My Journey To Becoming ‘A Dog Person’

I’m the youngest of 5 and by the time I was old enough to appreciate the family dog, she was sadly in her final years and it felt like the only fun I got to have with her was cleaning up after her in her old age. We never got another and I was fine with that. Fast-forward to college. The dog people were mostly dirty hippies and while I was a long-haired who loved the Grateful Dead & Phish, I didn’t care much for the dirty hippies or their poorly-behaved dogs. Fast-forward to young adulthood. I start dating a girl who is a dog fanatic. I care about the girl but her dogs, not so much. One of the dogs is a German Shepard who, after every vet and trainer suggested she be put down for aggressive tendencies, was literally on human Prozac. She attacked one of the other dogs and as I tried to break it up, she bit my hand pretty severely. My girlfriend was at that point determined she had to put the dog down. I lived alone at the time and was babysitting my sister’s cat (long story, but by “babysit” I mean I had him for a year) — so I suggested my girlfriend take the cat, and I’ll take the crazy dog and see if with a little structure and a house without other animals, we can ween her off the Prozac and let her live a full life. So cat I’d secretly come to love in bandaged-hand, I gave my girlfriend the crate and she gave me the leash. A year later, the dog was off the Prozac and well-trained beyond what anyone ever thought possible. I attributed the success to my lack of emotion for the animal. Consistent with what I sold as my lack of emotion, I told my girlfriend that we must now find another home for the dog because my intent was never to keep her forever. She was a beautiful 6 year old German Shepard now ready to be in a home with no other animals, so finding her that next home with a loving family was pretty easy. Just like with the cat, when I made the hand off I pretended I had forgotten something in the basement and quickly ran down the stairs where I dried my eyes and worked expertly to compose myself. Still, when the dog went and I again had my home to myself — it was time to end that relationship with that girl, who had gone out and gotten two more dogs to replace the one I temporarily adopted. I’d had enough of everyone and everything for a while. Fast-forward to my dream girl/wife who I met in my 30s. One of the first things she told me is, “You’re going to absolutely love my best friend and most beautiful girl ever, Edna the English Bulldog.” I quickly shot it down letting her know that I’m not a dog person, never will be, and am not going to pretend to be all excited about her dog just to impress her or win her over. Quite the contrary, if she wanted to be with me, she’d need to accept that I’ll tolerate but not lift a finger to accommodate a dog. So rule number one, no dog on the couch. A week later, she was on the couch. Rule number two, no Edna in the bed. A week later, she was in the bed. And so it went until my foremost rule — “I’m not a dog person” — was broken for sweet little Edna, and Edna alone. I’ll spare you all the adorable stories about her love, but it’s notable that Edna was a certified therapy dog in Ohio, California, New York and eventually Minnesota where we live today. My wife got her certified everywhere and on her days off, would often take Edna to the hospitals where my wife worked so she could bring joy to patients and staff. In California, she was actually the Stanford PAWS Program’s Volunteer Of The Year in 2011! Before we got here to Minnesota however, something else happened that I said never would. We got a second dog. Little Agnes (another English Bulldog). Agnes was born in Queens and raised for the first three years of her life in The Bronx. She’d never peed on grass before — okay, very rarely did. Her bathroom, like 99% of other Bronx dogs, was the concrete street curb. My wife, who found Agnes online while I was on a business trip, promised that if I said “Yes” then she’d take care of Agnes and handle everything despite the 100 or so hours per week she worked as a surgical resident. So against every instinct I had, I agreed — and of course, no surprise, the rest of my darling wife’s assurances didn’t happen. (Sometimes I think she in her infinite wisdom simply knew better than I how good it would feel and be for me to raise my own dog.) So I’ve raised sweet little Agnes who has about 100 times more energy than Edna ever did. Edna hated NYC. She loved grass and sunlight and was devoid of both in our poorly lit 4th floor walk-up. But to my wife’s purpose for wanting her, Edna’s misery was offset with some of the fun that she and Agnes would have together, often playing tug-of-war until they each collapsed…rope still in mouth. The breeder said she’d bring new life to the house/apartment, and she did. We moved to Minnesota in June 2016 with both dogs in the front seat of the U-Haul. They loved the new house. Beautiful fenced in backyard with tons of sunlight. Edna spent hours sunbathing, and Agnes frolicking. One day about 4 months after we arrived, Edna seemed to show signs of discomfort. Later that night after we made our way to the basement for some evening unwinding, she collapsed to her side. We were terrified. She was so helpless and we’d never seen anything like that before. We took her to the 24 hour emergency vet where they gave her fluids and sent us home. After one day of what seemed like at least marginal improvement, she was still clearly in a lot of discomfort so we took her back in during normal hours. That vet said he wanted to keep her and give her fluids for the day and overnight. A few hours later I got the worst call I can ever recall getting: “Mr. Tookman, we were giving Edna fluids and then she sat up and got very pale. And then she collapsed and passed away.” I was crushed. My wife was at work, texting throughout the day that she hoped Edna would be okay. I couldn’t tell her what happened because her job is too demanding to impose that level of trauma on her, so I sat with my own heartache trying to spare her until she got home. She finally came home and, as always, had a bounce in her step eager to talk about our days. I’m watching her, waiting for the right moment. It’s not when she walked in the door. It’s not when she puts her bags down on the countertop, or bends down to greet little Agnes. It was back in the bedroom when she finished changing that she noticed I wasn’t as responsive as I normally am. She slowed down dramatically wanting to know what was wrong. And then I told her. And it was crushing.

We spent the next several days just absolutely broken and doing our best to console each other while missing the single sweetest little dog that anyone would ever know. My wife went to Germany a few days later and it was just me and Agnes. I saw Agnes go from slightly uncertain to downright depressed. She knew Edna was now gone and it wasn’t just her imagination, and on top of that — the poor little thing may have very well thought that my wife was now gone forever, too. But as my wife will tell you, Agnes is very much a daddy’s girl so in her sadness she only clung that much closer to me. I raised her from the time she was a puppy and since I’ve often worked from home, we spent just about every minute together. Still, I was thrilled when my wife came home and little Agnes got to realize that no, in fact, not everyone she loves will just disappear! But the loss of Edna sustained and does to this day about 10 months later. And now I’ve recently started coming to grips with the fact that someday I’m going to lose my little Agnes. And I don’t know how to process that. And I can’t even type that sentence without a tremendous feeling of fear and loss and heartache. Honestly there are times I feel I’d rather die myself, than have to see this sweet little thing diminish and eventually die. Still at times clinging to my now disproven contention that “I’m not a dog person,” I told my wife that’s why I think it’s unnatural for people to have animals: Parents will almost always, God willing, go before their kids. But a dog…a dog is an almost certain sentence to devastating loss. I share this because I just watched the trailer for A Dog’s Purpose and was compelled for whatever reason to tell the story of my own journey with dogs as the movie downloads on my DVR. It’s all ready to go now, so with Agnes snoring violently by my side…we’re going to watch it, together. And I don’t think I’ll make it through without realizing repeatedly just how lucky I am to have become a dog person.


This started as a tweet. It kinda got away from me. So now it’s a blog post. And the “featured image” is of our beloved Edna (white) and our little Agnes (white and brown).

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