launch party out of my own pocket. In true anything-for-art fashion, I was spending money that I should have been saving for replacing threadbare socks.

The film was warmly received, even getting a few laughs. Yet afterwards, sitting in my car, I couldn’t help but feel dejected.

Of the 70 people who had RSVPed, only 10 had shown up, most of which had been friends of friends. Then again, a documentary about disability wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a perfect Friday night date movie. 

And, much as I’d like to have believed otherwise, I wasn’t a big name filmmaker with a loyal following.

Expecting moviegoers to brave the late Winter rains may have been a touch unrealistic, free tickets or no. Heck, I shouldn’t have been braving it myself – not in my current state.

The minute I got home, I planned to turn off the lights and collapse into bed. But then again, there was Cash to consider.

He’d probably need a walk, a toilet break, and oodles of attention. My days of bachelor-style living were, as of a few weeks ago, firmly behind me.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
I was saddled with a dog who was literally clingy.

Sliding the keys into my car’s ignition, I turned on the heater and pulled my coat up over my head. Up one arm it went, then the other.

The coat snagged on my elbows and I lifted my arms still higher, wriggling as I tried to draw the fabric free. Then something very bad happened.

When I was a teenager, I’d discovered the ability to contort my arms into unusual positions. A good party trick – but one with a clear disadvantage.

Hypermobile joints, as they’re known, were are by weak, undeveloped muscles. As a result, sufferers can find themselves prone to accidental dislocations. 

I’d throw a ball and next thing my shoulder would be out and I would be screaming, charging into walls in an attempt to relocate it.

This weakness only grew when I didn’t exercise…just as I’d failed to do the past few weeks.

Given this painful history, I should’ve known better than to try pulling my coat over my head. And yet there I was, roaring in pain as it dislocated.

With my hands trapped over my head, I tried to wave down my friends – standing on the sidewalk a few cars away – a movement that only translated into a lackluster shimmy. 

With my window up, no one could hear my cries, and opening the door was out of the question.

I rolled my shoulder one way, then the other, hoping against hope it would reset itself. To the casual onlooker, it probably looked like I was wrestling with some invisible demon.

After what felt like forever, there was a meaty clunk, and my arm popped back into the socket.

Flinging off the coat, I sagged back against my seat, breathing raggedly, in a daze of pain.

This, surely, was what rock bottom must feel like.


Boy was I kidding myself. 

What I took to be the encore of my previous cold proved to be the flu. Within hours I was hit by total exhaustion, weakness, and fever. I had pushed my body to its limit, and now, like a rubber band, it was snapping back.

The next week I spent in bed, mostly sleeping. Twice a day I took Cash downstairs to do his business, an exercise which in my current state was incredibly taxing.

Perhaps aware of my condition, Cash sat patiently on the end of my bed, nose to bottlebrush tail, waiting.

By day five, however, cabin fever had set in and my dog started nibbling my toes. When that didn’t work, he seized my foot and dragged it to the edge of the bed, in a deliberate plea to be taken out.

A friend agreed to take Cash out for a walk, and while they were gone, I fell to brooding.

The only reason I was so sick was that I’d neglected my own needs. And not just my needs – Cash’s as well. I was a bad owner and not cut out for this responsibility.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
After Cash violently resisted being placed in his crate, I allowed him to sleep in my storage closet instead.

The barrage of self-doubt rose to fever pitch. I had failed Cash, would continue to fail him, just as I failed everything and everyone else.

The adoption had been a mistake, and Cash would be better off without me.

What I did then was something every rational, emotionally balanced person would have done: I conducted a SWOT analysis of my dog.

Under “strengths” I wrote: “He’s an acceptable size for most apartments”. “Very cute”. In the “weaknesses” column I added: “He’s anxious and needy. I don’t know how to give him what he wants”. “He doesn’t like cuddles”. 

This last point in my opinion represented a very serious breach of the Domesticated Canine Obligation Act of 15,000 B.C. If a dog wasn’t helping me hunt or guard my livestock, he sure as hell should be justifying his presence with a little reciprocal affection, at the very least.

But when I tried to touch Cash, he pulled away. When I tried sitting him next to me, he would flee, shying from closeness as if he too suffered an autism-related aversion to touch. 

Indeed, if Cash was my child with autism, then I was the struggling mother, and this was a tearjerker Oscar-bait film.

There would be a scene in which I tried holding my child, only to be rebuffed. Ever stoic, I would invent new ways of trying to get close to him.

Again and again, I would be thwarted, until finally, my spirit battered, I would retreat to my room to wail and beat the wall with the flat of my hand, overcome with pain and frustration.

In reality, however, I refused to surrender so easily, instead forcing my way into Cash’s affections. 

Every day, I would trap him against the bed with my body, kissing him repeatedly on the muzzle. Cash would flail, growling to be let free. 

While I’m not certain he appreciated my efforts, I knew that as his dutiful parent, they must be made all the same.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
My first dog Kimi, playing the dutiful rescue dog.

Despite Cash’s many contractual breaches, I decided to list his companionship as an opportunity. This I weighed against the potential benefits he might enjoy in the care of a more giving, more responsible owner.

For “threats”, I listed: “Too many ongoing commitments. Can’t give Cash my full attention”, and “He eats s—”.

The latter was not a joke. Cash had developed a habit of snapping up other dog’s stools during our walks, which meant I had to keep a close vigil every time we went out.

It also meant I’d been forced to temporarily suspend my daily kissing ritual. This probably wasn’t my dog’s end goal in eating s—.

