Editor’s Note: Meet author Ken Foster at Adoptapalooza Union Square on Sunday, September 8, where he’ll be signing copies of his newest book, I’m a Good Dog: Pit Bulls, America’s Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet.
I adopted my first dog in New York City in January 2001. I had just returned from a three-month stay in Costa Rica, where my daily schedule was set by the stray dogs who inhabited the village. When I returned to the city, I felt I wouldn’t know how to get through the day without a dog at my side. Of course, I had the same concerns that many first-time dog owners have in the city: Would I find the time for him? Was my apartment large enough? Could I afford it? But I had observed firsthand what the other alternatives might be, and living in my small apartment was certainly better than living in a shelter or on the street.
Brando, my New York dog, changed my life. From the minute I met him at the BARC shelter in Brooklyn and hired a car service to bring us home, he gave me a sense of balance, connection and responsibility that I now realized were necessary to survive life in the city. This is the great advantage of dogs — they know what is important. Brando was stubborn and people-centered. He enjoyed hobnobbing on the streets and would loiter on certain corners waiting to see whomever he may have met the day before. We shared dinners from local restaurants and there were times when I went to the movies and thought, “Brando would really enjoy this.”
Eventually we moved south, to Florida, Mississippi, and New Orleans, picking up additional dogs along the way. Southern dogs, much as I love them, are different. They enjoy a whole other range of activities. While Brando enjoyed a stroll through the park to flirt with squirrels as they ran up and down the trees, my Florida Rottweiler simply ate them. While the other dogs rolled in the mud and dug holes, Brando wondered when we might be headed out to the local café.Then last fall, after Hurricane Sandy, my editor contacted me for help. She had walked outside her Harlem apartment building and found a dog tied to the fence surrounded by police officers with their guns drawn. Jake, who looked like a Basset Hound/Mastiff mixed together on Photoshop, was taken to “central booking,” aka Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C). With the shelters filling up after the storm, everyone was worried that there weren’t a lot of options. I posted his photo on my Facebook page hoping for someone to offer to save him. Instead, what I received was an offer to send him to me in New Orleans with the help of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. How could I say no?
Jake arrived in December and quickly managed to convince me that he was used to having things a certain way. Crate? No way! In fact, his ability to disassemble a variety of crates from the inside out reminded me of one other dog: Brando. There was a presumptuous confidence about him, as if he had forgotten the circumstances from which he had only recently escaped. Once he made clear his position on crates, I had no choice but to offer him a spot in my bed. I had Brando on one side, and now Jake on the other. As the night went on, Jake slowly edged his enormous head across my stomach so that it was resting on Brando. In the morning, Brando cleaned Jake’s ears. That was that.
In March, at nearly thirteen, Brando passed away. We knew that was where things were headed. But I wonder if he held on as long as he did because he was waiting — or I was — for another dog to enter the picture who would remind me of the lessons we had learned while growing up together in New York: the drive to persevere, an appreciation of the finer things in life and, most of all, a willingness to learn something new and relish the unexpected.
About the Author
Ken Foster is the author of I’m a Good Dog: Pit Bulls, America’s Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet, and the memoir, The Dogs Who Found Me. He lives in New Orleans, where he is the founder of The Sula Foundation. He can be found online at www.kenfosterbooks.com and www.sulafoundation.org.