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Summer Nights in the Doghouse

Andrew Stojkovich

The relationship between a dog and its owner is rarely described as tense, but rare does not mean never. 

Ronald and Cooper were not brought together by circumstance or compassion, but a desire for consistency. Ronald—the dog, surprisingly enough—was a two-year-old all-black Yorkie. Cooper was a commercial real estate agent. The pair met one-year-and-ten-months-ago when Cooper’s (now-ex) girlfriend convinced him to buy her a dog. 

Growing up, Cooper had no love for dogs. In fact, he had no affinity for pets whatsoever. He was born to successful parents who spent most of his childhood traveling. His father was an orthopedic surgeon who invented a procedure for attaching the ACL to the shinbone in such a way that reduced the healing time by three months. His mother was a commercial estate agent. 

When one was home, the other was away. When the other was home, one was away. The two were never in the same place long enough to warrant having a pet, let alone a child. Nevertheless, Cooper was born in 1982. One year, Cooper counted how many days the parents were together in the same house. He tallied 47. That was 1991. 

At the tail-end of youth, teenagers go to college, as did Cooper. This newfound independence can (and often does) overwhelm eighteen-year-olds. They engage in reckless behavior and misanthropic misadventure. Not Cooper. He was accustomed to autonomy from the moment he could walk, talk, and chew. University was no different. He engaged in many of the same routines, ate much of the same food, and drank just as much as he did in high school. Monotony, in short. 

Unlike most eighteen-year-olds, Cooper’s liberty was not born of rebellion against a hometown, a parent’s wishes, or even a newfound and half-understood political ideal. In fact, Cooper’s liberty wasn’t born of rebellion at all. Never once did he feel tethered to any of the prototypical shackles of youth. For Cooper, individual liberty was tied to constancy, fixedness, regularity. Preservation, not revolution. He reveled in having the option to do something new or different, but always saying “No” to these options. Cooper even made sure that his life was one that offered a sheer abundance of choice such that when the opportunity would inevitably come around, he would politely decline. 

When Cooper’s (now-ex) girlfriend asked him to buy her a dog, this was most certainly a request he tried to pleasantly decline. He tried to tell her that he was allergic. She smiled and said “Aw, babe, Yorkies are hypoallergenic!” He was even ready to lie to her and say that he was afraid of dogs, but he stopped himself. What kind of man lives in fear of a ten-pound yapper? To make matters worse, the dog became an ultimatum. She told him that she would leave if he didn’t buy her an all-black Yorkie. This, too, conflicted with his need for regularity. They’d been dating for a year by then; he could not allow this predictable aspect of his day-to-day slip through his fingers. 

“What the hell,” he decided, “What’s so bad about a little dog, anyway?” And so, they bought Ronald. She picked the name. It was her late father’s. Cooper found that strange. 

For months, Cooper’s (now-ex) girlfriend handled everything dog-related—this was his one stipulation for buying Ronald. He did not want to participate in any of the “raising or rearing” of the dog, as he put it. During this time, he largely ignored Ronald’s existence, only acknowledging the dog in the form of reprimand, mostly when he relieved himself indoors. When Cooper bought his downtown apartment, he thought it would be funny to install purple shag carpeting in his closet as a kitschy homage to the 70s. He did not find it as funny when he had to abrade fecal matter from the thick and unrelenting fibers. 

Six months after buying Ronald, Cooper's (now-ex) girlfriend left both him and the dog for the starting power-forward of the New York Knicks. She left on a Tuesday afternoon when Cooper was at work. She took her clothes, a hard-shelled suitcase, said nothing, and left no note. Cooper only knew what happened four days later when he saw that she posted a picture to Instagram of her sitting astride her new 6’8” boyfriend. To quote Cooper’s favorite childhood movie: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” He removed the shag carpeting. 

Her leaving unannounced did not devastate Cooper. What devastated him was the wake she left behind. He now had a dog that depended solely on him. To make matters worse, Yorkies live about three years longer than most other dog breeds. In the blink of an eye, Ronald transformed from a breathing gift into a suffocating long-term commitment. 

