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Barking Dogs Den


The hand towel, soaking in rosewater and mint, swirls in a movement confirming gravity. The aroma reaches my nostrils and eyes, circling, teasing and daring the dullness of my mind to come alive. I'm assured of a nimble and lustful bid towards morning. I'm feeling overall sexy but not in the way that leaves the bed sheets moist. There's a flirtatious exchange in my mind between intelligence and ambition. My thoughts are clear, present and connected to pulsating insight. Ready or not, I'm ready.

Before jumping from our bed, Pomo shakes his head, then maneuvers into his trademark "helicopter," an all encompassing morning body shake. His thirteen-pound Shih Tzu body stretches to seemingly impossible dimensions. Eyeballing the span from his nose tip to tail, I estimate two feet, maybe more. Watching as my hand reaches for a nearby tape measure, he darts away, not in embarrassment but in pure indignation, reappearing at my feet and cocking his head to the side as if to say, "No measuring. Length issues? May I suggest a Dachshund? Low to the ground and built for mathematical computation." His comical eyes wink, reprimand and sparkle with an energy that holds no grudge.

Pomo advances with the limberness of an Olympic gymnast going off to face fierce competition. Time to romp and roam the grounds, to smell and be smelled. With tail wagging and butt gyrating, he grabs a toy and pushes it into my calf. He, too, is ready. Every day is rosewater and mint to him.

In sync, puppy and I move together. We're out the door in five minutes, managing a sip of coffee and a light touch of make-up on the way. The tree stump two yards from the front door takes the first of several markings from Pomo.

Back inside, Pomo plays while I shower, steaming up the glass, drawing circles and lines that don't navigate much of anything other than a childlike nakedness. I feel pure, innocent, with no intruding thoughts seeking to describe this moment. It's only when the water begins to lose heat that life's constraints reinstate reality.

A meeting. A time. A place.

I surf my closet for something to wear. I envision an outfit that conveys sensibility and entrepreneurship. I'm asking for money, not as a loan but as an investment opportunity. My strategy is to offer a limited partnership with a 5-year option to buy back 100 percent ownership. I don't want them to say "no." That's why it's important to choose the right clothes, the kind that say, "Don't ask questions, give her the money, she knows what she's doing." It won't be about trust. It will be about seduction. The desire. The want. Most important, the need to participate, not miss out. Because I won't give it away the way I have in the past.

Since my mother's cancer won the fight for her life, I have inherited a new freedom. I no longer need another's approval. I am ready to move ahead. I need a crisp, carefully groomed, unpretentious style - casual, easy, somewhat thrown together, but perfectly so. The outfit must bridge Armani and Diesel, finding common ground in good fit and edge. I know what I want to accomplish.

Putting on my Cole Haan boots, I watch Pomo with his belly full and content expression. He takes the cue, knowing that when I put on these shoes it's time to jump into the Sherpa bag that I keep next to the front door. Picking him up, I head to the car and buckle the bag securely into the backseat. He prefers his own agenda but is perfectly willing to play the part of mascot to a promising businesswoman. Between us is an unrehearsed and intuitive exchange of each other's moves. Kismet.

Turning down the driveway, I check the brakes against the steepness of the hill and the layering of wet leaves. Slight slide. Deep breath. Big day.

I hit the radio for the news. Headlines sketch out a framework of sidewalk café suicide bombs in and around Tel Aviv, sniper trial proceedings, Lacy Peterson's ritual of pulling up the blinds every morning like clockwork, and the news that American soldiers are dying in Iraq. No surprises except that Elizabeth Smart might soon begin dating. This tidbit catches me off guard.


Squirrel chase. They're tangling back and forth, tagging one another then racing away, a game subject to their own rules. I can't slow down. Swerving, I look back into my rear view mirror. I always miss, but not today. A split second, then a crunching sound, a slight chew, roasted cashews against my back molars. My stomach tightens. I need to stop. No time to stop. The squirrel's life-fleeing, flickering body, flutters and heads toward a dead-end.

It's a heartless, time-sensitive, cruel world. Time grid. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock ... inaudible movements pushing forward. No time to spare. I can't be late. I'm on the clock, damn.

The stop sign several yards past the accident seems like one of those meaningless, casual rules of the road. The bucolic view of trees and deer replace my city-bred, rigid, self-policing, and self-imposed system of no's. Few travel these back roads and a hesitation and quick look seem sufficient. Road rules here are more about casual acknowledgement than strict adherence. Today the sign reads caution. I need to decelerate, take the pace down. I'm getting out of my head. I've got to stay focused.

The instant replay begs the question: if that were Pomo? What if he ran out into the street, no leash, just a dash across the macadam and he is hit! Would it be someone's fault? Would they just drive away? Leave him there to die?