Chances were, he was actually suffering some kind of nutritional deficiency. It was not in any case a trait I had found endearing.

When my friend returned from his walk with Cash an hour later, my sense of guilt intensified. When in the last three weeks since I’d adopted him, had I given my dog this much attention?

After my friend left, Cash trotted over to the walk-in closet and sat in his doggie bed, a recent substitute for his loathed crate, complete with a baby gate. 

The function of this gate was to prevent Cash from sneaking into the kitchen and stealing food scraps when I was cooking. On top of being anxious, Cash like me had a very sensitive stomach. 

I think Kimi may have set an unrealistically high bar.

Anything other than Cash’s regular dried dog food was enough to induce the runs. Without the gate, my carpet didn’t stand a chance.

This of course hadn’t stopped my dog from leaping over the gate at the peak of his separation anxiety. What it had done nevertheless was provide me with a temporary barricade for my dog’s incessant neediness. Not the total respite I was secretly craving, but enough for now.

As Cash drifted off to sleep, I decided this compromise was surely more proof I was a terrible owner; that my dog indeed deserved better.

Dragging myself over to my computer, I chipped away at the mound of work I had amassed during my week of illness, fielding email inquiries and paying bills.

My work was interrupted a short while later by a yelp from the closet. Cash appeared, rushing over to lean against my leg.

At first, I thought he hurt himself; brushed up against some sharp object in the closet. When a search of his sleeping space turned up nothing, I concluded that he must have just been a bad dream.

Muttering reassurances, I patted my dog, and he snuggled against me, his eyes full of gratitude. 

However much I might see myself as inadequate, this was not a view my dog appeared to hold.

My eyes returned to the incomplete SWOT analysis, considering. Then I turned it over and climbed back into bed.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 6: ‘This is MY diva moment’.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 6: ‘This is MY diva moment!’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 7 minutes

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.


The guinea pig nibbled contentedly away on a lettuce leaf. A pool of urine spread out from beneath her, leaving the newspaper lining of her hutch soaked.

“Now I want you to focus on that memory,” my therapist Dr. Kukosian said. 

As far as exercises in healing went, this was to, put it mildly, a strange one.

Settling back on the couch, I closed my eyes. I tried. I really did. Then other thoughts started to intrude.

I recalled how my pet had given birth in that same filthy hutch. How I’d returned home to find Nightblack, named so for her lustrous ebony fur, and her newborn pup, the-soon-to-be-christened “Princess”. 

The two of them were munching on a lump of raw meat, resting amid droppings. Only later would I find out what exactky this was: the placenta.

What still strikes me as an indescribable act of self-cannibalism, was apparently not all that unusual where mammals are concerned.

Yet the fact my mind had chosen this memory in particular I knew was my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at play. As was, as per usual, trying to one-up itself with grotesquery.

One day, I might be in the midst of a breathing exercise, striving for clarity and peace, and I’d suddenly see an animal defecating.

For this reason, starting a meditation practice had proven next to impossible.

“Why don’t we talk about the attack?” Dr. Kukosian suggested.

Studying her faux oil painting once more, I pretended it was a meditation focus prop and not the estate donation to a thrift store that it surely was.

“Well, it started when I went out into the backyard,” I began. “I saw the neighbor Lillian’s Doberman. She was standing with her head in the guinea pig hutch.”

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
To say I was obsessed with my guinea pigs would be something of an understatement.

I related to Dr. Kukosian how I’d raced, screaming, to confront the dog. How it had bolted, carrying off my beloved Nightblack to the rodent equivalent of the pearly gates.

How I’d cried, utterly helpless, and turned to see my mother watching from the kitchen window, frowning slightly, but otherwise unmoved.

I told Dr. Kukosian of the sense of betrayal I’d felt when she hadn’t so much as acknowledged my grief. The fact of the matter was my mom probably hadn’t known how to acknowledge it, courtesy of her own hard-knock upbringing.

Yet that crying six-year-old had stayed with me, living in a sort of emotional time-capsule – until this very moment. And now Dr. Kukosian was asking me to let him loose.

My gaze fell to the coffee table between us, to the plastic orchid, and the pink box of tissues. I determined then and there that I would not, under any circumstances, cry; that I would hold out for something more traumatic than the death of a rodent, at the very least.

“That must’ve been very hard for you,” Dr. Kukosian said. “Having to deal with that sorrow on your own. And your mother – ignoring you in your time of need.”

My resolve went suddenly flaccid. I teared up.

A guinea pig. I was crying over a goddamn guinea pig, an animal had shrieked every time I had touched her. I had written my pet poems of adoration, sung love songs to her, and Nightblack’s only response had been to poop on my lap.

Of all the confessions I had made to Dr. Kukosian, my one-sided friendship with this creature was perhaps the one that embarrassed me most.

You really had to hand it to this woman. During our first session I’d laid out the sum of my dysfunction in offhanded bullet-point, and she’d received it all with the same standard-issue therapist’s frown.

“Just FYI, there are some things you should know about me,” I’d said. “I was really ill earlier this year. I have this chronic health condition called IBS. I also have Asperger’s syndrome. I suffer from anxiety and depression.”

After a pause, I’d added: “Plus I’m a little OCD. And by the way, most of my childhood friends were animals who reciprocated my love by biting me, running away, and dying.”

Dr. Kukosian could have scoffed. But to her credit, she didn’t. 

Instead, she just listened, listened so much in fact I started to want her to get impatient, to pass judgment – to give me anything other than the same gentle impassivity.


