Dog Days

A few years ago, my colleagues Daniel Fine, Dana Keeton, Ed Ludvigsen and I collaborated on a little film that poked fun at animal owners.  That was before Madhu entered my life.  Now I have a more  personally seasoned and emotionally tuned view of pet parenting, and I’d like to share both our silly little film and my story of Madhu.

Please note that the chihuahua in the video is NO RELATION to Madhu, who is pictured in the piece!


Two years ago, my daughter, who was living in Taiwan at the time, asked if I would house her Chihuahua for a couple months.  She was about to do some traveling and did not want the little guy to undergo recurring bouts of quarantine; she sought to place him with someone she could trust would recognize that he was her baby.  Who better to ask than Grandma?  How could I not comply?

Mommy went to great expense and trouble to ensure the pup would fly safely.  She bought him an indestructible but well-breathing enclosure, chose calming toys into which she rubbed her scent; she equipped the crate with plenty of drinking water and trusted he’d be protected by the gentle handlers who accompanied him to the plane.   Then she held him close to her heart until the very last minute when he would have missed his flight had she not closed him inside and said a tearful goodbye.

As I drove to the airport to fetch my new charge on that crisp March morning, I got a text from my son: my daughter-in-law was in the hospital, and the birth of my first granddaughter was imminent.  There is something powerfully karmic about the fact that I became a grandmother twice that day.  Minutes after I brought my daughter’s bundle home, I was at the hospital holding my son’s miracle in my arms.

That was three years ago.  Mahdu — his name is Hindi for Sweet, Honey — never returned to Asia.  My daughter moved around, and she wound up in Thailand, where he would have had to be detained for weeks in quarantine should he join her there; she relinquished his company rather than put him through that pain, and he has turned out to be a kind of miracle in his own right.

Fetching him from animal control at JFK was not easy or uncomplicated.  It took an exceedingly long time, making me worry that this little dog — whose breed is not known for its patience or its calm — would be wound up and agitated by the time I reached him.  Luckily for me, and I suppose for him as well, he was nothing of the sort.  There he sat in his enclosure, his large, deeply brown eyes bulging out of his face, taking everything in, calmly accepting that he was where he should be until such time as he was released, and he was fine with that.  He was happy to see me, but he wasn’t hyper-active; he allowed himself to be picked up, stroked, reassured, and then he nestled his nose into my winter coat and drifted off to sleep.

I have another daughter, who has adopted Mahdu and with whom he has formed a new attachment, and Mahdu has been her salvation. There is something incredibly zen about this animal.  He never barks, he never cries, he simply trusts that all will be well.  He loves to cuddle, prefers to sleep buried in the warm curvature of flesh between his human’s face and clavicle, and he greets strangers with joy and exuberance that encourages even the brawniest of men to crave his merest affection.

Last summer my Asian-dwelling daughter was here for a visit.  Mahdu became transfixed the moment he beheld her, burrowed into the space between her arm and her chest and refused to move until he needed to emerge to lick her face again and again.  He didn’t cry when she left him to visit others, and he didn’t flag in his affection for his surrogate mother. But it was clear that he had missed her, would miss her again, that his love for her is boundless.

A person could do worse than have a Taiwanese Chihuahua for a grandson.

Farewell to Great Gossip and a Fondness for Cigars

David Heymann died last week.  He was my friend, my colleague, my tireless cheerleader.

I was working as his editor on his last book, a tribute to the Joe DiMaggio/Marilyn Monroe love story, and he called me just minutes before he collapsed to talk about the book.  It was nearly finished; we had only the last chapter to fix, and he had all but “I dunno — maybe 15 or 16 pages” ready to roll.  His death was sudden, and when his friend Francesca called me to tell he he had died, all I could think was, “But he promised he’d call me tonight.”

I will ever hear the echo of that last conversation, will have in my ear the sound of his belabored breathing on the other side of the phone line, his gravely voice signing off with, “Okay.  I’ll talk to you later.  I’ll call you tonight. Is around 9 okay?  I just wanna get this thing done.”

It’s a good book, perhaps his best; he was so careful, meticulous about the details, wanting everything to be right so that the book honors the memory of two people for whom he had a clear admiration and, especially, the name of DiMaggio’s poor, lost son, who died the same year as his father.  He fussed over the three of them, worried about every little word he said of them; they were his children.

Working with/for David was an adventure, and being his friend was a daily revelation.  As his wife Bea once told me, “Life with David’s never boring!”  I wrote a farewell piece for my company DAPTD’s’s blog, and I’ll share it here.

DAPTD will miss you, David.  But I’ll miss you more!