While Cooper mostly despised this all-black Yorkie, Ronald had become part of his everyday life. He had become used to the dog’s presence. With the loss of his girlfriend after one year and six months of dating, he was not willing to sacrifice another part of his routine. By need of stability, the dog was permitted to stay. Cooper even let Ronald continue to sleep in the bed! As much as he despised this dog, Cooper treated him quite well. 

In the six months after his (now-ex) girlfriend left, Cooper and Ronald built up quite the rapport. They would wake up around the same time—half past eight—and have their breakfast. Cooper even found it pleasant to eat in someone else’s company, despite Ronald’s being a dog. When they finished eating, Ronald would bark twice: a request to use the bathroom. If they did not go outside right away, Ronald would saunter into the newly re-carpeted walk-in closet. This gave Cooper enough incentive to hurry outside. 

Once outside, they would take long walks. If they did not, Ronald would take the liberty of chewing up the TV remote after Cooper went to work. They went through six different remotes until Cooper realized that a more time outside was the answer to this problem. And so, they would walk for up to an hour. 

Cooper did not like the way Ronald walked. Not his gait, but his ceasing thereof. He would stop at every tree, building, streetlamp, street sign, and, of course, fire hydrant, just to sniff, piss, and walk on. This bothered Cooper immensely. Ronald’s innate desire to identify other dogs’ scents and spray a few drops of his own musk was the dog’s way of expressing his few canine liberties. He would piss on each and every object he could, simply because he could. At every new opportunity, the dog said “Yes.” 

Eventually, Cooper became accustomed to Ronald’s dogma and found a particular route that was to his liking. They would start at their downtown apartment, walk due southwest for four blocks, take a right, walk northwest for two blocks, and end up at a park with a large field. Here, Cooper would let Ronald off the leash to run around. Cooper liked that he didn’t have to do anything but watch and yell “Ronald! Drop that right now!” every ten minutes or so. They fell into this pattern around late March, which marked two months of it being just the two of them. 

Cooper did not initially realize that a park’s population migrates with the change in season. Broadly speaking, parks become more populous as it gets warmer. This is not rocket science. In cities, people tend to flock to any warm patch of grass with unbridled access to the sun. All the same, Cooper hadn’t thought about it once. When late March rolled around, his newfound realization made him ecstatic at the possibilities at his fingertips. 

Cooper has been a serial philanderer since the early age of fifteen. This was the one facet of his life that, when presented with a novel opportunity, he practically always said “Yes” rather than “No.” This is not to say he looked beyond his desire for consistency. Quite the contrary. His ever-mutating desire was the result of a constant state of pursuit. He routinely worked towards the goal of tallying another mark on the spreadsheet, nothing more. In that, his ends were the same. “Conquest,” as he once put it to a 

friend.

 

As mentioned earlier, Cooper’s constancy comes with negation. With women, Cooper denied them not in the physical, but the emotional sense. He rejected every possibility for a relationship with honesty, meaning, and depth. He had the opportunity for these types of relationships many times in his life, yet he always politely declined. The closest he ever came was with his (now-ex) girlfriend. But now that her new boyfriend was averaging four more points and three more rebounds since her arrival, Cooper swore he would never look for a relationship again. She managed to make him feel small. No woman ever made him feel that way—except his mother, of course. 

His patterns of philandering resumed once his (now-ex) girlfriend left both him and Ronald. He would find these women through work, through friends, through bars, but mostly through dating apps. He liked that he could filter through an array of women at his pace and discretion. He also enjoyed the control he had in the conversations. He would methodically plan out each and every message he would send to these women, knowing that if he said the right things, he could convince them to come over in no time. That was power. 

This, however, became boring for him—it was too easy. Cooper longed for the unpredictable ascent to the climax more than the climax itself. Conquest! This could only be achieved by talking to women, face to face. He longed to convince them of his exemplary persona, personality, and social standing, and win them over. He needed to prove to himself, time and time again, that he could engage in such a dance. But because of these dating apps, the drama did not play out in front of his eyes. He accepted that there was no excitement without the fear of failure and ditched the apps altogether. 

