The Dog Dad Building a Quarantine Family With a 'Furry, Little Rascal'
Welcome to Esquire’s Journal Project. This month, we’re featuring the real lives of fathers, pops, sugar daddies, busy zaddys, and more. We’re asking all sorts of fathers to give their unfiltered accounts of what's it's like to lead a family in the strangest of times. Here are their stories.
Today, a young executive, who picked up a mini Poodle during the height of the pandemic, builds a bubble of bliss with his girlfriend and their 10-month-old “Russian gorilla.” The furry rascal makes strange sounds and that face, but also refuses to eat and then pees and poops inside the house. Is this a glimpse of what’s to come?
I’m getting ready to hop on a work call when Igor, my mini Poodle, walks up to me and slides his head between my legs. His head is much bigger now. I remember when we first got him, his head was the size of my girlfriend Kat’s closed fist. He leans his head against my knee and looks up at me with the face that reminded me of why I picked him.
He was the smallest in a pack of five newborn pups back in August but he was the only one that had a calming face and eyes that reminded me of my first dog back in college, a white Spitz named Booger. This one had a dark black coat but a face that lit up from a mile away. I thought it would be cool to name him Gori because, well, he looked like a tiny gorilla. Kat thought that was a terrible idea. I disagreed and kept repeating his name to prove a point “Gori, Gori, Gori” and then it clicked. Igor! Muuuch better.
Cut to 2021 and Igor, the 10-month-old Russian gorilla, won’t let go of my legs and is insisting on playing catch. I hop on the call just as he hops rapidly toward his favorite toy.
Kat just got a call informing her of her vaccination date. I remember that Igor is also due for his monthly heartworm pill this Saturday, so I call out his name and hype him up for this weekend’s visit to the vet.
We’ve learned that hyping up otherwise dreadful situations gets this kid excited more than anxious. I even made a whole montage of all the times I would call out “toothbrush?!” and he would prop up from his nap in excitement. That video never fails to make me laugh. Kat did a good job training him on that. I tried it with “vitamins” one time but didn’t get the same results. He must’ve caught on our MO.
It’s been two weeks now since the women in our group of friends started doing these workout challenges on YouTube. Tonight, they’ve decided to up the ante and do a hip-hop dance workout. I sat on the couch wondering if they had changed their chat name to “CardioB,” when Kat informed me that, for the past two workouts, the husbands have joined their wives.
Almost on cue, Igor stops chewing his toy and looks at me with eyes that said: “the husbands have joined their wives.” Just two seconds ago, this little rascal kept barking incessantly at his mom’s yoga mat and now he’s suddenly Doglai Lama with the judgy stare? This kid. So as my excuse to skip the workout chewed his way into dog nirvana, I step up, put my gear on, and channel my inner Channing. Kat is pleased.
It’s late at night and we are far from sleepy. I was fixing up some juice and crackers for our snacks when I caught a glimpse of Igor sitting quietly by the mini fence we set up in the kitchen. When had to put up these mini fences around the house to keep him from wandering into anything he might accidentally ingest or break. It’s always cool seeing him wait patiently by the fence for you to get off the shower, leave the kitchen, or finish watering the plants. Good boy!
'I’m happy I get to spend more days and nights with Kat and Igor. It makes this lockdown a tad more bearable.'
Kat calls out “toothbrush?!” and this poor kid props up his sleepy head and walks slowly toward his mom. I bring his pee pad inside the room, Kat puts him on our bed shortly after, and he squeezes himself between our pillows as we get ready to sleep. Tonight was a good night. I’m happy I get to spend more days and nights with Kat and Igor. It makes this lockdown a tad more bearable.
I wake up to the sound of dog food pouring into Igor’s metal bowl. I’m lucky Kat’s been staying over lately. I get to sleep a few more hours because she wakes up really early and feeds him. Honestly, I don’t know if I’d be able to raise him well just on my own. You have no idea how relieved I am that Kat trained him how to pee and poop on the pad early on. It’s probably the first and most valuable lesson any dog parent could teach their dogs. I roll over and revel in the extra hour I’m going to have sleeping.
Wrong. Just as I was crossing into REM, I spring up and find my left hand drenched in dog saliva. Igor likes waking me up by licking my hand, ear, face, or neck. Sometimes when I get jolted out of sleep I flip out and push him away. But this morning is one of those days when he stands there waiting for you to wake up. The sunlight turns his hair golden brown, its silver tips lining up his tiny silhouette perfectly. I mean, how do you not get up at the sight of that?
It’s lunchtime. Today, I made us grilled chicken and the smell makes Igor restless. Apparently, Poodles are notoriously picky eaters. Early in the year, he had a phase where he would not touch his food for days! We were only feeding him dog food so our only option was to try other brands, but nothing worked.
Eventually we caved and fed him boiled chicken, a favorite of Igor’s Poodle sisters who live with Kat’s family and a proven hunger-strike killer. His appetite has improved greatly now. He’s back to dog food with the occasional serving of his newfound favorite, singkamas. This kid’s got a weird palate. My gene-passing work here is done.
