Living with three strong-willed, highly individual Dachshunds can be equal parts entertaining, frustrating and rewarding. Just ask Matt Ziselman.
Armed with a fresh, creative voice that is unabashedly cranky one moment and profoundly poignant the next, Ziselman mixes hilarious canine stories, with heartfelt reminiscences from his own life, the results of which is a memoir of illuminating life lessons, courtesy of the three thoroughly Teutonic Dachshunds that he shares his life (and couch) with: Baxter, Maya and Molly. Seemingly mundane moments, like Baxter's incessant, neuroses inducing staring, Maya's inexplicable refusal to walk through the front door and Molly's obsessive compulsive love for a torn and tattered blanket become, through Ziselman's insightful eyes, a treasure trove of observations that any dog-lover will appreciate. In a market where Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on their pets, this work of razor-sharp wit and quiet tenderness will reach out and grab readers everywhere by the heartstrings and-quite possibly-their leashes.
HOUNDED wraps universal insights in hot-dog-shaped packages, providing true dog lovers with many knowing nods, honest belly laughs and an accurate, warts-and-all reflection of the fascination, wonder and love that they have for their dogs.
And that Matt Ziselman obviously has for his.
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The Lowdown on Life from Three Dachshunds
By Matt Ziselman
Center StreetCopyright © 2014 Matt Ziselman
All rights reserved.
Staring Contest, You and Me, GO!
I step across the threshold of the front door first; they follow, a submissive step behind me.
We begin our walk.
At 5:45, most of the neighborhood is still asleep. Until it awakens, the morning is ours. Today's forecast of sunshine is, at this early hour, a barely-there streak of pink above the treetops. My first intake of air feels like the first bite of a Granny Smith apple: crisp and sharp. As we move from driveway to sidewalk, a breeze winds through the trees, raining desiccated leaves of yellow and rust upon our heads. We start at a relaxed pace, allowing our bodies to adjust to being awake and in the weather. Each leash is loose, free of any tension, devoid of any restraint. They drape like fragile ribbons.
At six inches or so above the ground, their noses probe the air, taking in more discernible information in a sniff than I could in an interrogation. As we reach the bend in the road near the small field, a robin, obviously a recipient of the memo regarding the early bird catching the worm, pecks at the frosted soil for breakfast. We stop. They all turn their heads toward the robin. Their nostrils expand and contract. The robin freezes. For a moment, we're as still as a landscape. A second later, in a rush of feathers, the robin rises and flies over the bowed pines. In unison they exhale loudly, and we move on.
Farther along, one of our neighbors is walking out of his house with an insulated lunch bag hung on one shoulder and a hot cup of coffee in his hand, his car already idling at the curb.
"Morning. Out for an early walk?"
The four of us come to a slow stop. "Too nice of a morning to stay inside," I reply.
He kneels and begins to pet them. "Wow, they're really well behaved. No barking, no jumping. Hi, guys, how ya doin' today?"
"Yeah, well, we're having a good morning," I joke.
"You sure are," he says, as he continues to rub bellies and stroke ears. Then he says, "Well guys, I've gotta run. Have a good day, enjoy this weather."
"Will do. Come on, guys, let's go home."
He pulls away, and we are left once more under the boughs of shedding sycamores and in the silence of a hastening sunrise.
As we approach the skirt of our driveway we pick up speed and then glide to a soft stop by the garage doors. The leashes are as they began: limp and untangled. They each sit, tongues happily lolling sideways from the exertion, patiently waiting while I untether them from the nylon umbilical cords that connect me, in more ways than one, to them—and them to me.
"Stay," I instruct. The only parts of their bodies that move are their eyes. They're watching mine. I turn my back and walk up to the front door. I slide the key in, give it the necessary jiggle, turn the knob and swing the door wide. I look back at my three Dachshunds: Baxter, Maya, and Molly. They are stonelike and silent. I wait one more moment.
"Inside," I quietly say.
They rise from their haunches and walk—not run—but walk, as they should, through the front door. I pause a moment to look at the seasonal gift that is midautumn. I hear the clacking of nails on tile and the lapping of tongues on water. They are replenished. I am replenished. I say to myself, That was a beautiful walk.
