This Is How a Dog Trained Its Owner to Write a Book

Written by | Columnists and Letters, Gay Voices

Man with Dog on Shoulders

Photo by Jeff Thrower/Shutterstock

Wade didn’t think he could handle having a dog or writing a book — until he learned to start asking, “Why not?”

Which One Is the Mess?

One New Year’s Eve, I placed a party hat on the head of my beloved mutt Marge, dangled a party horn in her mouth and took a picture. It made me laugh.

I needed to laugh that day. It had been an emotional last day of the year. I’d already finished a bottle of champagne — by myself — and was opening a second when Gary walked into the room.

“Now that’s a hot mess,” he said.

“Hilarious, isn’t it?” I asked, nodding at Marge’s festive accessories.

“I’m talking about you,” Gary replied. “Not the dog.”

He was right. I was a wreck.

A few hours before, I had taken Marge on a walk to the mailbox at the end of our city block. We had stood there seemingly forever in the cold. Our breath was freeze-framed before our faces. Marge waiting patiently.

“Should I do it?” I asked her. She barked excitedly.

I had spent the past two years writing a book — my first memoir — and was paralyzed with fear. In my hand, I held a dozen carefully composed letters to agents requesting they help me sell my book to a publisher. I just couldn’t manage to put them in the mail. It all just felt too final: What if this didn’t turn out to be the new beginning I’d hoped for?

I looked down at Marge, who wagged her tail as I gazed into her big brown eyes, and I thought back to when she had also been a new beginning.

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At the Beginning with Marge

Not long after he first moved in with me, Gary had asked, in that innocent way he poses questions, “Why not get a dog?”

He used this same tone when I’d complained that I’d always wanted to write a book but never had.“Why not write a book?” Gary made every question he asked like that seem plausible and possible. “Why not make cookies for breakfast?” he’d once asked.

But I was Mr. Logical, set in my routine, static. “We should never be static,” Gary insisted at the time, while he folded some freshly washed clothes. I rolled my eyes — not only at the laundry pun but also because I believed in hard work, not miracles.

Yet when I relented and finally agreed to adopt her, Marge brought about a miracle. I had wanted her to be potty trained as quickly and efficiently as possible. So I began taking her out every few hours throughout the night. Once I was up, I stayed up. And finally started writing my book in the wee hours of the morning – Marge lying atop my feet as I typed away in the dark.

Once potty training was complete, I assumed I would return to my normal sleep pattern, but Marge would have none of that. She would nudge me awake with her long legs until I was up and writing with her across my feet. That continued for two years.

Is That Just Something People Say?

Fast-forward back to the mailbox, the winter cold, the letters in my hand. Marge barked, knocking me out of my memories. Just do it, she seemed to say. So, I forced myself to drop the letters in the box. And then I started drinking champagne as quickly as possible.

Later that night, as we watched the ball drop in Times Square, Gary said, “This is going to be a life-changing year.”

“Is it?” I asked. “Or is that just something people say on New Year’s?”

“Why not just be happy and have faith?” he asked in his childlike way, eyes gleaming. Never one to be left out, Marge jumped into our arms. The three of us slow danced to “Auld Lang Syne.”

A week later, I had multiple offers from literary agents. Three weeks later, my first memoir sold.

Marge would go on sitting on my feet as I wrote four more books before she passed away. I will always be grateful. She helped teach me: The things in life that seem riskiest — loving unconditionally, pursuing your passions — are ultimately the most rewarding. Thanks to her (and to Gary with his hopeful question-asking), I learned to stop letting fear keep me from living in the moment.

I keep that picture of Marge in her New Year’s hat on my writing desk. I can still feel her dancing with me, nudging me, letting me know every day can be filled with new beginnings — if we work hard and believe in miracles.

Want More Wade?

Wade is now the author of nine books. Learn more by visiting ­waderouse.com.

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Last modified: June 4, 2019