Throughout the next however many months I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number seventy-eight.
Lapping water. Crunching treats. Making the stuffed moose squeak. Sounds my dogs make are music to my ears. That I got dogs was quite unexpected.
After being bitten by the Epsteins’ German Shepherd when I was 12, I actively avoided dogs, never entertaining the thought of having one as a pet. Destiny had different plans.
Fast-forward thirty-four years. A pet shop opened next door to the building in which I lived. Through their large window I watched as dogs of different shapes, sizes, and colors frolicked and played at doggy daycare. Wagging tails. Smiling faces. Pure happiness. Only the most hard-hearted could deny the scene’s cuteness.
While lounging by the pool in my building during a week off from work, a small white dog that lived on the ground floor and had access to the pool area ran over to me, snatched my water bottle, and darted to the other side of the pool, expecting a chase. Irritated? Hardly. I was amused. This game continued throughout the week, and I found myself enjoying his company. Between this newfound friendship and the scenes in the pet shop window, I changed my tune about having a pooch as a roommate.
After poring over Choosing A Dog For Dummies, I opted for the Bichon Frisé breed – small, hypoallergenic, and not known for excessive barking.
I browsed the website of the Bichons and Buddies rescue shelter, where one pup in particular stole my heart. Cooper was found wandering the streets, malnourished, his coat completely matted. He was microchipped; his owners didn’t want him back.
I called the shelter to express my interest, asking them to not give him to anyone else. “Don’t fret. He’s three years old. People prefer puppies.”
When I met Cooper, he was trembling, filled with fear. It took only seconds for me to decide I want to take him home with me and show him a better life. He needed a new identity to go with his fresh start. Drawing inspiration from the drummer of my favorite band, I christened him Ringo.
While bonding with Ringo at the shelter, someone walked in with a dog named Winston. They were moving to a place that didn’t allow pets and had to surrender him. They said he was friendly, well-behaved, and fully-trained.
I already chose Ringo, but Winston’s big brown eyes, sweet disposition, and need for a home made me fall in love with him, too. In the end I couldn’t resist adopting both dogs.
It occurred to me Winston was John Lennon’s middle name, so Winston can keep his name and they’d be my two Beatle dogs.
Ringo displayed a fear of every living thing, though he quickly developed a deep affection for me and Winston. The two dogs were very different. Where Ringo was shy and timid, Winston was outgoing and confident. Per the doggy daycare staff, Winston relished playtime and making new friends. Ringo occasionally engaged with Winston but mostly kept to himself in a corner.
On our first Halloween together, I took Winston and Ringo to the pet shop’s trick-or-treat for dogs event. Winston was in heaven. His body language said “OMFG! How was I unaware of this magic land before today?” as he went from table to table collecting treats. Ringo, on the other hand, hid under each table’s cloth covering. He didn’t care about treats; he wanted to go home. The next morning, Winston pulled me to the pet shop parking lot, confused to find it empty. He must have been thinking “Last night I had the most amazing dream!”
Winston is a master of comic timing. While he’s on the couch and I’m on the floor leaning against it, he licks my ear. When I turn around, he’s looking up at the ceiling; then he meets my gaze, as if to say “Oh, hey! What’s up?”
On our walks, when passing by houses with people standing outside, Winston would inquire, “Is this your house?” before promptly proceeding to defecate on their lawn. Similarly, if we walk past a restaurant with diners eating outdoors, Winston inquires, “Are you enjoying your meal?” Squat! He also poops in front of signs that say “Pick up after your dog.” “Yeah, I’ll give you something to pick up!” I appreciate his spirit that wants to stick it to the man; I wish he understood that sometimes, I’m the man.
He is fiercely protective of me, quick to bark and step in front of me at any perceived threat. When a neighbor locked himself out of his condo, I invited him to wait in mine for his friend with spare keys. Winston displayed an intense dislike of the man, barking incessantly. I wondered why, until the neighbor took off his sandals and put his bare feet on my coffee table. Then I realized that Winston has good instincts. A week later, a SWAT team apprehended the man for running a drug operation from his condo.
Six months after I took them home, and against the advice of every dog guide and website and trainer, I let Winston and his big brown eyes convince me that he and his brother should sleep in the bed with me. Doggie licks and kisses on my face awakened me each morning around 4 AM for several weeks. Annoying? Hardly. This ritual filled me with immense joy, as it meant Winston was happy and marked Ringo’s journey toward experiencing love.