"Matt, wake up!"
I pop up onto my elbow and the blanket and pillows tell me that I have gone nowhere. I'm in bed with my wife, Melissa—and once again, the dogs have entered my dreams.
"You okay?" she asks.
I take a swig of water from the bottle on my night table. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just dreamin'."
I sigh. "I was talking again?"
"Yep. You gonna be able to fall back to sleep?"
"Yeah, sorry I woke you."
"It's okay, love you."
"Love you too."
I flip the pillow to the cool side and lay down again. I hear Melissa reconfigure herself in the sheets, facing away from me. We both settle in, once more, to the serious business of slumber.
Two minutes later I hear a single, sheet muffled word escape from my wife's once-again-drowsy lips: "Baxter."
I flip onto my side, punch the pillow, and whisper the same: "Baxter."
Baxter was our first Dachshund. We bought him from a breeder when we briefly lived just outside Atlanta. We got him when he was six weeks old, and he just turned five, so all totaled that's about four years and ten months of an exquisite kind of hell. Of course, to live with us for that amount of time Baxter must give all of us a great deal of joy, and he most certainly does. It's just that, well, that joy is usually tempered by moments of frustration, so pure and white hot, that it's amazing that he's lived with us for the past four years. And ten months.
Baxter is an extremely handsome dog. He has what's called in Dachshund circles a Roman nose: sizable, regal, straight as an arrow, two nostrils; it's—you know—a nose! He's a short-haired Dachshund, his coat soft and smooth to the touch; his ears feel closer to velvet than fur. He has a very deep, prominent chest, front paws the size of catcher's mitts, and incredibly muscular thighs, a fact made all the more remarkable when you take into account that Baxter has an activity level that fluctuates daily between that of a garden slug and a geranium. A dead geranium.
While originally bred in the 1800s in Germany to drag badgers out of their dens (Dachshund, in German, means "badger dog"), somewhere deep in Baxter's genetic makeup that particular gene—you know, the one that enables movement—has gone kaput, another German word that, loosely translated, means "Beggin' Strips eater." Yes, in a world where Dachshunds are categorized as either "mini," "tween," or "standard," Baxter is what one might call a "maxi." He's not a wiener dog as much as he is a bratwurst behemoth.
Every trip to the vet usually begins with my wife and I being admonished for feeding Baxter too much. We honestly don't. He's just, I don't know, big! I know the term is usually reserved for women of a certain physical type, but Baxter really is built like a brick shithouse. Run your hand along his body and you feel solid muscle. Granted, the muscle lies under a good inch of squishy, surprisingly comforting adipose tissue, but Baxter is still as solid as rock. Well, if that rock had a little give to it. The vet also reminds us that when lifting a Dachshund, it's very important to make sure that you support their backs, given their unique physical structure. I then remind the vet it's equally important, when lifting Baxter, that I support my back due to his unique physical structure. He is a load. But a deeply loved load. Although, he certainly doesn't make it easy—particularly on me.
Most mornings usually dawn with a twenty-five-pound black-and-tan blur landing smack on my chest where, after making sure all of my ribs are still intact, I endure a thorough face licking. And where most people are cognizant of their morning breath, Baxter fails to take that into consideration, bathing me in a noxious mixture of kibble, rawhide, and an underlying layer of something akin to dirt. Actually, now that my scent memory is kicking in, forget "akin to"—it is dirt! Baxter occasionally eats dirt. Not all of the time, but just enough so it's not unusual for me to emit a subtle, topsoil tang throughout the day. After my ritual cleansing, it's time for Baxter's morning constitutional, or as I've come to call it, the Walk of Shame. Mine, not his.
There is a reason I can only dream of walking all three of our dogs together: We did it in reality. Once. The reason why that one en masse walk turned so quickly from pleasant to problematic was indeed Baxter. Or, to be more specific, his highly inquisitive nose.