In my defense, I didn’t choose dysfunction – it chose me.

My response had been to run. From my problems, from my disintegrating family, from the “friends” who rejected me because of my autism, from my own vulnerability, until the running became the new norm.

And so I had lived a kind of half-life, devoid of feelings I chose to keep bottled up.

My needs it seemed weren’t viewed as a priority to anyone other than myself, and so I’d tried burying them. When others told me directly or by implication that I was worthless, I began treating myself as such. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The death of Nightblack broke my heart. I think this was her daughter, Princess.

In the race to try and find a solid sense of personhood, I pinned my identity to a somewhat Protestant philosophy: salvation through a strict work ethic.

As a teen, I applied myself to my goals with fervor, writing novel after novel, studying so hard I graduated at the top of five classes.

Surely sooner or later the scales would balance, and recognition and happiness would replace pain and suffering.

For years afterward, I denied myself care, rest, holidays, and the company of friends and family, spending all my money on advancing my career.

Yet no matter my successes, the goalposts always seemed to be shifting, and the validation and peace of mind I so sought increasingly out of reach. There was always a new novel to write, a new short film to edit, a new degree to complete.

My workaholic lifestyle was, at first, a refuge. A way of distracting myself from the absence of emotional support in my life. Eventually, it became my prison, and my hypercritical inner bully, my keeper.

“You’re incompetent,” the internal dialogue would go. “A failure. A walking disaster. You’re physically inept and everyone can see it. Your disability makes you an insufferable person to be around.” 

This was a sort of defense mechanism, born of past hardships. Existing solely for my protection; to keep me small, stunted, yet “safe”.

For years I’d acted on this bully’s advice. Thus empowered, the bully whittled away my confidence, telling me what I would never be enough. And so the bar kept on rising.

Shutting off that little voice was like trying to correct embroidery. Not impossible, but difficult, requiring a lot of unpicking.

For a long time, I took his words as the undisputed truth. Why question something that had more or less ensured my survival? 

If I tried dismantling the bully’s arguments, my whole life could come crashing down. But in failing to conquer my anxiety and depression, I had allowed it to conquer me. I was trapped, in pain, with no one to hear or help. 

My shoulder dislocating in the car was, I later realized, the perfect metaphor for this situation. The fact I’d crashed so hard after the premiere of my first feature documentary was no coincidence.

After a week spent in my bed, barely eating, I emerge one pant size smaller and fighting the deepest of despairs.

It’s one thing to recognize you have a problem, and another to figure out how to fix it. So here I was, back at therapy, talking about my guinea pig.

Reaching for the pink tissue box, I paused. There appeared to be some serious gender color-coding going on here. Pink is for girls, and only girls cry, and all that.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
A part of me knew I was struggling, and yet I was too frightened, too confused to ask for help.

Being forced to use this box therefore could only be some underhanded attack on my masculinity. Was the therapist even aware of the symbolic game she was playing with me? 

Dr. Kukosian smiled, then glanced at her watch. Her attitude was perfectly polite, but at the end of the day, her empathy was strictly professional.

She didn’t really care about my turmoil. No one ever did, least of all me. And maybe that was half the problem.

“So. Shall we pick this up next week?” Dr. Kukosian said.

“Fine,” I replied. And snatching a handful of tissues, I went out. 


I like to consider myself a pragmatic person, squeezing life’s bumper crop of lemons into lemonade. So, driving home after my session, I decided my current crisis was going to be an opportunity.

I would not let myself continue to be shackled to the past. I would move forward with my life; become a new, happier person.

But then the emotions came crashing back in. That freaking guinea pig. How dare she let herself die.

Had the treacherous creature spared me a single thought before being brutally shaken to death?

Big, blinding tears flowed, and all I could think about was getting off the road before I ran into another car. Swerving to the curb, I hit the hazard lights and wailed into the crook of my arm. 

The sound that came out of me was almost primal – the kind your body reserves for moments of true grief. Was that what this was?

When I finally got home, I laid down on the floor, wallowing.

Talking about depression, most people think it’s an experience that exists exclusively in your head. But right then and there, my entire body felt depressed. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash became a welcome, if persistent, distraction from my workaholic lifestyle.

And then there was the sense of helplessness that came with it – the certainty that I never had and never would be happy.

It was like someone had just detonated charges along a dam wall and the whole thing was collapsing before a flood of pain. The best I could do was just lie there in the fetal position and wait for the waters to recede.

While I might have wanted to stay there for hours, mourning one pet, there remained the question of the one still living, nagging for my attention.

No sooner had I laid down then Cash had started nudging me.

“Give attention,” his eyes seemed to plead. When I didn’t respond, he nudged me again. “Now? Now? Now?”

Such extravagant displays of emotion as the one I was currently making was, evidently, no longer practical. I had a dog, and he wanted – no, needed – my attention. 

“I’m sorry, Cash,” I croaked. “Not right now.”

Cash’s wet nose brushed my face. Did I not understand his urgency? Why not? 

Changing tactics, Cash thrust his snout into my undefended ear. I covered my face with my arms and Cash growled, trying to paw them away.

“Damn it, Cash. This is my diva moment!” 

For so long, I’d failed to listen to my own needs, and now I’d gone one step further, taking charge of another’s.

But if I was going to get better, this would have to change. It was high time I indulged in a little radical selfishness.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 7: ‘Kooft!’.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 7: ‘Kooft!’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 7 minutes

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.


When I finally managed to scrape myself up off the floor and kick my flu, the resolution to splash out in the self-care department had fallen by the wayside. 

