Living with Dogs – Taste the Bitter and the Sweet

Golden Retriever is ready for a road trip

Yeah, where are we going in 2013?

Some of the best moments of my life have involved dogs. And so have some of the worst.

But who wants to live in a world with just ice cream and no pickles?

The Man in Love With His Dog

Michael Konik is a writer and performer who knows how to get attention.

His website is snarky and profane. His “indecent proposal” for ending gun violence is to allow parents to kill their disobedient children. He compares Islamist clerics calling for the death of Egypt’s opposition leaders to President Obama’s use of drone attacks in Pakistan. (Personally, I agree with Konik that both are reprehensible but doubt his tone will convince Americans to make our leader accountable.)

His book about gamblers included the story of a man who got breast implants to win a $100,000 bet. (And who is the doctor who agreed to perform that surgery?)

A friend, upon viewing Konik’s website, said he was not the “kind of person I would want to befriend in any way!”

And yet Konik has a softer side too.

Aware of the fleeting time left with his beloved dog Ella, he took her to Europe with him. He loved his dog. He enjoyed her company. And he wanted to spend time with her in places where she could join him in almost anything he wanted to do.

He wrote about their trip in Ella in Europe: An American Dog’s International Adventures. It’s one of the sweetest love stories to a dog I’ve ever read. You can read my thoughts on this “Canine Romance” at A Traveler’s Library.

And what drove Michael Konik to take his dog half way around the world when she was eight years old? His awareness that Ella would probably be with him for only a few more years.

Memento Mori

Many traditions remind us to “remember our mortality” (the meaning of memento mori). Keeping our eventual deaths before us keeps us humble and reminds us to enjoy the precious moments given to us.

Honey in the Doggy Ride bike cart at the Dog Park

I heard about a dog who got to ride in trains and gondolas. You better step up your game, woman.

In a sense, Konik treated his and Ella’s trip to Europe as a memento morietur (remember she will die).

Knowing that some day she would be gone made dining with her in fancy Paris restaurants, taking her to shop for a Hermes scarf, and riding with her in a Venetian gondola all the more precious. Especially when most of Ella’s life was spent in the terribly undogfriendly U.S.

For example, Konik recounted getting a ticket for having Ella off leash in San Francisco while jogging despite her staying right by his side (as if on a leash) and sitting on cue.

No wonder he barely contained his glee at having her sitting beneath his table in a cafe. And continually expected someone to arrest him for having his dog beside him in taxis, trains, and restaurants.

Obviously, Ella wouldn’t look back on her trip to Europe with fond memories the way I’m sure Michael Konik has. But I believe that their trip was a wonderful gift to the dog. Because she got what most dogs enjoy best of all—to spend time with the person she loved.

 One Perfect Day

I wrote about Jon Katz’s advice to plan One Perfect Day with your dying dog and vowed not to wait until the end to do special things with Honey.

And that’s what Michael Konik did. He did all the things with Ella that he would have liked to do at home in California: took her shopping, rode a train with her, watched a soccer game in a bar, and ate fine cuisine with her nose peeking out under the white linen tablecloth.

Ella’s presence at the writer’s side brought joy to him, but also to others.

…seeing her be herself, her true unfettered self, in Europe this summer, I sense that she unconsciously brings something helpful and healing to our human hearts.

Ella is like comedy. Comedy cannot permanently alter the world—at least not as effectively as brave science, bold literature, and well-defined abs. But comedy can bring disparate human souls together in the shared communion of laughter.

Comedy and Pain; Bitter and Sweet

Try to think of a funny joke that doesn’t include pain or discomfiture somewhere in it. It’s hard, isn’t it?

Golden Retriever with Cape May Ferry in the background

Now that’s what I call dog-worthy transportation. Think they have a snack bar?

If a dog, like Konik says of Ella, is like comedy than our relationship with them will include pain as well.

Most of us expect to outlive our dogs. We know (and probably prefer not to think about it too long) that some day we will say good-bye.

It’s a bitter notion. But it makes every day together all the more sweet.

If you could take your dog into a fine restaurant or shop, would you? If not, what would be your perfect way of spending time with your dog?

Disclosure: The link to Ella in Europe takes you to If you order this book through the link, I’ll make a few cents to pay for my hosting fees but the book won’t cost you any more. Thanks.

To see other books I recommend, check out My Bookshelf.


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  1. Pamela, great post. I love this idea of spending time with your pets, doing things they like to do and love the pic of your dog in the cart on the back of the bike. When our Lab Sally got older, she had a lot of orthopedic problems and could no longer go for long walks or runs with us, we got a little cart for her that she could ride in and go longer distances. She wasn’t crazy about it – a little embarrassed I think, but she enjoyed the ride! We frequently took her and her brother Tino to restaurants and it was great just to share our enjoyment with them.