Every street sign and every mailbox, every blade of grass and every puddle, has a story to tell, and if there's one thing Baxter loves, it's a good story. The smellier the better. Maya and Molly are just as interested in the story; it's just that where Maya and Molly are content with skimming the blurbs on the book's back cover, Baxter's starting with chapter one and he's not moving until he gets to the acknowledgments in the back of the book. We walk three paces, and our canine convoy comes to a sudden, screeching stop as Baxter takes in the beguiling bouquet of a rock for the next sixty seconds. Three more paces, and he's investigating the aroma of a manhole cover. Maya and Molly are configured like they're right in the middle of a heated game of Twister, and Baxter is nostril deep in a search for some kind of olfactory forensic evidence. And then, to make matters worse, here comes my neighbor Gary with his three dogs. Look at 'em! Walking with the precision of newly minted marines, while Gary works those leashes like he's vying for the lead in the Iditarod. I'm nursing first- or possibly second-degree friction burns on my ankles, and Gary's walking and waving, smile on his face, like he's a balloon handler in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. With every precise paw step, his dogs are rubbing salt in my fresh, weeping wounds.
What should have been a pleasant, uneventful, fifteen-minute stroll around the block, turned into a forty-minute canine equivalent of a heated rugby match but with more pain and considerably less sportsmanship.
The terrible tangle of leashes, the relentless, auditory assault of multipitch barking, the insistent pulling toward every point of the compass: it was just terrible for Melissa and myself. The dogs survived, no worse for wear. Shortly after we managed to untangle the Gordian-like knot of collars and leashes—and debated whether or not the wounds on my ankles would leave a scar—Melissa and I were immersed in what can only be described as a sort of posttraumatic walk syndrome. The mere sight of those three, snakelike leashes hanging on the cold, metal hook in the garage was enough to set off a flashback to rival any from 'Nam, replete with the echoing jangle of actual dog tags, the accusatory, daggerlike eyes of my annoyed neighbors, and that relentless, awful barking!
And so, Baxter walks alone. It's for the best, really. Baxter gets the kind of one-on-one attention he requires, Maya and Molly avoid getting garroted by their own leashes, and every so often I get to dream of a walk that was like, well, simply a dream.
When he's not following his nose into the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Baxter's days are filled with the kind of activities you'd expect him to have: nothing. Although, when the weather cooperates and the sun is out, you can often find him lying in the middle of the driveway working on his "black-and-tan."
When he's had his fill of sunbathing he retreats to the coolness of his club chair, where he spends the balance of his day sleeping, yawning, sleeping, stretching and other things that bear a striking resemblance to the act of sleeping. He'll occasionally sachet to the water bowl and, after a few lazy laps of his tongue make his way back to his chair where he'll continue his daily homage to the sin of sloth. And, that pretty much encapsulates Baxter's day. That is, until the sun goes down.
We call it his witching hour, although "bitching" hour would be just as appropriate. That's when we're reminded, in no uncertain terms, that Baxter is, like all dogs, a descendant of wolves. But there is no howling. No tearing at the grass or barking at the moon. No, Baxter's ancient ancestry manifests itself in a behavior that is as unique as it is unsettling: He stares.
He doesn't do it to convince me to let him outside or to give him a treat or to get out of his chair—which, by the way, I used to consider my chair. I've arrived at the conclusion that Baxter stares at me for the sake of staring. And it gets to the point where it gives me the creeps. Do you have any idea how hard it is to watch a television program while being eyeballed by Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs?
It puts the tennis ball in my mouth or else it gets the hose.
He starts his assault from a distance of perhaps fifteen feet, his eyes boring into mine. And, the more I tell myself, "don't look at him," the more my eyes dart from the flatscreen to the black-and-tan rock. He advances slowly, almost imperceptibly. He takes one measured step. He stops. He stares. Motionless. It's like a scene from Animal Planet. Baxter, the dark and stealthy Dachshund, looks out upon the vast expanse of the Serengeti Plains (which, in this case, looks a lot like imitation wood floors), intent on his prey, me, a neurotic Jewish guy from Long Island, with a questionable flight response and a penchant for colorful language. Okay, it's not exactly like Animal Planet. Another quiet step. Don't give him the satisfaction, I try to convince myself. How many times was I told as a kid that staring is rude? After a few minutes of this abuse we've leapfrogged right over rude and landed on cruel and highly unusual punishment. He is, without a doubt, the most relentless, driven, focused dog I have ever met. He does not know the word quit. And when he does stop staring, it's simply because I've grown tiresome to him and not because he's feeling guilty about driving me almost to the point of neurosis. By the time Baxter is done with me, I'm a diminished, discarded, damaged toy.
