Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jan Brady Trained My Dog

Fair warning: if you are not a dog lover or do not enjoy posts that gush about the writer’s canine, here’s your chance to opt out – no hard feelings. But if like me, you fall to your knees to caress whatever breed crosses your path, read on. (Photo captions at the end.)

Owning a dog is a relatively new experience for me. During my childhood on Division Street, we briefly owned a terrier named Sparky. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what happened to him.

And when I married and started a family, we never sought a furry companion for our daughters, Faith and Jill, because my husband wasn’t a dog lover. Evidentially I didn’t feel strongly enough at the time to press for a pet for the kids, or for me. But after my husband and I separated in 1990, I hungered for something to warm and protect me, and a dog seemed an uncomplicated solution.

The girls were still living in Chicago when their dad and I split and were eager to help me adjust. If Mom had a puppy to love, feed, and spoil, perhaps she’d ease up on her offspring, they likely figured. So Jill accompanied me to a dog show where we narrowed our choices to Labradors and Golden Retrievers – breeds that she figured would look good with a red bandana around it’s neck. (Fast forward to 2005, where on Page 96 of the hardcover edition of "Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants," Jill Soloway guiltily admits, “I don’t like dogs.” Horrors!)

The Goldens won out, and a trip to a Wisconsin breeder in my Uncle Hy’s Cadillac, with my Aunt Blos along to help choose from the litter, brought 7-week-old Sasha into my life. The puppy slept in my arms the entire trip back to my Maud St. townhouse. “This is a breeze,” I thought.

Little did I know that puppies chew up everything they can get their pointy little teeth on – from high heels to table legs to my bare arms– and also, that they pee all over the house. “What did I get myself into?” was my next thought. There I was, free and single, and saddled with a manic animal that was adorably, but purposefully, destroying my house. And, she had to be walked, daily, early, late. Had I lost my mind!

Salvation came from the oddest place: Eve Plumb, the actress who played Jan Brady in the TV hit “The Brady Bunch” taught me how to read the signal that dogs use to express their need to go to the bathroom, “When she does that little circle dance, grab her up and rush her outside,” Eve/Jan said. “Do that every time and she’ll be housebroken before you know it.” It worked. Those wise Brady’s.

Eve was in my home because my daughters had launched “The Real Live Brady Bunch” at the Annoyance Theatre and Eve traveled to Chicago to get a peek at the show. She was amused.

The chewing part of puppyhood eventually ended, and soon enough I was swooning every time I saw her adorable punim. Sasha was my companion throughout my separation and divorce and even helped me snag Tommy as a second husband. (That’s a whole other essay.)

Sasha died of cancer at the age of nine and we grieved for an entire year. Then, in 2000, after Tommy and I moved into our home in Independence Park – complete with front porch, back yard, and across the street from said park – we started hungering for a new pet. We adopted Buddy from a Golden Retriever rescue group – he was 15 months old and fully housebroken (Yea!) – and have lived blissfully with our pooch ever since.

Each morning since his adoption -- rain, shine, snow, or whatever Chicago’s weather throws at us -- Tommy and I leave the house at 6 a.m. to join other neighbor-dog combos in the park. The dogs sniff, wrestle, run, fetch, bark, and do the circle dance. Their owners sip coffee, debate politics, discuss TV and movies, review headlines, and pick up after our pooches. A lovely way to start a morning.

I’m not sure what sparked this essay, but I think it was after I was walking home from the grocery store the other morning and took the route home through the park. I stopped to pet a few dogs who are part of the 7 a.m. set and remembered how much I loved dogs and how grateful I am to Sasha and Buddy for all they have brought into my life. If you’re a dog person, you understand. If not, you shouldn’t have been reading up to here – you were warned.

Love to pooches everywhere!

Photo Captions:
1. Sasha as a puppy.
2. Sasha on our Henderson St. front steps.
3. Aunt Blos and Uncle Hy.
4. Eve Plumb as Jan Brady.
5. Cast of “The Real Live Brady Bunch.”
6. Tommy and Sasha in a winter scene.
7. Jack, owned by Molly.
8. Maggie, owned by Russ and Natalie.
9. Buddy undergoing water therapy at Integrative Pet Care with Tommy looking on. Like many large breeds (and folks in my age group), Buddy has arthritis. This regular treatment has definitely helped our dog. Go Bud!
10. Susan K. with Jessie on the left and Brody on the right.
11. On the left, k.d., Dusty on the right. These pooches are owned by Rick Karlin and his spouse, Gregg Shapiro.
12. Mindy and Mac are Sandy's angels.