It’s day two of the dance workout. Halfway through the routine, I realize that this is the kind of thing that needs serious presence of mind. I mean, dude, how in the world do you bend your knee sideways and move your arms and shoulders into a wave while never missing the beat?
I’d take cleaning Igor’s pee pad any day over this. He must’ve felt my pain so he sends out a lifeline by peeing on the couch. As much as he is trained to pee on the pad, there are still accidents like this that happen from time to time. We stop the workout and clean up the mess.
'We’ve been chatting about how the past year changed our lives immensely and what the future could look like now.'
It’s almost midnight. Kat and I had completely lost track of time. We’ve been chatting about how the past year changed our lives immensely and what the future could look like now. Kat tells me that she’s thinking of renting out her condo as soon as it’s turned over, something she didn’t really consider before. I say “great!” and tell her about my plans to bring her and Igor to my Lola’s farm in Bicol as soon as it’s okay to travel again. We take turns mapping out the bouts of imposter syndrome we’ve both been having lately. I tease her about getting another dog. Igor lets out a tiny growl. We laugh.
Finally, we head to bed. These drawn-out conversations I have with Kat lately have been great. She used to be so anal about Igor’s sleeping time being no later than 10 p.m. But since Igor would just lay there anyway as we burrow deep into the hours, we’ve learned to just be fine with it and savor each moment.
Ahh, morning sun! I walk to the terrace to check on the plants. It’s been raining nonstop for three days now and I’m worried that some of the herbs I planted are growing slower than usual. Igor drops his food, rushes to the terrace, and heads straight to his favorite spot.
He likes sticking his head out in one of the gaps on the balcony railings. You know how dogs like to stick their heads out of the car window? This is his car window. He enjoys looking out and feeling the breeze hit his face. Kat’s worried he might slip and fall. I said I think he knows that it’s higher ground and is careful not to fall. But yeah, I’ll just build a mini fence where he stands just to be safe.
Vet visits are always easy with Igor. Even if he has all that energy in the house, in public, he is usually timid and well-behaved and loves the company of people and other dogs. After just over an hour, we got called in. They only allow one companion these days because of COVID restrictions, so Kat brings him in while I park the car.
We’re back at my place. Igor noticed that Kat left and starts to pace around the house. I’ve been training him the past few days to cope with separation anxiety. According to Cesar Milan, we should teach him to go to one spot before we leave the house.
I pick the window by the door as the spot to train him in. I place him on a chair and talk to him as I prepare to head down to throw the trash. Usually, the minute he sees you put on a face mask, he goes berserk. But somehow, being placed on a chair near the door has reduced his stress significantly.
Cesar said never to leave the house when your dog’s energy is high or try to sneak hurriedly out the door. So I talk to him calmly and offer a treat to stay seated on the chair until I come back. He lets out a soft whine and two soft barks as I walk out the door. Baby steps.
I’m on the couch lazing around when he suddenly pops out of nowhere, standing on two feet, his two front paws resting on my left arm. He proceeds to stare at me silently.
After about two minutes of a failed attempt to bring back the mannequin challenge, he lets out a sound that starts as a faint whisper and slowly develops into the same sound I make when I attempt the falsetto parts of any Bruno Mars song. While my version might break the glassware, Igor’s puppy whine cracks me up every time. The sound, along with occasional taps on your arm or leg, is a true test at keeping a straight face.
Alright, buddy, what do you want? I pick up his toy, his tail wags, and we play fetch. His day is made.
It’s that sound again. I wake up to find him at the foot of my bed whining. Usually, he wants to pee or just sleep on the floor. So I bring him to the floor and wait about five seconds. He sploots and gets back to sleep. I follow his lead.
Sun is up again. I turn over and see him looking out to the terrace quietly. I wonder what he’s thinking. This guy seems to love the outdoors. He notices me moving and walks up to my bedside. I could almost hear a Sunday Slowdown playlist on Spotify start to play.
I just woke up from a nap. I sit on the bed, look for Igor, and find him asleep on the floor near my bed. This is his state that I love the most: peaceful, clueless, and vulnerable. Somehow that makes me feel like he needs me.
I just sit there and watch him. He likes sleeping on one side, occasionally twitches his left leg, and sticks a tiny bit of his tongue out. I wonder what dogs dream about when they sleep. I leave the bed quietly and sit on the floor right next to him. He senses that I’m beside him and wakes up and rolls over—belly up, front paws curled, tongue sticking out, eyes looking up at me. I mean come on.
I remember that guy in a Netflix show I was watching who hated dogs. He said something like: “I don’t understand the appeal of dogs. At least with kids, at some point, you stop picking up their shit.”
Igor lay there on the floor, licking my right hand as I rub his belly with my left. I don’t mind picking up this kid’s shit all his life. I know he picks me up on the shittiest days of my life, too. I’m totally cool with that.
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