From the get-go, she’d eat almost anything but blueberries were a clear favorite. Brooklyn loved to share mine each morning so I’d always add extras to my fruit bowl. Eating together on the couch was an eagerly anticipated activity for both of us. In 2014, Satchmo The Beagle had died at the age of 11 after years of medical crises, constant medications and high vet bills. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was devastating. After my human relationship of 31 years had ended in chaos and deceit, he had been my only companion for three years. I cried for two weeks, unable to talk about him without losing it completely. I knew I needed to fill the emptiness somehow. The only time in my life I was without a dog was in graduate school when it wasn’t feasible. I didn’t want to be dogless now.
I turn off the news when they show abused or injured animals or any of them in pain, especially dogs. When I was a kid, I didn’t want to go to Disney movies because some innocent animal was in jeopardy. But with my own canine friends at home, I felt comfort and love like I seldom felt with people. There was no question. I had to have a dog in my life.
I began to do research on the web, looking for a dog breed that was an un-beagle. Satchmo was his own dog, friendly but independent and not interested much in either other dogs or other people. Of the breeds with the highest affiliation needs, it seemed the English bulldog best filled my requirements. In spite of their rough-and- tumble looks, they are affectionate and snuggly. One has to overlook the burps, farts and snoring endemic to the breed. I was prepared to do just that.
Much to my surprise, one of the top breeders in the country lived just a half-hour drive away. I emailed and found she had puppies that would be available in a matter of weeks. At the soonest possible moment, I drove over to see the litter. In the outdoor pen, there were six adorable little bulldogs – four brindle males and two fawn females. They were all playing with each other, as siblings do. One came over to the fence, looked up at me and I was a goner. I had found my Brooklyn.
Why the name, you ask? My friends did, too. My affection for New York City was one of the remaining sure-fire emotional positives in a world that had been decimated by a series of adverse events. That, coupled with the tough, bulldog look just demanded a name that matched both. Ergo, Brooklyn. If she could have spoken, it would have been with an accent. I called her my Brooklyn Dogger.
While I waited for her availability, I made a trip to New York – and to Brooklyn, where I looked for logo sportswear. I came home with t shirts and a baseball cap. It made me smile just to see the name.
Two weeks later, I picked up what looked like a scale model dog and brought her home. She weighed six pounds at the vet’s weigh-in a few days later. The vet fell in love with her and even brought her medical van to visit when there wasn’t a serious bona fide medical reason.
I had taken precautions before Brooklyn’s arrival, installing a large crate to contain her and a three-foot fence around the pool. Because of her shape and weight distribution, if she fell into the water, she’d sink to the bottom. The thought of finding her at the bottom of the pool irrationally haunted me for weeks. Though an admittedly sappy dog lover, I had never known a bulldog before nor had I ever had a female dog. True to her advertising, Brooklyn was a major league snuggler. From the first night, she slept with me on the bed. I stacked pillows all the way around so she wouldn’t fall. At first, her default sleeping position was draped around my neck. I had visions of being found dead and no one knowing how my jugular got cut off. Her closeness was comforting.
An artist friend painted a portrait of my little puppy as a gift, which I proudly hung in a part of the house where I saw it many times a day, always warming me.
In retrospect, I should have named her Lamont Cranston because she was certainly The Shadow. She followed me everywhere even into the bathroom. Until she was a few months old, she took showers with me, following me in, licking some soap from the floor, then leaving a stream of water trailing behind her as she wandered off. When the laundry buzzer went off, she accompanied me to fold laundry. When I went into the pool, she wanted to come with me. So I introduced her to pool walks. I’d hold her in my arms and walk around while she snorted with delight. If I sat and read, she sat next to me on the couch. When I spoke to her, she’d tilt her head, trying to take in what I was saying. As a bulldog, there were the usual snorts but it seemed to me there were also apparent attempts to communicate back. If she was sitting next to me on the couch and wanted something, she put her head on my shoulder, knowing that would get her just about anything. I found all of this so very endearing, even reassuring.