It was during one of these typical staring/psychological torture sessions that I realized something. There was certainly nothing out of the ordinary about the moment: Baxter. Me. Staring. Just another round of ocular torment, typical stuff. But, for whatever reason, in a glance—one of thousands of glances at him—I saw something else, something that went beyond dog. When I looked in his eyes I saw intent. That all this time, he wasn't just staring at me simply because it amused him to mentally break a person—which, for the record, I do think he rather enjoys. This moment was something else: he was trying to tell me something.
His big, brown eyes locked on mine, Baxter had a message for me, something he felt I needed to know. Something that had nothing to do with getting my ass out of his chair. Now, excuse me while I wax anthropomorphically here, but I could swear that Baxter was speaking to me. Obviously not in words, but with a look. He was speaking in silence. He was most definitely trying to tell me something.
Turns out in this particular instance his staring was not torture: it was teaching.
And with an expression devoid of any expression, Baxter was providing me with a lesson that I, for more years than I could count or care to remember, was in dire need of. Baxter was training me.
Like most copywriters, I absolutely hate writing copy.
In my mind, writing marketing copy falls just below writing greeting cards but slightly above writing obituaries—and on some days, even that line is a rather hazy blur. And, as with most copywriters, I harbored a desire to write something beyond headlines and body copy. Even if what I had to say was of no interest to anyone else, I would feel fulfilled to write something that belonged solely to me. Well, maybe not fulfilled, but certainly better. Probably better.
But something often happens to writers, or, at least something happened to this writer: you start to seriously and regularly doubt your ability to write. It doesn't matter if other people acknowledge your ability; it doesn't matter if people refer to you as a writer. It doesn't even matter if your title is "writer." You sometimes stare at the words on the page and they seem false. They simply become a senseless, pointless series of upstrokes, downstrokes, and serifs.
They don't work. They don't even come close to capturing whatever it was you bled to express.
Those are the words that best capture how I feel when to my eyes and my mind the lines on the page resemble nothing more than, well, lines on a page.
Write a book?
Uh, I don't think so.
Even as I write these words, words that may or may not be passing before someone's eyeballs other than my own, it seems laughable. I am sitting here looking at my fingers fly across the keyboard, and somewhere in the not-so-deep recesses of my mind I hear this:
Are you serious? You can't do this. Who are you to do this? You can't write a book: you write headlines. You don't have it in you, and even if by some miracle you do, there's no way you can get it out. You're stuck. You are and always will be a writer of advertising copy, not a writer of books. Stay in the shallow end of the literary pool, headline boy!
And that is where I have stayed: treading the piss-warmed, spit-infused, Band- Aid–clogged shallow end of the literary pool. Actually, right about now, composing obituaries doesn't sound all that bad.
Excerpted from Hounded by Matt Ziselman. Copyright © 2014 Matt Ziselman. Excerpted by permission of Center Street.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Preface: Dog Day of Summer xv
1 Staring Contest, You and Me, GO! 1
2 Be Quiet! And Speak. 18
3 The Clock Is Licking 29
4 After You, Bitch! 37
5 Poop du Jour 46
6 The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease; the Whimpering Wheel Gets a Treat 58
7 You Lick Your Human with That Tongue? 74
8 Urine My World Now 83
9 Spot Isn't a Name: It's a Location. 97
10 OCDog 102
11 Dog in a Blanket 118
12 Let 'Er Rip! 129
13 Slow Down, Where's the Fire Hydrant? 141
14 Death by Kisses 153
15 Do You Smell What I See? 166
16 I'll Wash; You Try. 180
17 What's Your Position on Doggie Style? 191
18 Lawn Moaner 205
19 Running with the Big Dog (Singular) 218
20 All Creatures Great and Still Very Much Moving 232
21 Dream Wiener 255