Before accelerating and taking the right turn, I look back at Pomo. Content, eyes in a carefree gaze, he knows we are together and he feels safe. Dogs need to feel secure, more so than people. The dynamics of the wild far removed from their lives, they are totally dependent on us. Yet even with sweaters, dog mints, puppy wee-wee pads, and more, they still live with the pack mentality. I'm Pomo's leader and he places all his trust in me.

Radio news blares as my mind searches for the words that will convince John Collins to invest in my idea. I've crunched the numbers and they work. All I need is to put my passion on display.

The space is costly. Square footage of any kind in Manhattan is at a premium. The better the location the higher the price, even if the venue is situated in, say, an on-the-rise neighborhood like the meat packing district. It's my target spot, but it's still a budget-buster.

Folks with a comfortable lifestyle and financial freedom will cubby up to a place that serves light breakfasts and spa-style lunch fare. My intended customers are the ones that mix it up, one hand on their drink and the other scratching behind their pup's ear. The twist is that the menu and services are for both people and their pooches. Barking Dogs Den will be a full service watering hole, bar stools partnered with doggie bowls and canine comfort cushions. For dogs wanting to socialize and get their own drinks, there will be an in-house, re-circulating waterfall that feeds into a small trough.

Fido and friends will have a tasty morning meal set up on a dog bone-shaped table. Offerings will include: tree-ripened apples, rolled oats, honey, brown rice, flax meal, peanut butter, crisp carrots, parsley, grated liver, and flaked, cooked salmon slivers. During the later hours, the menu will mimic owners' choices, such as salmon nachos using cheddar cheese dog biscuits instead of tortillas. BLT stands for beef, liver and turkey. Chicken and rice will be served with or without broth and with a light dusting of liver shavings. Your dog's dish will be served by waiters, while you'll be carrying a doggie bag out to your table. A bag of chips (for you) and dried beef, turkey or fish jerky strips will accompany every order.

My plan calls for a long reaching hose with a cat face spray nozzle to accommodate leg lifters and the occasional accident. A mascot patrol team will monitor the café, as well as be on the lookout for dog fights. They'll also offer grooming tips and suggestions to deal with skin allergies and other common ailments. One thing I don't expect to provide is advice on how to deal with separation anxiety. At Barking Dogs Den you won't be leaving four legs and a tail home.

Architectural design is key. We have to work with New York health rules that don't allow mixing animals and food. Separate without abandonment, that's the goal. Of course, atmosphere should be European, a Tuscan countryside where a wandering soul discovers a garden with tables set for visitors. Look for part of the yard to be covered with a colorful canvas canopy where, in winter, heat lamps are positioned to ensure comfort in the small café and adjacent doggy playground. Nothing ostentatious. Sliding glass doors that open in spring, summer and fall, and close in the winter. No unnecessary walls or dividers.

Neighborhood zoning regulations also need to be considered. You know, barking dogs and all that. Noise. Six months of research, on my feet traversing block after block, visiting neighborhood board meetings to see what causes the hairs on the back of their necks to rise, always comes down to noise and disturbance. That's why the closing time of 8:30 p.m. Residents home for the evening don't want to deal with the Barking Dogs Den.

John will ask those questions. I will have the answers. Forbes Magazine industry forecasts will allay most of his concerns. The pet business is booming and he will want to catch the investment wave.

Parking at John's, I take a look at my face. There's a slight shine, probably from nerves, but other than that, fine. Pomo looks the part, a professional dog with dignity, a touch of sass and a crooked smile. I unzip his bag and clip on his leash. He wiggles up and licks my cheek.

9/11. Sirens, smoke, people running. Days after, the odor of burnt flesh filled the air. I remember seeing dogs on their once-customary and familiar walks turning back toward their buildings, not wanting to be out among the turmoil, edging past brownstone steps in crouching, low-to-the-ground, fearful movements. Expressions were less dog-like, more worried, concerned, their steps measured and tentative, their eyes avoiding contact with other dogs. Tails were not wagging. They sensed death, felt horror. I didn't own a dog then.

Like it did to so many others, that day of terror brought about a change in my life. Our jobs became something we over-analyzed. Why -type questions kept increasing in our dialogues. Not "why it happened?" but "why are we doing the things we are doing?" "What's the meaning of the why in regards to why we are doing what we are doing?" "Why so many whys?"

Waiting on foot for a streetlight to change, you'd look at the person next to you. You'd offer a smile that said, "I'm sorry for your loss," not "hello" or "I'd like to meet you." For days, weeks and months, sometimes it was hard to talk. People drifted. I moved full-time to our country home. My husband, with work-related ties to the city and other destinations, came up more than in the past. We held one another more closely. We joked more.