To my credit, however, I threw myself with renewed effort into my role as do-it-yourself dog dad.

Reasoning that Cash’s anxiety must be the result of excessive energy, I decided to take Cash out for three brisk walks a day.

But at the first sight of other dogs, this “excessive energy” quickly transformed into aggression.

Cash would run barking towards his new foe so suddenly the leash would whip past my leg, leaving me with rope-burn.

“He’s so cute!” the other dog’s owner would tell me, as I was yanked toward them with a strength belying Cash’s size.

It was a refrain I came to hear every time I took my dog out in public. Cafes, parks, hiking trails – wherever we went, strangers were sure to gush their approval.

“Sure,” I’d say through gritted teeth. Cute, and utterly uncontrollable. They weren’t, of course, living with the daily chaos. 

Where was the ideal pet I had envisaged, the one who walked placidly at my side? The dog who greeted other dogs with tail wags? Who looked at me with unconditional acceptance, rather than unconditional need

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Me collapsing on the floor usually was an excuse for Cash to collapse on me.

Was the canine comforter who remained at my side in times of stress, who welcomed my use of his fur as a tear-sponge, just an improbable dream?

The warning signs had been evident at the dog adoption center, and yet I’d chosen to interpret Cash’s hyperreactivity as excitement. He was clearly overjoyed by our instant connection, and looking forward to his new life in my “forever home”. 

And yet everything and nothing it seemed had warranted the divided attention of my soon-to-be-pet: a car door slamming out in the parking lot; a dog yapping behind a closed door; the coming-and-goings of staff members. 

Due diligence had been exercised…due diligence being simply asking Cash’s then-owner Anya if there were any behaviors I should look out for or special needs that might require my attention.

Anja had had nothing to say on that account, and her silence had lulled me into a false sense of certainty.


It’s quite possible that in the single month in which Cash had been in Anja’s care, she hadn’t seen the side I was already too familiar with. She’d lived a quiet suburban life, one involving a yard, and as such, hadn’t felt the need to walk Cash.

By the time I realized my pet probably had a behavioral disorder, the ownership transfer documents had long since been signed and processed. 

My initial concerns had initially been put down to cold feet. 

“He’s fine,” I told myself. “I’ve totally got this.”

Cash was my responsibility now, his anxiety a problem we would have to overcome together. With blind pluckiness, I’d pushed on, stocking my apartment with all the amenities a puppy could possibly need: stuffed animals, chew toys, and dog treats.

Surely this abundance of gifts would be enough to cure any dog’s anxiety.

Cash took an immediate interest in the toy giraffe. He spent the next few days pulling out stitches, tearing the toy limb from limb, and strewing its stuffing across the apartment. 

“Okay,” I’d thought. “Don’t panic. He’s just a puppy. Puppies do this kind of thing all the time.”

But the speed with which Cash dismantled first this toy, and then several others, suggested otherwise.

Still, if Cash had been destabilized by the adoption, then getting him back on course was merely a question of granting still more loving attention.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Unlike the other dogs, Cash spent more time in the shade than on the actual hiking trail.

Treats were offered, only for Cash to sniff disdainfully at them and turn away. This canine caviar apparently wasn’t cutting.

So I tried bringing him along on outings. During hikes, Cash would refuse to walk with me, insisting on darting from shade patch to shade patch, shying from sunlight.

He’d spend the entire trip like this, lapping greedily at every brackish pool of water we might happen to come across, in spite of all my shouts that he was going to catch dysentery.

As the summer heat intensified, I figured that what Cash needed was a respite from the unnecessary insulation of his long hair.

But when I sat him down to cut his fur, Cash ran yelping away from my trimmers, vanishing beneath the bed.


A stretch of chain-link offered a glimpse of a small dog park enclosure, a barren patch of dirt that was empty save for a couple of sheltered picnic tables.

Cash’s aversion to hiking and his resistance to having his hair cut meant now that forays into the local dog park were now our only alternative.

The small dog enclosure seemed the natural choice over the larger enclosure, as Cash tended to pick fights with larger dogs.

I entered a knot of nerves, less worried for Cash than for what he might do to the multitude of Teacup Terriers that awaited us. Legal compensation and vet bills weren’t exactly something I’d budgeted for.

As Cash padded over to meet a pug, I braced myself, watching for the first trace of hostility. Cash stared at the pug, who waggled a tail. Cash for his part offered no response, his expression one of apparent bemusement.

His would-be playmate quickly lost interest, racing off to join another group of dogs.

Leash still clutched tightly in one hand, I let Cash lead me over to the next candidate: a blue and tan Dachshund. 

A round of rear-sniffing ensued. This time I tried to be more optimistic. This interaction, I told myself, could very well crystallize into a friendship, one with the power to transform Cash from an antsy wallflower to a fun-loving socialite.

Cash’s attention however were met with a growl of warning.

He crouched in an invitation to play. The Dachshund didn’t respond. Oblivious, Cash leaped on his would-be playmate, almost bowling him over.

The Dachshund rounded on Cash, peppering him with barks. Cash shrunk back, uncomprehending, then made as if to jump a second time.  

Seeing disaster on the horizon and swiftly approaching, I hoisted a spray bottle. My dog blinked daintily against the squirt of water and backed away. From whence had come this noxious blast? 

Cash shot me a dubious look and was soon eying his next candidate. The leash went around and around my fist, drawing tight as I pulled my dog closer, guarding against the possibility of conflict.

Maybe my jitteriness was palpable, for a stocky park matriarch wandered over.