Thus, the changing weather put aeolian winds in Cooper’s sails. Never before had he recognized a public park as the setting for this complex mating dance, and what an ideal setting it was! To start, the women were always in their mid-twenties, just how Cooper liked them. Throughout his whole life, he never made love with a woman outside the ages of twenty-three to twenty-seven. 

Even though he was in his early-forties, Cooper did not look a day over thirty. He was tall, of athletic build, and had short, perfectly-styled brown hair. His style was humdrum and arid, but always of the highest quality. All his shirts were ironed; all his pants tailored to his exact measurements. Even his activewear was simple, yet visibly expensive. His wardrobe displayed an air of confidence. He abhorred flashy brands and lurid attire. As a kid, his dad always made sure to remind him of the difference between being wealthy and being rich: “rich” announces itself loudly, “wealthy” loudly announces its subtlety. Being rich was a sign of financial instability, oscillations between former poverty and newfound money. Wealth, however, is indicative of stability, security, constancy, all things Cooper valued.

 

When Cooper was in his late-twenties, he considered buying a dog because he knew women loved dogs. He toyed with the idea for a couple weeks until he realized that women loved dogs, not their owners. All the trouble involved in taking care of a dog negatively outweighed the only certainty that a dog brings to the table: it gets your foot in the door. Even then, it’s more that the dog puts his paw in the door. So, he scrapped the idea. But now that the weather was changing, he saw the opportunity at hand. 

On a particularly warm early-April day, Ronald ran up to a woman sunbathing on a towel—the first the duo had seen at the park since the new year. Right as Cooper began to call Ronald over to avoid disturbing her, she beckoned the dog. Ronald, of course, disobeyed his owner for a modicum of the attention he was starved of. As she petted this all-black Yorkie, Cooper finally saw the advantage the dog brought him. Cooper jogged over to the woman, politely apologized for Ronald’s disturbing her, and began talking to her. Externally, he was sensible, poised. Internally, his cup runneth over with glee. 

After a week of good weather, Cooper realized that Ronald would bring him directly to women and rarely, if ever, men. Cooper wondered if Ronald was a bit scared of men, considering their tumultuous relationship, but laughed at the idea. After all, “Ronald was only a dog, and a stupid one at that,” he thought. He suggested to his friends that Ronald was “looking to get some action, just like his pops.” 

In reality, Ronald ran from woman to woman looking for his mom. Ever since she left, he was confused as to where she went. The pooch was certain that she couldn’t be that far away. We can’t blame the dog, as he had no idea the world extended beyond the borders of this city—the only place he’d ever known. And so, he looked for her everywhere his little paws took him. Little did he know that she was sitting courtside, wearing clothing that announced itself loudly. 

By mid-May, Cooper had amassed a total of ten phone numbers from women at this park. He texted all ten. Of the ten messages he sent, he received seven in return. Of the seven messages he received, four were negative, three were positive. Of those three, two agreed to go out with him. Of the two dates he went on, both were “successful conquests.” Ronald watched them from his cage, not the bed where he usually slept. 

Despite the unexpected and sporadic nighttime imprisonment, Ronald’s life became pure euphoria. Come late spring, he spent even more time outside, had more attention than ever, and expressed his freedom by peeing wherever he saw fit. Of course, Ronald had no idea what the human borne concepts of attention, freedom, or agency were. He just knew that when he was outside, running, pissing, and licking women’s faces, his body was in harmony with his spirit. He was happy. 

It even made life at home much more tolerable. As the weather became hotter and hotter, more and more women started coming to the apartment, giving him more and more attention. The dog thought he might explode. None of them were his mother though, which always confused and upset him when they walked through the door. He quickly forgot this discrepancy when they rubbed behind his ears. 

By June, Cooper was skilled at the dance. He knew exactly what to say when Ronald would go up and introduce himself. He knew exactly how to respond to questions about Ronald’s age, breed, tendencies, likes, and dislikes. He knew how to shift the conversation from Ronald to himself in a way that was natural and advanced his conquest. He knew how to talk about his job, his hobbies, and his interests in just the right way that led him smoothly into asking for her phone number. He loved the in-person hustle, even if it became calculable. 