How can you say no to Winston’s face?
I enrolled Ringo in a shy dog class, where his mastery of agility equipment – climbing steps, traversing beams, navigating hurdles, and leaping through hoops – was a sight to behold. I taught both dogs how to spin and twirl. Ringo’s delight in showcasing his newfound abilities – “Look at what I can do!” – far outweighed any treat offered as a reward.
Upon learning that squeaky toys build confidence, I bought him a stuffed moose that emitted a sound when bitten on various parts. From that moment on, there was no stopping Ringo. He loved to make things squeak.
As the months passed, Ringo began to trust and love people, greeting guests rather than disappearing under the couch.
I was nervous on our first trip to the dog park. To my surprise, once I unleashed Ringo, he took off, running with the other dogs. He looked like he was having the best day of his life.
Ringo at the dog park
When I told people I had adopted dogs, they said they would be dude magnets, yet whenever they sensed a potential romantic connection forming between me and someone we met during our walks, Ringo would bark and Winston would attempt to bite the person. “Share your affection? Not happening, dad.”
Despite their failure to serve as beau bait, our daily walks allowed me to connect with several cool neighbors who I would have never spoken with otherwise, such as the woman who designed stage outfits for various rock stars, including Ringo’s namesake.
In December 2019, we moved to a new neighborhood where we encountered fewer dogs. Three months later, the pandemic hit. No more doggy daycare, dog parks, or company. While Ringo was content to be with me all day, Winston seemed sad and withdrawn. Besides weekly grocery trips, I only left home to walk the dogs. Even after being vaccinated I always masked up and limited interactions with others, for if I were to get sick, who would look after my pups? The isolation I felt made me even more grateful for my furry companions.
In October 2022, I got word that my dad had internal bleeding. As doctors worked to contain it, they found cancer, but the bleeding was the main concern. He had surgery, but the bleeding didn’t stop overnight. I got a call to expect to fly east for his funeral within the next day. But a second surgery was successful, and my dad sounded healthy when I spoke to him the following day, proud that he had come back from death.
This past January Ringo suddenly lost his sight and had trouble maintaining his balance. He struggled to walk and navigate our apartment. That same morning, my dad called me upon leaving his doctor’s office. The cancer had progressed. The doctors gave him three months to live. I wanted to go to New Jersey to see him one last time, but I was torn. Given Ringo’s history, I didn’t want my little lamb to feel abandoned once more by the person who was supposed to be looking out for him. Trying to figure out the right thing to do consumed my thoughts throughout each day.
Soon after losing his sight, Ringo’s hearing also began to fade. I felt helpless, and questioned whether I was doing enough to comfort him. In the days that followed, he displayed signs of depression, retreating and skipping meals. Yet, there were glimpses of the determined little dog who had conquered the steps and balance beam in shy dog class. With time, Ringo grew more adept at staying upright and navigating our walks, as long as I guided him.
A few weeks later, during one of our walks, a large dog broke away from their walker and got Ringo’s little head in his mouth, biting down, leaving Ringo with a scalp injury and shattering the progress we had made in his emotional recovery. Ringo’s spirits plummeted, and he began doing his bathroom activities indoors, a behavior he had never exhibited before. Ringo, Winston, my dad. These were dark days. I felt defeated by life, but I couldn’t allow myself to give up on my dogs.
I couldn’t bear to leave them at that time. My dad had people around him – his wife, his friends, his stepson and his family. Ringo had only Winston and me. I needed to take care of my children.
I got Ringo used to outdoors again, carrying him as I walked Winston, eventually getting him to walk for at least part of the way. He was doing somewhat better when I got the call.
My journey east for my father’s funeral in April marked my first time traveling or being among a group of people since the pandemic began, and my first time in five years being apart from my dogs for more than a few hours. A kind couple from down the street looked after my boys, tending to their needs.
By now, I should have recognized that resilience and courage are among Ringo’s many great qualities. He did not give up on life or himself, adapting to his altered circumstances. I heard the clack of his claws on the wood veneer floor as he memorized our apartment’s layout and the locations of his food and water bowls and doggie beds.
Most of the time, Ringo maintained his balance, and he seldom had accidents indoors. But some days were harder than others. One morning, I could hear him stirring, and knew he needed to go out right away. I didn’t even have time to brush my teeth. He struggled to stand, and I swiftly put him in his harness.
