Finding a job in New York is tough. So is finding an apartment, a boyfriend and a ticket to Shakespeare in the Park, but how is it that adopting a stray mutt is nearly impossible? I’m in my late 20’s, a long way from marriage, but I’ve had enough of the gin and tonics at 3 in the morning, enough flings with the uncommunicative Williamsburg visual-artist types. I’m ready to be one of those stable and productive New Yorkers. And I guess that’s how I ended up enrolling in a class at Peter Kump’s School of Culinary Arts, looking for a brownstone apartment in Park Slope and trying to get a dog. I wanted something that would impose some restrictions, a commute or a pet, I wasn’t sure which.
But one Saturday morning, with no apartments to see, I found myself at the Union Square Greenmarket, circling the vegetables. That’s when I spotted her. She was tied to the fence along with about 30 other mutts, all waiting to be adopted. She looked like she was part Labrador, part pit bull. She had a scar over one eye.
A man from an organization called Mighty Mutts was handing out literature and asking the passers-by to adopt a pet in need. I asked about the dog I liked, and he said her name was Honey and that she was probably once a gang dog. Mighty Mutts had found her in Coney Island six months earlier, walking the streets with a red bandanna around her neck. I was sold. I filled out the application, figuring it was in the bag. Who else at the Union Square Greenmarket would want a gang dog? The Mighty Mutts guy said not to call–that they would call me .
That night I couldn’t sleep. There was so much to think about–dog runs, crates, names. My whole social life was on the brink of changing. I would soon be hanging out with other dog owners–responsible, caretaker types. I was going to be all about Responsible Living.
Monday afternoon, I got the message: “Hi, it’s Marcy from Mighty Mutts and I’m calling about Honey. Please call and let me know when you want to set up your interview.”
Interview? They wanted to meet me in my home to get a better sense of who I was and whether Honey and I would be a good match. We scheduled it for a Tuesday night at 8:30.
I rushed home from work that night to clean up my not-quite-one-bedroom apartment. I arranged and rearranged. Mighty Mutts buzzed at 8:30 and, five flights later, two out-of-breath volunteers appeared in my doorway with a dog. But the dog with them was not Honey but what I soon realized was the Decoy Dog–a scrawny, hyperactive dog that whimpered through the entire hourlong visit. The Mighty Mutts volunteers watched me watching the Decoy Dog, checking for hints of irritation in my face, but I didn’t give in. They inspected my apartment, gazed at my books for a little too long, made comments to the Decoy Dog about not ruining my nice white (and they emphasized the words nice and white ) duvet cover. They talked of the responsibilities of dog ownership, of how it changes your life forever. I nodded agreeably. All the while, my phone kept ringing, and each ring seemed to suggest something to the Mighty Mutt screeners. They exchanged knowing glances.
Then they hit me with the big question: Why, exactly, did I want Honey and not one of the other dogs?
“Uhhh, she’s cute?” I said.
They looked at each other again. “You know, she’s really a lot of dog. How should we put it–she’s an alpha dog.”
I told them I had grown up with a Labrador and I was ready for Honey. They asked if I would be willing to have someone help me train her. I was. I also mentioned that I lived within walking distance from my job and my boss would let me take the dog to work. They asked if I knew that there were four or five applications out on Honey already. No, I did not. They said that John, the Mighty Mutts owner, thought Honey would probably be better off with a male dog owner–and they hoped that didn’t sound sexist. Having exhausted all of their dissuasive tactics, they suggested I make an appointment to “spend some quality time with Honey and see how that felt.” But they wanted me to know that ultimately the decision wasn’t up to them, it was up to John.
The next Saturday, I went back to Union Square. One of the Mighty Mutts inquisitors gestured toward Honey, then walked away. I asked someone else to introduce me to John. He had a tree-trunk build and his eyes darted about. He asked me my name and when I told him, he nodded, as if calling up my file in his head.
“We’ve already thrown out your application because you’ve never owned a dog before,” he said. He started to walk away.
“But I lived with a Lab for 18 years,” I yelled after him.
John went over to the woman who interviewed me at my apartment. “Why did we throw her application out?” he said. “You said she had never owned a dog before, but she grew up with a Lab !” (Clearly, Labrador owners carried a certain status at Mighty Mutts.)
The woman looked away, irritated. “I know she had a dog, John, but that was when she was growing up. She’s never been a dog owner in Manhattan.”
John seemed unimpressed with her explanation. He was on my side now, and that was all that mattered. He suggested that I try walking Honey. So we walked, Honey and I. She pulled, I tugged and we made our way around Union Square. After a few minutes, Honey and I had found a groove, and it was as if we had been a couple for years. I felt the warmth, the adoration of Honey, and I knew it was right.
We made our way back to John. And then I made the comment that was to change the course of events forever: “Maybe some day, if I train Honey really well, she’ll be able to walk along beside me without a leash.”
John looked disgusted and he walked away. I ran over to him, like those tiny, overeager yapping dogs that beg for affection.
“What’s wrong? I really, really love Honey,” I said.
But he just looked away. “That was such a stupid comment you just made,” he said, “about walking Honey without a leash. You would never make a good dog owner if you could say something as irresponsible as that. Do you know that if you walked Honey without a leash, you would get her killed? The fact that you would even make such a stupid comment suggests you are obviously not ready for a dog. And another thing. I watched you walk Honey. You were not walking her , she was walking you . And you weren’t even holding the leash right.”
I tried to say it takes a while to get into a rhythm with a dog that you’ve never walked, that I was willing to do whatever they suggested. John said only, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”
It’s been five weeks and he still hasn’t called. And Honey? She’s still chained to the fence. The Mighty Mutts man is still yelling to passers-by, urging them to adopt a dog in need. I don’t suggest it. Oh, and I’ve given up on the brownstone in Park Slope, too. It’s too clean out there, anyway.