He perfected his craft through trial and error. Over the course of about a month, he learned the do’s and don'ts of talking to women at the park. He was ignored and rejected more times than he could count. But the failures made the successes so much sweeter. It kept things interesting. 

By July, the days were long enough that he could even go on long walks with Ronald after work. The sun would set at around eight, which gave him plenty of time for the dog to introduce him to women who spent their time reading, sunbathing, or both. Because of this, he sacrificed some of the time he spent going out with his friends to bars. The women from the park became such a constant in his life that his friends mutated into something that he was willing to forego a couple times a week. 

On a day in late July, Cooper took a woman from the park on a dinner date to Munashī, one of the best sushi restaurants in the city. Cooper firmly believed that sushi was the best date. He once listened to a podcast that said sushi fuels the body with the best ratio of macronutrients, making you feel energized, but also light and ready for physical exertion. None of the podcast hosts were qualified to talk on the subject, but Cooper listened anyway. He had no idea what any of it really meant, either, only that his body would feel better while he had sex. He tried Italian food once, and never again. 

On the way to Munashī, he saw that his phone was at three percent. His afternoon walk with Ronald ran much longer than he expected, leaving him no time to charge it. By the time he was at the restaurant, his phone was dead. He sat down at the table and looked around aimlessly, waiting for his date to arrive. When he saw her face from behind the hostess, he realized the gravity of his error. “Cooper!” she exclaimed as she sat down, “It’s nice to see you again! I wish you were able to bring little Ronny in here, he’s just so cute isn’t he?” “It’s nice to see you too! Maybe I’ll get one of those certificates that says he’s a service animal so I can bring him everywhere? You think that’s a good idea?” 

At first, this seems like a reasonable response. It might even be the perfect response. Upon closer inspection, we see that he avoided using her name. Cooper forgot it. Because his phone was dead, he couldn’t look at her contact information. He talked to so many women that week that he had no chance of remembering it, either. All he could think of was the indecipherable babble of that week’s SophiEmmAllisoNicolElizabeTheresAubrey. He calmed down once he realized how easy it was to have a conversation and not need her name. He was comfortable in his ignorance once more. 

The dinner went swimmingly and he could tell that she was “primed and ready for action,” as he says (only to himself). He settled up the bill and left a hefty tip, certain she saw. He walked her outside and hailed a cab. When the cab rolled up, he opened the door for her and helped her in, just as any gentleman should. In the taxi, he made personable chit-chat with the driver about the driving industry ever since the advent of ride-share apps. The driver was obviously impassioned by the topic. 

When they arrived at Cooper’s apartment building, Cooper asked “Would you like to come upstairs?” Even though they both knew her answer, the choreography required he ask. She pretended to think about it for a few seconds and then agreed. They went up to the 47th floor. They were greeted by Ronald at the door. He was thrilled to see the two of them. While she played with the dog, Cooper poured a couple glasses of his favorite red—a dry and nutty 2009 Malbec from eastern Washington. She got off the floor and took a glass from Cooper’s hand. He led her to the living room couch. Thus marked the beginning of the final act. 

After about fifteen minutes on the couch, they moved to the bedroom; Ronald kept bothering them. In all his canine curiosity, he was confused as to why he didn’t receive any of the physical attention they offered each other. He brought toys over to no avail. So, he resorted to the best method for seeking attention: a high-pitched yelp. They looked over at him. She laughed. Cooper did not. 

They walked to the bedroom and Cooper put Ronald in his cage. He never yelped while he was in there. For Ronald, it was his one place of privacy in the whole apartment. He thought that they couldn’t see him from the outside. He just sat and watched.

 

She and Cooper moved onto the bed, clothes flying. All went according to plan until something occurred that Cooper hadn’t accounted for: she breathlessly demanded he say her name. This was something he’d somehow never encountered in his twenty-six years of philandering. He faltered and whispered an exasperated “What?” buying himself an instant to think. 

“Say my name,” she whispered again. 

“A–A-Abby?” he winced, anticipating the worst. 

She stopped. 

