23: Peanut

23: Peanut

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Peanut

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

~Edward Hoagland

I never believed the old adage “take time to stop and smell the roses.” I mean, who had that kind of time, especially in L.A., where it was commonplace to work sixty to eighty hours a week? But Peanut taught me to make the time.

Last November, I was laid off. The latest TV show I had been working on (as a writers’ assistant) had been cancelled. I wasn’t eligible to receive unemployment, so I didn’t know what I was going to do. This last job had left me pretty burnt out, so I needed to reevaluate my career goals. I had always wanted to write a book, and being that November is “National Novel Writing Month,” I decided now would be as good a time as any to do so. NaNoWriMo encourages people to write a 50,000-word book in a month (1,667 words a day). Which sounded great, but I still had to find a way to get a paycheck, too.

Just as I was about to send out a mass e-mail to everyone I knew, and even people I didn’t know, saying I would do almost anything for work, I got a phone call from a writer friend, Mike, asking if I could dog-sit. Now, I had cat-sat for him before, but, as we all know, cats and dogs are very different beings. Although I have no pets of my own—that’s what happens when you are young and single, live in a small apartment that barely fits one (let alone an animal), and work in TV—I had pet-sat for many a cat, bird, fish... but never for any dogs.

Mike asked how I was with dogs. “Great,” I said, though I had feared them as a child (I blame the German Shepherd with the big teeth that grew up next door to me), and had never watched one in my life. “Awesome,” he said back. “My writing partner, Pam, needs you to watch her dog for a few weeks.” A few weeks?! Why did I lie, again? But I did need a job. “Actually, probably for a month,” Mike said. A month?!

I met with Pam the next day, as well as her dog, Peanut. He was a cute brown mutt of a dog, not too big, but not too small. He wagged his tail at me when we met and looked much less threatening than the German Shepherd I used to know. “Good, he likes you,” Pam said. Really? She then told me Peanut would need three walks a day, and warned me, “He may be slow the first block, but he’ll speed up for the remaining three.” Pam said that Peanut was getting older and had arthritis. Aww, the poor guy. “No problem,” I said. She handed me the keys, said Peanut would see me tomorrow, and that was that. “Oh, and would you mind sleeping here for the month? He likes someone here with him,” Pam said. “Sure,” I replied, wondering what I had just gotten myself into. I had gone from never-watching-a-dog to living with one?!

The next day, I returned with a suitcase and my laptop, fed Peanut, and got his leash ready. He seemed to be moving at a relatively normal pace going down the driveway, so I wondered what Pam had been talking about. But then we arrived at the sidewalk, where Peanut came to a standstill, smelling every flower in sight. Uh-oh.

Now, I am not the most patient person. I am used to a very fast-paced, never-stay-at-home kind of lifestyle, so walking Peanut took some (much) getting used to for me. I watched Peanut sniff this flower, then that one, looking at my watch, wondering how long this would go on. Can’t we just get this over with, so to speak? Doesn’t he just want to do his business and go home? I felt like a parent with a child, when the child keeps asking “Why?” to everything and the parent keeps patiently answering. I wondered if I could make phone calls or text people while Peanut did his thing, but then I thought that would be rude. Plus, how would I scoop and text at the same time? (I had even forgotten about the scooping part until our first walk, but that is a whole other story!) I decided to try making phone calls anyway—I was desperate—and would just hang up or have people hold while I scooped.

I tried to nudge Peanut along, but no such luck; that dandelion was far more persuasive than I was. Pam’s voice kept repeating in my head, “He may be slow the first block, but he’ll speed up for the remaining three.” Hmm. Three more blocks?! I hoped she was right.

Day after day, walk after walk, I found something remarkable happening. While walking Peanut, I stopped putting people on hold, then stopped talking to people on my cell phone altogether. It also became difficult to talk to passersby while on my phone; since Peanut was so cute, everyone stopped us. I stopped bringing my phone altogether, making the walks all about Peanut, getting to know his neighbors, and a time for technology-free reflection (something everyone, especially in L.A., should try). I also started thinking about what kind of job I would next attempt to get. Peanut and I would have many discussions about this; he would look at me when he liked one of my career path ideas, or turn his head away from me when he didn’t. Peanut and I agreed that my assistant days were over; I needed to reach higher. And I found myself working on my book—at least, ideas for it—during each of our walks. I would scribble them down as Peanut paused to talk to the dandelions.

Every night after our walks, I would work on my novel. In mid-November, I was supposed to be at the halfway mark, around 25,000 words. But I was barely at 15,000. How would I ever catch up? The same way Peanut walked—a little bit every day, dandelion by dandelion, word by word.

A writer I admire once wrote that every writer should get a dog, for it teaches discipline. I was skeptical... until Peanut. (Thank you, Jennifer Weiner.)

By the end of the month, I didn’t want Peanut’s owner to come back; I loved this dog. Peanut taught me patience. These days, with or without Peanut, I go on slow walks around the neighborhood, always stopping to smell a flower or two. The old cliché is true: “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” Before, I never would have interrupted my fast-paced life to do so. But, post-Peanut, I agree. We should. And I always leave my cell phone at home.

To Peanut’s credit, I completed my novel. He would also be proud to know that I stopped being an assistant in TV and just associate-produced a documentary for The History Channel. I owe that little dog a lot. Thank you, Peanut.

~Natalia K. Lusinski

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