Because she was still a pup, I put her in her spacious crate when I left the house. She liked it in there, often napping on the soft fleece during the day. If I had to go out, I’d tell her it was “time for crate treats” and she’d bolt into the crate for the expected goodies. She was loving and responsive, just what I had wanted and needed. She was the only dog I ever knew who would take naps on command. If I said, “I think it’s time for a napper,” within seconds, she would retreat to the end of the couch and flop down, falling asleep.
Housebreaking was another matter. She grew especially fond of the most expensive carpeting in the house, in the master bedroom. She wouldn’t get off the bed in the middle of the night but would mysteriously lubricate the rug during the day. The carpet-cleaning people were here four times in a year.
Her regular vet had said early on that she would eventually need surgery for a recessed vulva. I was surprised because Brooklyn came from a long line of AKC champions. But I’d do whatever was necessary. We speculated that this abnormality could be contributing to the urinary accidents. She had the surgery, came through very well, and we went on – as did the urinary issues in the bedroom. After five months or so, she became agitated when I’d discover an accident. When she was small, I could pick her up and take her outside after such an event. As she got bigger, I walked to the spot and said, “Uh oh.” Just the phrase led to a low growl. As I cleaned it up, she snapped at my hand. That scared me a little, but I’d just say, “No” in a calm voice and move on. As time went on, the aggressive behavior escalated. The low growls became teeth-baring threats. I didn’t know what to do. And once she started, it was difficult to interrupt the sequence. I tried various approaches, from a simple, “No” to the reassuring, “It’s OK, Brooklyn. Easy.” If I caught her chomping on some forbidden object and tried to retrieve it, I got the same response. As a former clinical psychologist, I understood the principles of behavior modification but nothing seemed to be working.
After some alarming moments, I called in a trainer.
The trainer concluded I hadn’t been tough enough on her. She tried some systematic desensitization in which she held Brooklyn with a leash in the bedroom while I said the “Uh oh” that seemed to enrage her. We did this several days in a row for a week, until she did not go through the snarling sequence. The trainer also suggested long, brisk walks, which I was unable to do because of an acute knee problem. Every morning for nearly two weeks, the certified trainer came to the house, conducted the training and took Brooklyn out for a 30-minute romp through the neighborhood. Even with this, the snarling continued and generalized to new events.
One evening a few weeks later when Brooklyn was sitting next to me on the couch, she interrupted our snuggle to take something off the table next to her. I was surprised at this uncharacteristic breach of etiquette. I uttered the seemingly neutral words now so familiar to her – “Not for dogs.” As soon as I finished the admonition, the snarling began, the teeth came out. I watched with a growing sense of terror as she started to wind herself up. Suddenly, she whipped around, seemingly coiled to attack me in these close quarters. Zero to 75 in just a few seconds. I grabbed her collar and held her at arm’s length but it didn’t stop. I could feel my heart beating with the adrenalin rush that comes from fear. She had used my arm as her launching pad and it was dripping blood. Not knowing what coming next, I slowly and deliberately got up, moved across the room and ordered her into her crate. After a few commands with rising intensity, she did just that.
This was close to a full-on attack. I was angry, sad and fearful. Her attitude was like that of an abuser. OK, I did it. I’m sorry. I love you. Let’s go back to how it was before. But that wasn’t possible for me. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. I had heard of dogs turning on their owners before but I figured they deserved it. But Brooklyn was nothing if not pampered. Still, was it something I had done to her – or not done? Why does this loving, sweet little girl suddenly become Cujo and want to do me bodily harm? I was afraid of her now, not knowing what might set her off. By this time, too, she was close to 50 pounds, a daunting adversary. I couldn’t calm myself down, either, the adrenaline flowed for several days.
The trainer was at a loss as well. In another two weeks, I would be out of town and following that, hospitalized for major surgery. I knew I could not put off what now seemed an inevitable decision. I emailed her breeder and told her I was returning Brooklyn, weeping on the keys. We had been together a year. It would be several days before this was possible and so we waited. Brooklyn and I went through our usual daily rituals. In the morning, I gave her extra blueberries. I didn’t know exactly what day she would be leaving but I knew it would be soon. While maintaining my vigilance, we snuggled. I told her what a good girl she was, how much I loved her. I knew I would miss the tactile warmth of her cuddling and stroking her fur, her warm smell. I would miss talking to her. Because I lived alone, sometimes it was the only time I talked to anyone in a given day. Coincidentally, on her last night with me, I barbecued steak for dinner, which we shared. I knew it could easily be the last time she would enjoy this delicacy.