“Can I ask why you’re keeping your dog on a leash?” she asked.

“Because I don’t know what Cash will do if I take it off,” I said. The woman placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

My gaze went to the curmudgeon of chihuahua at the matriarch’s heels. One tiny leg was in a cast. One accidental push from Cash and the chihuahua would surely be finished.

I drew Cash even closer.

“Just give it a try,” the matriarch suggested. “And if it doesn’t work out, you can go back to the leash.”

Yet this woman had the air of a seasoned professional. Surely, she knew what she was talking about.

“Okay,” I said, snapping off Cash’s leash.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
I know what you’re thinking. “What a sweet-looking dog!” But appearances, as the old adage goes, can indeed be deceiving.


Against all my expectations, tragedy did not follow, though Cash soon proved wanting in the etiquette department. Sticking his nose in unwelcome areas, he would pursue terrified Maltese and Pomeranians until they turned and snapped in his face. 

My dog appeared entirely ignorant of his powers of intimidation, let alone how they were affecting his beady-eyed counterparts. 

He didn’t send the normal tail-wagging “friend” signals that came effortlessly to other pooches; rather, his preferred method of interaction involved sidling up to his playmates and butt-sniffing them with the efficiency of a parking enforcement officer checking a meter.

The sniffing usually escalated into mounting, which left me mortified. It was as if I were extension guilty for these shows of sexual dominance.

The worst part of it was that Cash went after the most vulnerable dogs: the dopey ones that didn’t know how to resist, or was too small to extricate themselves from his hold.

Their shrill barks drew looks from other owners, frown lines offer sketches of unspoken criticism. What was I thinking, bringing an unsocialized – scratch that, sexually aggressive – dog into the enclosure?

As someone with Asperger’s syndrome, I know the perils of being socially impaired. Trying to not accidentally alienate my friends with Aspergerian bluntness remained a daily battle. Yet for all my awkwardness, you didn’t see me trying to mount other people. 

Each time Cash tried the maneuver, he’d cop a spray of water, wince, and within seconds be right back to it. I resorted to calling, clapping, shouting, until finally, my dog restricted himself to just sniffing.

Somehow he still managed to unnerve the other dog. After they had hurried away, Cash would wander back to me wearing a look of incomprehension. 

“Has done wrong?” 

And I would look back at him, honestly wondering what he wanted me to do.

My exasperation was, without a doubt, unfair – if somewhat inherited.

As kids, my siblings and I would sometimes ask my mother: “What’s for dinner?” A fairly innocuous question. At least, that was what we thought at the time.

Kooft!” my mom would reply, using the Farsi word for poison. What she had really meant to say was: “Don’t bother me, work it out yourself”.

Each time, I’d opt to receive my mother’s curse as a stale joke, meanwhile promising never to model this kind of behavior to my own children.

Yet now that the shoe was on the other foot, and it was my dog approaching me for help, I was at something of a loss.

The fact I was already getting exasperated with my dog spoke less to faults on his behalf than on me.

The impatience I felt towards him was the byproduct of depleted inner stores. Maybe the solution, therefore, was self-replenishment.

But before self-replenishment could occur, I would first have to do something I so often refused to. I would have to indulge in a little radical selfishness.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 8: ‘Why not bite?’.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 8: ‘Why not bite?’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 6 minutes

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.


Our visit to the small dog enclosure proved brief. No matter how many dogs snarled at Cash, he didn’t seem to get the message, but instead kept on with the pushy behavior, ruffling fur wherever he went.

After an ancient, hairless creature that might have once been a Yorkshire Terrier screeched at Cash, I hurried out of the enclosure, my cheeks burning, Cash trailing behind me.

One way or another, however, I was determined to see my dog socialized. Not eventually, but today.

Despite my exasperation, I persevered. Reattaching Cash’s leash, I hustled him to an adjoining enclosure more than three times the size of the first.

Here, I told myself, Cash stood less of a chance of dwarfing his peers and thus intimidating them. 

A Labrador bounded over keen to meet the newcomer.

“Go on Cash,” I said, snapping off the lead. “Go say ‘hello’.”

Cash padded forward, sniffed delicately at the Labrador’s behind, barked once, then raced back to my side.

His gaze rose to meet mine, in what I took to be entreaty.

“What?” I said. “What’s the problem?”

Our visit to the dog park was meant to be a fun break – for the both of us. Cash was supposed to play with total abandon while I caught up on some much-needed leisure reading. 

Instead, I was being asked to reassure with my presence, to hover like a helicopter parent. Where in the previous enclosure, the somewhat oversized Cash frightened away potential playmates.

Now, without the advantage of size, he had promptly reverted to the ol’ Velcro dog routine.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash during a chance meeting with a full-breed husky and a Pomeranian-Husky.

Perhaps Cash merely didn’t know how to play. Elementary as such an ability seemed, it was a line of inquiry warranted further exploration.

To this effect, I dropped into a play crouch. Cash mimicked me. I waited a moment, my eyes locked with his, then shot away.

“See,” I said, as Cash scampered after me. “You do know how to – Hey! What the hell?”

Cash had just tried biting my ankles. He zipped past, circling back. Again he looked at me, no doubt attempting some form of telepathic communication.

“Why not bite?” I could almost hear him thinking. “Is fun.”

Fun, but a tactic bound to alienate. This was something that would definitely have to be worked on.  

“Come on,” heaving a sigh. I led him over to meet a German Shepherd. 

