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.
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?
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 carpark; 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 destabilised by the adoption, then getting him back on course was merely a question of granting still more loving attention.
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 antsy wallflower to fun-loving socialite.
Cash’s attentions however were met with a growl of warning.
He crouched in an invitation to play. The Dachshund didn’t respond. Oblivious, Cash leapt on his wouldbe 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 chihauhau 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, and snapped off Cash’s leash.
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 were too small to extricate themselves from his hold.
Their shrill barks drew looks from other owners, frown lines offers 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 Asperger 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 for 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.
© 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 TheThoughtfulGay.com 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.