Stories are being told years later, like the day Kennedy was shot, when we all remember where we were. It's still a question asked when meeting new people. It's become part of our milieu. I'm not certain if it's simply a New York or Washington thing, but it happens. Over the course of a first-time dinner that's possibly turning into a long-term friendship, conversation drifts to the question of where you were on 9/11. Occassionally, we ask about the northeast blackout. But that's usually just for laughs.

A year and a month to the day, I walked into a pet store with no intention of buying. Insincere and selfish, I was an "I-want-a-pet-can't-have-one" type that was able to surf through a selection of Jack Russells to kittens without so much as a hint of guilt. It was about the patch of fur against skin, the sigh from a puppy's mouth after a morning of tearing across hand-shredded paper and pouncing on a clan of other purebreds. I knew I'd never take the chance, cross the line or misplace my mind.

"Can I see that one?"

"The Jack Russell?"

"Yeah, that one." No one with a busy life takes one of those. Impossible.

She handed him to me and his legs spread wide as though he was about to take flight. The little pup was heading in twelve different directions at once. It was perfect.

"Gee, I don't know. He's got a lot of energy." I said this between breaks in her predictable sales pitch. I wasn't an amateur the way most walk-ins were. I'd been to almost every pet store in the city. Even during the course of business or leisure travel to other places, I'd find a shop echoing with barks and meows, addiction and desire in equal parts pulling at me, demanding a fix.

Truth was, I did want one, but I didn't want one, so I always deferred to my schedule for reasoning. And my husband was dead against the thought of a furry interloper.

"I travel a great deal."

"He's small."

"Small ... but I don't know."

"Wait ... there's a little one you have to see."

That's the cue to walk away. The consummate sales people swoop and conquer at this point. Turning toward the leash and collar section, I tried making my way to the front of the store but was stopped.

She handed me a fur ball weighing in around 3 pounds.

"She's great. Very loving."

The dog began licking me, not jumping, more clinging. "She's very sweet, but she seems needy. Lots of grooming with her."

"Not really. Puppy cut is the way to go. And Shih Tzu's are very good apartment dogs."

I shifted as she folded into my skin, still holding onto me. It wasn't comforting. This dog needed love, demanded love.

"She's great but ...."

"There's one I want you to see. I think that they..." she pointed to a couple "might be taking him, but if they don't ...."

I handed her back, already nicknamed "Handful."

"Thanks, I really appreciate it."

"Just wait."

"Actually I have to meet a friend. I'll be back. Thanks so much."

That was close. In my years of cheap puppy-holding moments nothing ever reached this level of near ownership. In the back of my mind, I noted next time to enter only the shops with open playpens, easing the sales pressure as well as my guilt. Those places offer the ability to lean over baby gates and rough up the back of a retriever's neck while a thousand-plus bolt of pounding enthusiasm powers a motor-like butt that gyrates as if turned on by speed and steroids.

Dogs love life. They live for the moment and for the day. Ear scratching, tummy rubs and positive vocal inflections turn the critters into euphoric mini-gods. They take what you give them and return back to you the power to change.

"Hey," was followed by a shoved-in-my-hand introduction to a furry face.

I don't remember if I turned, or if the sales person grabbed me, but suddenly suede brown, laced with black and snow-white trim, snuggled in my arms. Before words flowed, he flowed, marking me solid and leaving no room for interpretation.

The damn thing was so confidant, so self-assured. He owned himself.

"He's different than his sister - much nobler."

She was right. He was good looking. He was the one you walked in and had to take. I handed him back to her.

"Someone is going to take him. He's adorable."

She handed him back.

"He really likes you. I'll be right back."


Eyes looking right through me, not amused or confused. He knew my act.

I put him down on a step and sat next to him. Someone was going to take him soon. He was one of those gems.

Toe tapping and scanning the room, I was just about to get up and hand him off to another employee when he grabbed a toy. The puppy grabbed a toy! It wasn't any toy; it was one he chose with deliberate intent. I was witness to one of his first decisions.

Tugging softly at his mouth to pry away the stuffed cow that stretched when pulled, I saw his tenacity. Joking and deciding to play this out, I called my husband.

"Guess where I am?"

"A pet store."

I told you I did this a lot.

"What do you think?"

"Look, if you really want a dog, get it."

I must admit that after years of torturing him with the I-want-a-dog speech, this was the first time he anti-upped. Every time before this, he'd launch the list of all the reasons why we couldn't have a dog. I'd won. And yet I knew we couldn't have a dog. I clicked the phone off and noted that somehow the little guy had again wrangled the cow from the shelf.

"How much is he?"

I expected to hear $500, not $1500. Are you kidding? This guy cost more than most of my outfits.

One year and one month to the day from 9/11, I walked out the door with a beautiful canine critter that I would call "Pomo." Connecting to a purpose, I was forced to start answering rather than avoiding the why questions of life. I was at an intersection of invisible traffic signals blinking stop and go. I needed change, a sense of belonging to myself. I no longer wanted unnecessary obligations I created or found myself with. I desired something more, something beyond self, a place in a child's heart that yearns for a love that is indescribable.

