Dear Pepper: City Dog, Country Dog

Dear Pepper is a monthly advice-column comic by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to act in difficult situations, please direct them to Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Dear Pepper,

My partner and I️ adopted Mary Poppins (we kept her shelter name) from Alabama during lockdown.

Dogs were a hot commodity then (forgive me, Pepper, for calling dogs a commodity), and it took us a long time to be matched with one. Poppins was, let’s just say, the bottom of the Brooklyn adoption barrel. She was neurotic and trembly and often peed on the floor in a “please don’t hurt me” kind of way.

She was—and is—also sometimes a bit aggressive toward strangers and strange dogs. We’ve hired trainers, and her mood has improved. She only trembles sometimes, often wags her tail, and will happily chase a stick when we throw it. We’ve been slowly learning how to manage her and keep everyone safe. We won’t ride the elevator when there’s another person in there, and we take her to the park for her long walk very early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. I️ figured that she was just a hopelessly nervous dog until we took her along on a trip to a remote beach in Maine and she changed—she became totally calm, happy, confident. She spent the entire vacation chasing crabs, sniffing things, and lazing on the grass in the sun.

Since then, I’ve been feeling terrible for her. We give her just an hour of outdoor time every day and keep her cooped up in the house the rest of the time. Although she doesn’t seem terribly unhappy to lie around watching us from the couch or bed, or playing the occasional game of tug-of-war, I do feel bad for her. Besides keeping her inside so much, we subject her to terrifying city noises whenever we take her out. And, now that I know the fear can be avoided, I’m suddenly wondering if the humane thing might be for us to find a nice country home for her. To be clear—I don’t want to do it. I️ don’t mind having a dog who requires extra work. It’s going to tear a hole in my heart if we give her up, and perhaps hers, too. But I️ wonder if it would ultimately make her happier. And that’s what I️ want most.


Racked with Guilt

Dear Guilt,

I’ve sat with your e-mail for a month, thinking about how to respond.

As a country dog myself, I️ may understand a bit of what Poppins is going through. I️ will never comprehend why humans choose to live in such close quarters in cities, and keep so many layers of doors, elevators, blustery neighbors, more doors, crowded sidewalks, and perilous street crossings between themselves and the nearest patch of woodland. (And such a small, dirty patch!)

I’d like to suggest that you and your partner move to the country so that Poppins can have her family and a nice yard to sniff around in. But I️ understand that this isn’t how you humans operate.

So my advice is this. It sounds like you are confident that you can keep Poppins (I’m sorry, that is such a ridiculous name) from being aggressive and putting herself and others in danger. Yes? If you are not, my answer might be different. But, assuming that you are, there are three things that a true red-blooded dog needs in the world: nature, love, and something to eat.

(I️ say red-blooded dog because there really are dogs who do fine without nature, and I️ really don’t understand these dogs.)

But, since we live in a society where the odds are so stacked against nonhumans (look at what’s happening to the monarch butterfly!), if a dog is getting two and a half of the three things she needs she’s doing quite well, in my opinion. And it sounds like Poppins has her love and then some, and her food, and half her nature. So please don’t give her away.

But maybe consider moving somewhere quieter. Even if it’s just a Zillow-scrolling daydream, it will at least help you deal with your guilt, which is another thing you should be managing. Plus, I️ just can’t imagine anyone being happy living in a city. Even a human being.



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