    • Glad the cart was able to help Sally do fun things with you even if her joints weren’t up to long walks.

      We worked with a professional trainer to get Honey to accept the cart. She was not fond of it for a long time.

      But we don’t own a car so the cart is our only chance to take her places too far too walk.

  2. You’ve got the right idea here. Being with the dog. But you don’t always have to be going places. Just BEING with the dog is JOY for the dog. and you can do that at home. Dogs do like some adventure and stimulation, but you can do that with games in the yard. I’m not saying dogs don’t like going places. I’m really lucky in that I get to got LOTS of places with my Mom Person. And take it from me, it’s boring sitting under a restaurant table! And nerve wracking going in a department store to shop!

    • You’re right that being with your dog is always the best, no matter where you are.

      But I bet Honey would disagree with you about sitting under a restaurant table. She’s trained to sit under our table every time we eat so that’s nothing new for her. But when we’re at a restaurant, she gets a lot of attention from waitresses and other diners and sometimes a little bacon. For Honey, greeting people is better than anything else, even if she has to sit under a table for a little while to get the attention.

      As for the department store? I don’t think I’ve ever met a dog who loves it. Luckily, I hate it too. :)

  3. Now I just have to get that book. Sounds absolutely wonderful. Here in South Africa, we can take our dogs to many places I believe would not be possible in USA but Europe is just the best. I’d love to be able to travel with my dog through Europe.

    • I’ve been wondering how dog friendly South Africa is. I vaguely remember a government official (a minister?) making a controversial statement about how dog ownership was a vestige of white culture. The article showed dozens of pictures, emails, and letters the official received from black South Africans describing their love for their dogs.

      It got me curious about dog culture in other countries.

      I’m pleased to hear you’re more dog friendly than the U.S. It’s hard to imagine a developed nation being worse. :(

  4. This is such a sweet story!

  5. When we travel, our dachshund goes with us. We don’t dine in fancy restaurants. We do a lot of take out in dog-friendly hotels. She has a stroller and a car seat, and she’s always with us and never in a strange place alone. Yeah, it limits what we can do, but it’s wonderful to have her with us! Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    • I don’t feel limited anymore when I travel with dogs. Because for everything we can’t do, we find something else that’s just as fun or more so.

      It sounds like you feel the same way.

      Of course, I’m lucky that Honey is the kind of dog who feels comfortable napping in a strange house or hotel if we need to leave her behind. That wasn’t true of two of my previous dogs.

  6. This post made me sad. I’ve been away from the blog because I wanted to pass by Jordan’s 4-year anniversary without doing a reminder post. It was hard, but I decided it was pointless to dwell on it, even though I ended up doing exactly that.

    His untimely death taught us a lot about how to live with Georgia. I think that girl gets to live for the day more than any dog we’ve ever had. No regrets, we hope. I would love to do what Konik did. I’m constantly amazed at how free dogs are in Europe! I was pretty nervous before taking Georgia on her Christmas road trip but she behaved so well, we’re already thinking of where we can go together next. I want her to see a lot of places. With any luck…

    • I understand how, even after this time, Jordan’s passing is hard. I spend every October remembering Agatha and Christie who both passed in that month, two years apart.

      January is bittersweet: it’s when I adopted Agatha, Christie, Shadow and Honey was born. But it’s also when Shadow died.

      It sounds like as sad as it is that Jordan passed too soon, your life has been made richer not only by knowing him but in how Georgia “lives for the day.”

      For my part, I’m looking forward to your tales and pictures of adorable Georgia in all kinds of exotic and new places. :)

  7. Yah, what IS it about the U.S. and dogs? In Switzerland this past summer, I was in heaven when a gorgeous pit-mix-looking kind of dog was at the bus station, waiting to get on as we got off. It makes so much more sense to have dogs everywhere. Then again, I probably wouldn’t take MY dogs with me everywhere even if I could, as their behavior would probably get us kicked off the bus even in Switzerland!

    • On the other hand, your boys might surprise you.

      Konik claimed in his book that Ella was very reactive to neighborhood dogs. And he was amazed when she passed the calm interaction test with a strange dog for their therapy test.

      And yet she had no problems with the dogs she encountered throughout Europe.

      I often wonder if allowing dogs greater freedom and exposure creates a more balanced (and tired) dog. Would we have fewer dog problems if we allowed them to accompany us more places?

  8. This is beautiful. For me, my dogs are like my kids. I spend an awful lot of time with both all day long. The difference with the dogs is that I LIKE taking them places in the car. :) That said, I like escaping from both the children and the dogs. I work and mostly stay at home. I know the children are happy when I leave. The dogs probably find peace in my departure as well.