In a galaxy far, far away, we lived on MacDougal Street when it was the coolest street in America. The problem was that we could only walk our dog early in the morning and late at night because the sidewalks were jammed with tourists. We were just married, and we lived in the back on the first floor of a cold water flat, a tiny apartment with a tub in the kitchen and the water closet down the hall. It was a tenement built shortly after the civil war and was remarkably free from the noise of motorcycles and rubbernecks out front. It was like living in Paris without the disdain or language problem. The rent was low and the times were high. No kids, just a dog and a cat.
The teeming coffee shops, cheap eateries and thumbnail nightspots overflowed with equally ambitious youngsters such as the hopeful Loving Spoonful, Mommas and The Poppas, Bob Dylan, Joan Rivers, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Kris Kristofferson and more aspiring actors, entertainers and writers than the world thought it needed or wanted. They were all there during that time on MacDougal Street and so were we. Other than our devotion to making it our lives were carefree and filled with dreams about the future. Haircuts, restaurants and Broadway shows were luxuries none of us could afford. We haunted the coffee shops every night like the second act of La Boheme. That was what our lives were like at the time when we bought our first purebred dog, a Siberian Husky named Siegal’s Petrov of Alakazan. We called him Pete.
The new young dog was better than Broadway. He was five months old, frisky, high-spirited and altogether a frothy delight of canine madness with sky-blue eyes, a silver-and-black coat and a tail that was not only beautiful but had a life of its own. When he entered a room, I could not take my eyes off him. I tried not to think too much about his pedigree because it made me feel mediocre. He had papers. I didn’t. He was respected by the Dog Fancy. I wasn’t.
This was the first dog I ever owned that made me laugh at least ten times a day. He was my very own sweet pup, a gift from the wife in celebration for her new acting job on Broadway, which was an extraordinary event. To this day, it was the best gift I had ever been given. Then, without rhyme or reason, the dear dog developed a chronic bout of diarrhea and I was not able to correct the condition. Suddenly, we stopped having fun on MacDougal Street. People expected dog owners to clean up after their dogs and I was passionately in favor of this. I felt that dog owners should be responsible and consider their neighbors, especially those that did not have dogs. However, cleaning up five or six times a day from a dog with diarrhea was not only difficult, it was unpleasant.
I waited two days before doing much about it because I thought the condition would clear up on its own, with the body’s immune system doing the heavy lifting. No luck there. I called Pete’s vet and went in to see him with the dog. After a thorough examination, he could find nothing wrong that would cause the problem. As I recall, he gave Pete a shot of something, a small envelope of pills to push into him, he asked about what I was feeding the dog and made a few suggestions for change.
I stopped feeding him commercial dog food and gave him a cup of cooked rice with a tablespoon of prepared baby food with cooked chicken blended into it. He got this three times a day. To tell the truth, it looked so good I ate some myself. My instructions were to make fresh water available at all times despite the fact that we were in the middle of a housebreaking regimen. Of course, the diarrhea made housebreaking impossible anyway. We did all this and I think we were supposed to give him several tablespoons of Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol. After three days of this, the condition changed. I called the vet, spoke to his technician and she said if the diarrhea was gone to taper into his regular diet of quality dog food. We did just that but the diarrhea returned. I called again and she instructed me to bring Pete in for further tests.
I believe they looked for external parasites, tested him for internal parasites, internal injuries and various diseases. I do remember being asked to bring in stool samples for microscopic examination. Everything came out negative. The vet, a young man I liked very much, told me that the dog was in perfect health, except for the diarrhea, which he could not explain.
By this time, the technician, a bit older than her boss, suggested that I try cooking Pete’s meals. She advised me to cook things that were easy to digest but at the same time offered a reasonable amount of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. She asked if he liked fish and I said he did indeed. She cautioned me to make sure it was cooked. I went home that afternoon and started buying fresh whitefish. I steamed it, boned it and incorporated it into a blend of cooked rice, carrots and chicken broth. My wife came home that evening, smelled something in the sauté pan and said, “”Umm. Smells good. What’s for dinner?””You see, I did all the cooking since I was good at it and my wife had no interest in it. I answered, “”Ragu Norde ala Dog Soup.”” She giggled and accused me of making it up. I then explained that it was for Pete and that we were going out for dinner. The dog inhaled the food and looked up plaintively as if asking for more please.
For the next few weeks, the condition would disappear for a day or two only to return. The vet had me haul the dog in one more time. He said he was going to change the flora in Pete’s intestines and stomach lining, which, I assume he did. More medicine. More home cooking. More intermittent diarrhea. By this time, the vet’s technician was intrigued by the problem and thought it might be something non-medical. When asked what she meant she said she wasn’t sure. “”Just watch him. Maybe he’s getting into something that you’re not aware of.””I nodded but was too weary of the problem to believe anything was ever going to change. I had resigned myself to cooking whitefish and then going for the roll of paper towels for the rest of our lives.
So I watched and I watched and I watched until I fell asleep from the tedium of watching my Husky blink, pant, and scratch, blink, wag, and stare back at me with innocent curiosity. Now I must tell you that among Pete’s adolescent behavior problems were destructive chewing. On good advice, we gave him rawhide chew toys to satisfy his teething situation. Well, on one of my boring observation sessions, I awoke quite suddenly only to see the young dog take an entire rawhide chew toy, which was shaped like a fat pencil, and swallow it whole after giving it two or three chomps. My eyes lost their glaze as the realization sunk in. That had to be the source of the problem. I promptly called the vet’s office and spoke to his techie, who by this time seemed like a member of our family. When I explained what happened she said, “”Of course, that’s it. Swallowing one of those things whole would give me diarrhea, too.”” I then asked her what to do next. “”Stop giving him rawhide chew toys, dummy. Put him back on his regular diet, unless you want to keep cooking for him. How do you feel about whitefish, anyway?””
Well, I put the sauté pan away. I returned to his much appreciated premium dog food but every once in a while I did make him the Ragu Norde and slushed it around in the dog soup. Six months later, I was writing articles and books about dogs but that’s another story.
Mordecai Siegal’s most recent book is “”The Good Life: Your Dog’s First Year (Simon and Schuster) His next book will be, “”THE COMPLETE CAT BOOK. The Official Publication of the Cat Fanciers’ Association,”” to be published by HarperCollins. His most durable books are “”The Cornell Book of Cats (Villard),”” “”The Davis Book of Dogs (Harper Collins), “”Good Dog, Bad Dog (Henry Holt,)”” “”When Good Dogs Do Bad Things (Little, Brown)”” and the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition of “”I Just Got A Puppy. What Do I Do? (Simon & Schuster)”” He is President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America and a founding member of The Cat Writers Association.