Yet I wasn’t quick enough. He peed all over himself and his harness and leash. My heart ached for him. I picked him up and held him against me, Winston in tow on his leash, and hurried outside. My shirt was soaked with Ringo’s pee. I set him on the grass, where he relieved himself once more. He couldn’t walk, so I picked him up again. It was painfully clear that we were approaching the end of our journey together.
I walked Winston with tears streaming down my face. When Winston concluded his business, I placed Ringo on the sidewalk so I could pick up after his brother. Remarkably, Ringo stood on all fours, squatted, pooped, stood again, and then started walking. I was astounded and relieved. A smile spread across my face.
We headed toward home, Ringo now walking with newfound determination. I noticed a strikingly attractive jogger across the street. We made eye contact and he returned my smile. He came over to us. “You have such beautiful dogs. What are their names?”
“The bigger one is Winston and –“ A look of disgust suddenly contorted his exquisite face. Was it my morning breath through my unbrushed teeth or the fragrance I was wearing, L’pipi de Chien? Whatever it was, my interaction with this Adonis ended as quickly as it began. “Gotta run. Have a great day!”
Ringo’s walking. I am.
This year we celebrated Winston’s 14th birthday and Ringo’s 16th. Some new dogs moved into our neighborhood, and Winston eagerly sought to greet them on our walks. At home, he makes valiant attempts to goad Ringo into playing, but Ringo no longer plays, with Winston or with his squeaky toys. Nevertheless, he continues to focus on self-improvement. On certain walks, Ringo dashes down the sidewalk with such speed that I struggle to keep up. Through all the trials and changes of the past few years, Ringo serves as a constant reminder to me not to lose sight of what truly matters.
Clang! Clang! Clang! The clang of metal on metal echoed from the kitchen while I sat in the living room engrossed in Judge Judy. It was Ringo, making sure he got every last morsel from his metal dinner bowl. For the moment, I’m at peace.
Photo by Lisa Margolis
Released in 1966, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds marked a significant departure from their familiar surf, car, and girl-themed hits. Inspired in part by band member Brian Wilson’s grappling with mental health struggles, the album delved into a more sophisticated sound, with lyrics exploring themes of love, loss, loneliness, loyalty, longing, sadness, grief, and resilience. Wilson’s 1966 was my 2023.
The song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” could easily serve as the theme song of my life. Its opening line, “I keep looking for a place to fit in,” encapsulates my enduring sense of loneliness and isolation, the last thirteen years with my dog companions notwithstanding. The refrain, “Sometimes I feel very sad,” encapsulates my difficult year.
The last twelve months were marked by irrevocable changes, leaving me with a deep sense of loss. I relate to the sentiment expressed in “Caroline, No,” a melancholy ballad in which Wilson yearns for the more carefree days of his past. He brilliantly captures this longing by lamenting the current hairstyle of his former love interest, singing “You said you’d never change, but that’s not true.” Like Caroline’s long hair, his love for her is gone, which leaves him despondent over this change.
In contrast, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” is a buoyant number that was one of the album’s two top ten singles (the other one being the equally buoyant “Sloop John B”), with Wilson wishing for a future where he and his girlfriend could age together and wake up to each other every day. Though sung against an uptempo beat, the line “Happy times together we’ve been spending / I wish that every kiss was never ending” makes me choke up when I think about these last twelve months.
The pinnacle of the album is “God Only Knows.” Hailed by Paul McCartney as the best song ever written, it’s a heartfelt declaration of devotion and gratitude to a loved one. At the risk of sounding corny, I would dedicate this one to my dogs. Their companionship and loyalty provides a lifeline during my darkest moments, helping me navigate the depths of depression and anxiety. Their presence in my life is a reminder that I’m not alone, that love and joy persist in the shadows.
Though Brian Wilson is rightfully credited as the visionary behind Pet Sounds, the album may not have been as impactful without the collaborative efforts of his fellow Beach Boys – his brothers Carl (who sings lead on “God Only Knows”) and Dennis, his cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. Brian had his family to bolster him, and I have my furry family to help get me through.
Much like Pet Sounds transformed The Beach Boys, my life with my dogs has profoundly changed me. I’ve learned the power of resilience and the importance of savoring the present moment, and I discovered within myself a deep reservoir of love previously untapped.
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