“Hey buddy!” I called. Ears raised, tongue lolling, the dog turned to look at me. “Cash, be friendly.”

When Cash, who was cowering behind me, did not budge, I added: “He’s not going to hurt you. Go on already.”

Raising my voice didn’t seem to help matters. Perhaps a more competent owner – A kind soul with deep reserves of patience, an empty schedule, and money to throw at a trainer – would have known what to do.

This was what Cash likely needed, but right now, all he had was me, with my worryingly low bank account balance, homespun advice gleaned from internet forums and less than stellar parenting techniques.

Puppy training school? He could just forget about it. But tough love? That was something his stingy daddy had in spades

It was time I put my formidable skills to practice.

“Alright Cash,” I said, shooing my pet forward. “You’re on your own now. Start paddling.”


Ignoring the German Shepherd, Cash did a cursory circuit of the nearest canine social circle, before returning to my side. 

On I went with the shooing, until at last my dog ventured out on his own. It was possible I was forcing my child to run before he could walk, for very quickly Cash went from ignoring other dog’s friendly advances to snarling.

“Okay, crazy,” the other dogs’ expressions seem to say. And off they would trot to play with someone else.

Mustering his courage, Cash resumed his previous mounting routine, sizing up potential victims before swooping in. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
There were times when Cash seemed to get on okay with other dogs, but these were few and far between.

“Hey!” I shouted as I pulled cash off a Beagle. “Cut that out.”

Cash went off in a huff, laying claim to a water bowl currently in use by a Husky. 

“Mine! Mine! Mine!” he barked, before diving in to claim it for himself. When a bull terrier tried to join him, Cash resumed the barking.

“That’s enough,” I snapped. “Leave them alone.”

When my attempts to summon Cash to my side went ignored, I grabbed him by the collar, chaperoning him away. 

Not long after, Cash took an interest in an Australian sheepdog, crouching and barking. There was none of the usual tail wagging one might have expected; rather, he had all the focused intensity of a schoolyard bully.

The sheepdog didn’t respond; merely threw Cash a cursory look and wandered away.

Clearly, Cash’s tactics weren’t doing him any favors.

When he wasn’t being bossy, he would sit on the sidelines, forever awaiting the chance to insert himself; a chance that never seemed to come.

In my dog’s hesitation, I saw my seven-year-old self, standing at the edge of a sandpit, while the other kids – engrossed in their own play – ignored me. Me, the oddball who talked to insects. The nature boy who longed for friendship; a thing whose mechanics eluded me well into adulthood.

And while I’d long stopped communicating with six-legged creatures, the insecurity that I would never truly understand others, nor they understand me, had remained.

But my fate was not one Cash need share, a belief that was renewed in the few instances when both he and the other dog play bowed and burst into a game of chase.

It didn’t take long however for the same worrying behavior I’d witnessed earlier – the heel nipping – surfaced again. It was a habit that elicited annoyance, and even yelps, bringing the pursuit to a swift close.

“That’s, like, a cattle dog thing,” one dog owner advised me, as she motioned her brown labradoodle to sit.

Googling “Husky-Corgi” on my phone revealed she was right. Cash’s tendency to drag me as if I were some kind of human sled down I’d attributed to Cash’s Husky side.

But the barking and heel-biting – that likely had its origins in his other Corgihalf. Corgis were bred to herd cattle, and this, I reasoned, was why Cash tried to strong-arm every Great Dane he came across.

Maybe their cattle-like size was sparking my dog’s latent herding instinct?

If my awkwardness was the result of my being on the autism spectrum, then Cash was equally the product of his genes. No squirt from a spray bottle, therefore, was going to salvage a nature as deeply ingrained as his. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Back from a run to the water bowl.


Still, I wasn’t going to let any child of mine was going to terrorize others – not on my watch. I knew, after all, that it was only a matter of time before one of Cash’s victims turned on him. And it didn’t take long.

During a later visit to the large enclosure, Cash tried to mount a mutt three separate times. By the third time, the mutt had had it and turned on Cash. 

Before I knew what was happening, the two were snapping at one other, then Cash was on his back, squirming like an overturned turtle, as his opponent loomed over him.

Somehow I managed to drag my dog away, scolding him. But if Cash was meant to learn something by my admonishment, he certainly didn’t. 

The incident repeated just moments later with a second dog. Fed up, I clipped Cash’s leash to his collar and marched him back to the car.

If anything was going to change, new measures would need to be taken.

When I was back home at my desk, I ordered a training collar equipped with a beep and vibrate feature. Remote controller in hand, I would now be able to catch Cash out the very instant he acted up. 

But on a return visit to the dog park, Cash simply ignore the beeping and thrumming of the collar.

Next I tried dialing the shock down to the lowest setting, then zapped myself. The sensation, wasn’t technically painful, but it was alarming enough to get Cash’s attention. 

Yet once I fitted the collar, it became apparent that the collar’s prongs barely penetrated Cash’s thick fur. The few occasions it did, Cash seemed to associate the resulting shock not with my disapproving “No!”, but rather with the dogs he was harassing.

Wariness swung into open hostility. Like clockwork, Cash would approach another dog, forgetting to wag his tail and going rigid with tension. 

The other dog would either walk away or growl. In the latter case, Cash would growl back, and I would quickly intervene. If we were lucky, the conflict would end there.

Upon further reflection, Cash didn’t seem so much to be an antagonist by nature as someone with a severe Napoleon complex. He responded to his own fears by overcompensating, charging headlong into confrontations, and body-slamming fences. 