“Abby? Who the hell is Abby?” her voice pierced with a scorpion’s sting. He didn’t respond, paralyzed by her verbal venom. 

“Did you forget my fucking name?” 

Cooper didn’t try to explain himself. He froze and tried to think of an answer to her question, but he’d never encountered it once in his life. 

“Wow. You are such a fucking asshole,” she got up, “You should have just told me you forgot. But no, you decide to call me Abby, whoever the fuck that is.” 

As she put on her clothes, Cooper tried to rouse himself out of his stupor. He stumbled off the sheets and on his words, failing to put a string of cohesive syllables together. He doddered around until he forced out the sentence, “It’s not Abby?” She was so furious that she, too, was unable to respond. She grabbed all of her things and stormed out of the apartment. Cooper was left to stare at the floor, naked. 

He had never failed like this. Most of his failures come in act one, when the whole thing is still playfully meaningless. A couple times he said the wrong thing in act two, or dinner. But if both acts one and two went well, act three would go off without a hitch. This marked the third time a woman ever made him feel small. He looked down at Ronald as he prostrated in his cage. 

“What the fuck are you looking at?” Cooper sneered. 

Ronald did nothing but slightly cock his head. Could Cooper see him from his cage of solace and respite? Surely not. Ronald turned away from Cooper and laid his head back down. If he couldn’t see Cooper, there’s no way Cooper could see him.

 

“You want to ignore me now?” Cooper scoffed and folded his arms, “Two can play at that game.” Cooper stopped talking and ceased moving. Ronald closed his eyes, ignoring him as he tried to fall asleep. All of a sudden, Cooper was animated into a jovial caricature of himself. 

“Ro-nald!” he clapped each syllable of Ronald’s name, “Hey! Ronald!” Ronald shot his head up and looked. Yes, Ronald realized, Cooper could see him, clear as day. 

“Do you wanna go outside?” he asked, slurring his words together into a cohesive clamor of upspeak. Cooper jumped around and asked one more time, louder than before, “Do you wanna go outside?” 

Ronald was ecstatic. He jumped up in his cage and turned to look at Cooper. He needed to go to the bathroom quite badly. He spun around once and wagged his tail. He let out a quick “Arff!” that told Cooper, “Yes! I’d love to! Let’s go right now!” 

“Yea? You wanna go outside, don’t you?” Cooper lowered his face to the cage. Ronald put his nose through the steel bars and tried to lick Cooper. Cooper held his face back. In an instant, Cooper’s face flattened and died as he whispered to Ronald, “That’s too fuckin’ bad.” He threw a blanket over the cage and left to brush his teeth. Ronald shook in confused excitement. No longer could he see the world. Everything was black. Could Cooper still see him? Ronald was left to stare at the all-encompassing darkness, naked. 

The next day went just as all the other summer days went before. The pair ate breakfast then went to the park. Ronald reveled in the attention, relieved himself on trees, and ran wild. Pure bliss, once more. Cooper got a couple phone numbers that day. It made him feel slightly better about last night, but he still couldn’t shake his anger at making such a simple mistake. How could he forget her name? Of all the intricate moves of the dance, this was a misstep he never accounted for. It marred the rest of his week.

 

At home, Ronald no longer found respite in his cage, or anywhere else for that matter. He was always on guard. He tried to anticipate when Cooper would yell at him again. He was only comfortable when Cooper was at work, drinking with friends, or taking women on dates to Munashī

August was much of the same, but once September rolled around, life began to slow for the duo. The weather began to cool and Cooper’s conquests were less regular. The walks became shorter, the houseguests less frequent, and the attention Ronald received all but ceased.

 

Ronald became dejected, dispirited, and anxious. There were less people at the park; there were less guests at home; there was less of a chance of seeing his mom again. For Ronald, that autumn was his divine fall—Adam cast from Eden. 

Cooper all but scoffed at the dog that no longer served him. He tried to think of more places to take Ronald, but none of them was as reliably perfect and perfectly reliable as that public park. For Cooper, that autumn was his divine fall—Lucifer cast from Heaven. 

The two could hardly wait for spring.

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