When the World Trade Towers came down, I pulled back from life, exchanging power suits for overalls, designer make-up for bug repellant. Our country home became the place where I sought solace. I filled the daylight hours with weeding, digging and planting. In the evening, I contemplated landscaping and garden design, rearranged closets, cleaned behind the washer and dryer, organized kitchen utensils, and completed tasks that over the years I'd ignored.

Part of me felt reconnected and revived by turning my back on the city. Another part felt resentment for what had been taken away. I was being held hostage by my own emotions. I blamed it on the terrorists.

On most days, I awoke to an incredible sunrise. I poured coffee into a Tupperware thermos and headed into the yard. Carving the landscape, I searched for patterns and guides that would let me understand where things belonged. I'd note where the ground was dry or shaded, clay versus soil, shale verses stone. It was my New York Times nature crossword puzzle, with answers revealed through patience and observation. The force of the environment was compelling and seductive.

I was finding my roots and becoming attached to a place that held special meaning for me. I was also losing my way. A good run on Wall Street had left me with the ability to take a year off. I could get another job when I was ready or in need, but for what purpose? What was my goal? Why did any of it even matter?

Driving into the city for the first time since I left, I found myself relearning how to navigate. Maneuvering around traffic wasn't the problem. My nightmare surfaced as I looked to my left side heading onto the Lincoln Tunnel approach. Gone. The horizon was without the twin towers, deprived of Minoro Yamasaki's architectural design, left with a seven-stories deep gaping hole.

When I arrived at our downtown apartment, I took the time to look out of all of our windows. Views of the Empire State Building, the corner deli and parts of New York University came into focus. People crowded the streets. Cars and taxis fought their battles with buses, forcing both of them to behave. I called to book appointments with doctors for checkups. The receptionist at my ophthalmologist's office replied, "We have a cancellation, can you make it this afternoon at 3:30?"

Taking the subway to the Upper East Side I felt relaxed. I found myself embracing the sounds instead of not wanting them. The quiet of the country was still inside me, but I wasn't running away and hiding. I had retreated from the world I knew and at first I took comfort from not being in the city. But over time I began to feel fraudulent.

What I remember most about that September day was walking into the pet store. The smell of paw-torn newspapers and the sound of puppies play-fighting with one another ensnared me in fate's crosshairs. Why I had entered the store that day was something I knew without allowing myself to admit. I played out all the excuses until the reality left with me - Pomo cradled in my arms and nestled safely against my chest.

For the next month or so, our household turned into a puppy nursery. Whenever I thought about work, four legs and a tail would plop on my lap or tug at my shoelaces. I couldn't and didn't want to leave him. I began searching for ideas, options. I had to return to work, yet Pomo's care was of utmost importance.

For a month I dreamed and researched the perfect solution to my newfound puppy-motherhood. I found myself describing to my husband and friends what I was looking for but couldn't find. I was a one-woman show, delivering laugh lines for what to me was reasonable and to them excessive.

I don't believe that I am being indulgent when I use a baby wipe to wash Pomo's butt after he does his business. Also, my boy is a leg lifter with questionable aim, so it doesn't hurt to take a moistened cloth dabbed with a little shampoo to the inside of his hind legs, as well as to sponge down his equipment. (I mean, I'm in the area - might as well.) After he eats, rinsing dog food off his face and brushing his teeth seems hygienic, not ridiculous. Ask any vet and he will explain how dogs get plaque just like we do and that gum disease can be deadly. Once during a dinner party held at our apartment, I had way too many cocktails and I flossed his teeth. While playing cat-like with the string in Pomo's mouth, someone snapped a photo. I did it as a joke but since have garnered the reputation as the nut-job dog owner. Maybe I am.

No matter how great the urge for caffeine, I could never tie Pomo to a light pole while I slipped into Starbucks for a cup of Joe. I would absolutely decline to leave my little guy in the same room as a Saint Bernard, even if the well-trained staff assured me that the big dog was friendly and that they'd be responsible. And no matter how many times I was informed that Pomo had been taken for a walk, I'd know it was never enough.

I'd like to say I was intuitive, but that would be stretching the truth. 9/11 was the catalyst and Pomo my inspiration for finding balance. A year in the country provided the terrain for me to look beneath the surface. The return to the city offered me a new future. Barking Dogs Den is a mission that I will accomplish. It will also be my income. What it will not be is something that totally defines my life. Everything no longer rides on one thing or the other. Instead, all the parts of my life will intersect and form the whole.

From destruction and tragedy came reflection, hope and opportunity. And the thing I had refused to admit wanting: motherhood. No, not a baby. A dog. A dog that I could baby.