Certainly, one could admire his persistence in the face of all this rejection and hostility, a quality I associated with my own survival. And yet, now that it wasn’t me in the spotlight, I could admit how that very same quality was driving potential allies away.  

People told me I could be stubborn. Obviously they hadn’t met Cash, who was by far my superior in that regard.

And for all my efforts to corral and correct, nothing seemed to take. 

My dog, I decided, was the cosmos testing my mettle – and finding it sorely lacking. Not knowing how to do better, I redoubled my efforts. But trying to coerce Cash into becoming something he was decidedly not – namely, an obedient, well-adjusted dog – was, as I would later realize, an effort bound to fail.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 9: ‘A short-term solution’.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 9: ‘A short-term solution’

Essy Knopf anxious seeks canine
Reading time: 8 minutes

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.


My trips to the dog park with Cash had been anything but relaxing. But if I was going to get the downtime I craved, I would need to ease up on the helicoptering and splash out on self-care.

Cash, I decided, should be given the freedom to roam and deal with problems of his own making. Meanwhile, I’d stretch out on a deck chair, crack a book spine, and disappear behind its cover.

It was just like our family’s trips to the local swimming pool many summers past, only now I was taking on the role of the harried parent, and Cash that of the harassing child.

Left to his own devices, my dog would wander the length of the park, stirring up turmoil wherever he went.

While I quickly learned to tune out the disapproving mutterings of other dog parents, the moment my dog struck up a serious ruckus, my instincts would kick in.

Jumping to my feet, I’d clap to get Cash’s attention, calling him back. This was my compromise, and while I wanted to believe my apologetic smiles appeased other dog owners, not all were forgiving.

The moment a spat erupted, you could always expect more than a few people to come running.

“No hurting, no hurting!” I heard one man cry, in a tone that suggested the very idea itself was hurtful.

Owners would sweep their pets into their arms, comforting or scolding, some seemingly more damaged by conflict than their pets. Not me. My approach was now staunchly of the hands-off sort. 

One morning, a man entered the enclosure, strutting about in gym shorts and a string tank top.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash became the dog park’s de facto tyrant.

All sculpted pecs and bulging quads, Brawny Man maintained a brooding silence. His air was less “strong, silent type” than offended masculinity.

His dog couldn’t have struck a greater contrast. The white Samoyed was a ball of fur that padded daintily to and fro, tail swishing languidly behind her, hugging the enclosure fence like a courtesan trying to keep her distance from the unwashed masses. 

If the Samoyed saw herself as a courtesan, Cash saw her as cattle. He ran barking towards the other dog, never mind the fact he was half her size. 

The Samoyed could have stood her ground. Instead, she bolted, as if before the advance of a marauding brute.

“Cash!” I called, thumbing the vibrate button on the training collar’s remote. “Come here!”

Cash raced back towards me, leaving the Samoyed cowering in one corner.

“I’m so sorry,” I stammered, turning to Brawny Man.

“Seriously man,” he replied. “Really?” As if my little troublemaker had ruined his day.

Brawny Man approached the Samoyed, patting her. His movements seemed somehow stilted, like that of someone wiping his hand on a tea towel. 

Then Brawny Man stood tall, brooding over charge for a few minutes, then stormed out of the enclosure, the Samoyed sashaying after him.

I fell to wondering what the other man must be feeling. Sympathy for his traumatized child? Anger towards me, for giving Cash free reign to play a harmless game of chase?

Chasing, barking, picking fights were, at least to me, standard playground behavior. Sometimes it culminated in harmless little scraps, an exchange of yelping and biting, but rarely anything serious.

People with Aspergers – Aspies, as we like to call ourselves – are often accused of not having empathy. I tend to think it’s more a question of selectivity. We have a habit of “systematizing”; squaring things away into tidy little boxes, employing logic before emotion.

This same tendency to compartmentalize led me to believe that if no one was physically hurt, these clashes between my dog and his various playmates could be ruled as character-building.

As for the possibility those involved might be psychologically damaged – bah! 

When the shoe was on the other foot and it was Cash being terrorized for a change, my position remained unchanged. I dare say I even felt satisfaction.

Cash was, after all, getting his just desserts.


But after a handful of such clashes, Cash’s hostility towards other dogs escalated.

The instant he spotted another dog headed towards us, the lead would go taut in my grasp and I would overbalance, stumbling as Cash scrabbled headlong towards his target.

The first times this happened, I made the mistake of trying to pick Cash up, carrying him directly past his often inoffensive offender.

Maybe if Cash could be soothed – reassured that the other dog didn’t pose any danger – he would relax. 

“It’s okay, Cash,” I cooed one time, stroking his fur. “You’re safe- Ouch!”

Cash was flailing now, and clawing me in the process. 

From then onward, whenever I spotted another dog, I’d do a complete 180, coaxing Cash away like a parent trying to avert a toddler tantrum.

Cash would bark, throwing a few sullen looks over his shoulder, and reluctantly follow. As there were more than a few dog owners in our building – never mind our neighborhood – it was impossible to perform a complete circuit of our block without encountering one of them.

Thinking that I might be able to curb Cash’s violent reaction with positive reinforcement, I packed a pouch with dog treats and led Cash towards a yard housing his chief opponent: a spotted mutt.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash I am sad to report did not hike up here. His Royal Highness insisted on being driven.

To say that I did not share Cash’s hostility towards this particular creature would have been a lie. This mutt’s only purpose in life, it seemed, was bum-rushing pedestrians. In my case, he had triggered more than a few panic attacks.