The call came the night of the steak dinner and I made the appointment for the next morning. As I hung up the phone, the weight of the loss overcame me and I started to weep loudly. She was right there, all over me. I held her close, knowing she would soon be out of my life forever. I also knew that the breeders would treat her well which helped, but only a little.
The next morning, we drove up to the walled breeders’ house, entering the living room to see two little “Brooklyns” in a pen in the living room. I flashed back to that first day, when I picked her up out of her pen and felt her lick my face. I was working very hard to hold my teeming emotions at bay. As we discussed Brooklyn’s behavioral deterioration, the breeder suggested something I had also considered. Perhaps she had a brain tumor that was causing this escalating ferocity. She said they would explore that with a vet. If this weren’t the case, they’d call in a behaviorist. I thanked her, managing to hold in the tears until I turned to walk away. I didn’t quite make it out of the house before I lost it. I couldn’t look at Brooklyn’s little face or say goodbye. I cried all the way home, pulling off the road once because I lost sight of the lines in the highway ahead of me.
Then I started to dismantle the World of Brooklyn. I removed the stairs she needed to get up on the bed, took down her crate, threw out remaining food and treats, put her dishes in the dishwasher, removed the pool fencing, tossed out her well-chewed toys, closed off the dog door – all the while dripping with tears.
It didn’t get any easier, even with the evidence gone. Whenever I’d get off the couch, I’d watch that I didn’t step on her. I’d hear a sound and think it was Brooklyn picking up one of her many toys – some of which she knew by name. The dryer buzzed and I looked around to see if she had heard it, too. When I walked in the door after returning home from an errand, my eyes landed on the empty space where her crate had been. I saw her everywhere.
But then I realized… There was an upside here. I didn’t have to eat at certain times, as she had always reminded me to do with her plaintive stare. I didn’t have to share my meals. I didn’t have to go to bed after constant visual “nagging.” I wouldn’t have to be careful when rolling over in bed and could even sleep later than five in the morning. No need to check the bedroom floor for wet spots. Early in the morning when reading the paper, I no longer had to leap up when I heard a bulldog bark outside, quickly quieting her so the neighbors wouldn’t be disturbed. No more “poop patrol.” No more bulldog’s head on my shoulder. No more snuggles. No more comforting soft, furry love. No more love.
What more could I have done? I couldn’t stop asking myself that question for months. I felt guilty about what I had or hadn’t done, even though I couldn’t figure out what that was.
After talking more with my own vet, she told me Brooklyn likely suffered from rage seizures, a condition more common in spaniels than bulldogs. They come on during the hormonal changes of adolescence. The origin is unknown but it’s progressive and incurable. Sadly, I was relieved to hear this, if only to assuage my own guilt. At least, it wasn’t my fault.
The breeders took her with them when they spent the summer at their home in New Mexico. They said they’d place Brooklyn with friends who had a farm and who had raised bulldogs. She’s now living on acreage and has an older dog as a playmate. She hadn’t died like Satchmo but the grief has been just as intense. Life is an inevitable series of losses but for me, this one felt more acute because there was little closure. And it’ll be a long time before I eat blueberries again.
Pam Munter has authored several books including When Teens Were Keen: Freddie
Stewart and The Teen Agers of Monogram. She’s a retired clinical psychologist and former
performer. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Manifest-Station, The Coachella
Review, Lady Literary Review, NoiseMedium, The Creative Truth, Adelaide, Litro, Angels
Flight—Literary West, TreeHouse Arts and Persephone’s Daughters, Better After 50,
Canyon Voices, Open Thought Vortex, and others. Her play, “Life Without,” opened the staged
reading season at Script2Stage2Screen in Rancho Mirage, California and was a semi-finalist in
the Ebell of Los Angeles Playwriting Competition. Pam will finish her MFA in Creative Writing
and Writing for the Performing Arts this June at the University of California at Riverside/Palm
Desert. Visit her website at www.pammunter.com.