“Okay, Cash,” I said, as we stopped a ten or so feet from the yard, “we’re going to try something new. Sit.” Cash sat, and I handed him a treat, petting him. “Good boy.”

At the sound of our voices, the spotted mutt slunk into view, glaring at us through the chain-link fence. Then he let loose a fusillade of barks.

Cash immediately returned fire, jerking me forward as he rushed to attack. 

“Uh-uh Cash. Stop it. Sit. Sit!”

In a matter of seconds, my dog had gone from calm to fury. Now with the enemy in his sights, and was no backing down. Cash would not stop until the mutt had been torn to pieces, crushed into meal, incinerated.

“Cash! Stop. Be quiet!” I tried distracting Cash with a dog treat. It was no use. My attempt at training was doomed to failure.

I dragged Cash past the spotted mutt, and he leapt snarled at the fence.

Exasperation turned to anger. Wrenching Cash away, I smacked him once, twice, three times on the snout. 

“No! Bad dog!”

Cash continued to struggle so I grabbed him, alpha rolled him onto his back and held him there. Clearly my dog had forgotten who the boss was, so it was high time I reminded him. 

He struggled like a man on fire, nipping at my hand.

“Not stop me,” went his growls. “Will fight. Will fight!”

A passing car slowed, the driver leaning heavily on the horn. A window rolled down and a face appeared.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” it screamed.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I screamed back, frozen in the act of what looked like a strangling.

Trying to save face, I angled my body so that it seemed I might have actually been trying to shield Cash against the spotted dog.

Maybe my ruse worked, because the driver muttered, rolled up his window and sped away. 

All the while, Cash was writhing in my grasp. Thanks to him, I had been caught performing the equivalent of a public smacking session. 

Faced with Cash’s growing unruliness, I recognized that what the circumstances called for were a hell a lot of a patience. But wrestling with my own anxiety as it was, this was a quality I was sorely lacking. 

It was high time that I sought an expert opinion.


I sat in the examination room, reading the news on my phone, trying to ignore Cash as he whined and paced.

He’d heard the barks emanating from another part of the clinic, and this apparently had sent him into search-and-destroy mode.

After a few minutes’ wait, a sparrow-sized woman in a lab coat entered, introducing herself with an accent I pegged as Czech.

“So I see here Cash is struggling with anxiety,” Dr. Stransky said, looking down at the appointment form I’d completed a few minutes earlier.

“As you can probably see,” went my reply.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash was an anxious mess during our visit to the veterinarian.

I called Cash over and hauled him up on my lap.

“It’s okay Cash. You’re safe.”

But he only slid off and resumed his post by the door, whimpering like a kid sentry awaiting the arrival of enemy combatants.

“I’ve been trying everything to calm him down,” I continued, “and nothing seems to be working. I was wondering…is medication an option?”

Dr. Stransky clicked her tongue.

“Medication is only a short-term solution,” she said.

“But Cash has a serious problem,” I replied. “He makes a huge fuss the minute I leave the apartment without him.” The vet stared at me.

“Look,” I almost said, “I’m not suggesting putting him in a permanent drug fugue. I just want the option.”

“Have you tried puppy training school?” Dr. Stransky asked finally. I flushed.

“I can’t afford that.”

When once asked by a pre-adoption questionnaire how much I would be willing to shell out on medical expenses for my dog, I had written $3000. 

Never mind $3000 was almost twice the amount I had in my bank account at any given time. Sure, I’d been bluffing, but I was confident my dog would never have any serious problems. Everything was going to be A-okay. How wrong I had been.

“What you really need,” Dr. Stransky continued, “is help from a dog behaviorist.”

“How much is that going to cost?” I asked, not caring how miserly I probably sounded.

The vet produced a pamphlet for a nearby pet hospital. I scanned the price list. A basic two-hour behaviorist consultation came in at a steep $600. 

“Jesus,” I whispered. 

Six…hundred…dollars. That kind of cash I wouldn’t even think of spend on myself, let alone taking my pet to see a canine shrink.

Sure, to some owners, $600 may seem like peanuts for peace of mind, but I struggled to justify it. If this woman thought I was going to start a second job Ubering in order to stop my dog breaking down the front door, she was sorely mistaken.

Dr. Stransky hummed.

“I know,” she said, “it’s expensive. But I’ve heard great things about this center.”

Determined not to let my vet visit go to waste, I changed tack.

“If Cash continues like this,” I said, “I’m worried I won’t be able to keep him.” The vet was implacable.

“I’ll give you a limited script,” Dr. Stransky said. “But like I said, you can’t rely on drugs alone to treat Cash.”

What she seemed to be suggesting, at least to my paranoid self, was that I was looking for a quick-fix solution. 

And so what if I was? Pills had dulled the screaming tirades of my own mind to a tolerable background buzz; had restored me from a shuffling caffeine-infused insomnia zombie to a vigorous, seven-hours-minimum-a-night self. 

And pills alone were what was keeping me sitting in my chair at the veterinarian’s office, conveying a composure I certainly didn’t feel.

Yet by Dr. Stransky’s tone, I knew nothing I said or did was going to change her mind. So I grumbled agreement, took the script, and left.

Out in the car, I looked over the prescription and saw it was for the exact same medication I was using to treat my own anxiety. 

It was yet another uncanny parallel between Cash and me; one I suppose I should have found it amusing. 

Yet my trip to the vet had done little to allay my concerns. If anything, it had brought into focus the yawning gap between Cash’s needs, and my ability to meet them.

Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 10: ‘Annul anarchy’.