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The Dog Shakes

By Susanne Fletcher

A pug on a leash looks back with a sad expression

Divorce looks like a good idea, a marital diuretic to drain away the accumulated toxins. I’d do it if it weren’t for our dog.


Nelson requires management because he’s never been properly trained. Vic and I could not agree on methods. I favoured the stern voice, nose-rubbed-in-shit approach, a kind of doggy blame-and-shame, whereas Vic preferred talk therapy. He would say, “Now there, Nelson, this isn’t your Waterloo. Let’s go outside, like civilized creatures, and do our business.” And off they’d go.


Vic is a talker. He blabbers his way through the day, yakking to strangers in the grocery store. “How far d’you think a cauliflower has to travel in January to land in the produce department? Maybe that’s why a head cost $7.99. Although,” he sometimes says, “you’d think the chairs on airplanes would be smaller for a cauliflower than a human head.”


He reads the headlines of Hello Magazine out loud at the checkout counter and asks anyone who will make eye contact “Why doesn’t the magazine ever discuss Corgi care? Because I’d love to know what kibble they nibble on. Something organic from Prince Charles’ farm, maybe?”

He would talk constantly when we made love, which was endearing the first year, but after ten years of marriage, I’d pretty much heard it all including…oh, but you don’t want to hear about that.


Consistency was not our forté, consequently we created an anal dog. He never barked or scratched to be let out, and when we let him roam free in the back yard he still refused to shit. He would wait until we were asleep and then he’d cut loose under our bed, leaving a pile on my husband’s side. This, I pointed out, was clearly evidence that the dog held him responsible.


Mostly, though, Nelson didn’t go at all. Our arguments got loud and mean when we started using glycerin suppositories. That’s when Nelson began to shake.


Inserting the laxative gel cap was my job. Of course. Just like scouring the toilets, or hosing the mass of squirming maggots off the green compost bin, or deboning chicken. Vic held Nelson’s head and talked him through the whole process.


“Mommy’s going to put a pill in your bum. It won’t hurt.” (How did he know, unless he was shoving them up his own butt? I considered the possibility. Maybe it was the missing ingredient in our lack-lustre sex life.) “Hold still buddy. Here she comes.”


Nelson growled when I touched the well gelled plastic applicator, cupping the golden pill to his anus—a low rumble that travelled down his intestines and released through his butt, at least that’s what it felt like. I was a little shaky myself.


The first time we realized Nelson hadn’t pooped in four days, we took him to the vet who performed the procedure in less than twenty seconds with a gloved finger shoved inside the dog right up to the second knuckle. Nelson didn’t have time to know what happened, but the next time he turned in circles like a beagle tornado—his tail lowered to protect his exit. Eventually I took his head, the vet lifted the tail and Vic clucked and cooed through the insertion. Two hundred dollars later, Vic decided we could handle the job.


Our maiden voyage into Nelson’s internal world blew through three suppositories, and he retaliated with gas warfare. We had to wait twenty-four hours before trying again. This time Nelson knew, and we knew that he knew when he rejected liver treats.  He refused to come when called. He hid in the clothes hamper and only emerged when we went to bed.

We varied the routine. Sometimes we took him for a walk at 7:00, sometimes 9:30. Sometimes we stopped in the woods and ambushed him; sometimes we took a long hopeful stroll before bending to fate.  It didn’t take long before Nelson shook at the sight of the leash.

We shook at the sight of the leash, too. Overwhelmed, we thought of rehoming him, but he was such a mess; who would take him?  I considered life alone with Nelson. Vic was useless and increasingly annoying with his dog whisperer act.  Why couldn’t he do any of the dirty work?  Maybe Vic could find a new home.

The vet suggested therapy and we dutifully found a real dog whisperer named Carmelo Cagney, who came to our house and matter-of-factly told us we’d have to hold off on replacing our leaky windows to afford his services. We agreed to his two thousand dollar fee.

“Who says you can’t buy shit for two thousand dollars?” Vic said.

“You will stick to the routine,” Carmelo said. “You must learn to communicate. You are a soccer team and Nelson believes he is the keeper. He’s calling the shots. You now take the offensive.  Make him feel safe, like you’re going keep that ball out of his zone. Be predictable,” Carmelo instructed. “You must walk him together. Feed him together. Go to bed at the same time.”

He had to be fed the same kibble, not just what was on sale that week. My husband said all this money being spent on the dog was making him sick. An Excel spreadsheet was created to track dog expenses. “We could have bought our own soccer team with all the money spent on the damn dog,” Vic said as he examined it.

But Carmelo was right. Nelson liked us walking him together. The very first time out we needed two bags to collect his bountiful crap. My husband lavished praise on the dog—“Who’s a good boy? Look at that, ol’ buddy, you made a yurt”—but Nelson just shook.

It was after our evening walk while Vic was reading aloud a newspaper story about a cockroach infestation at a local school that we noticed Nelson quivering like a bowl of Jell-O in an earthquake. That’s when it clicked: Nelson was afraid of Vic’s voice because he thought he was going to get a pill poked up his bum. We’d created our own Pavlov’s dog.


Quiet was what he needed; a pet sanatorium was prescribed by Carmelo, who happened to own a doggy haven a few miles out of town, but Vic balked. “Next thing you know, we’ll be sending Nelson to an ashram in India to perfect his downward dog.”

We argued and Nelson shook like an earthquake. We forgot to walk him, and for two days, he withheld his poop. Finally, we stopped talking altogether and then everything worked out. Nelson and I are much happier now, and Vic spends a lot of time at the grocery store, discussing vegetables and the importance of roughage. 

About the Author

Susanne Fletcher is a writer in Ottawa, Canada. After 36 years working in national non-profit organizations, she began blogging personal essays and discovered a new vocation. Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Brevity’s Non-fiction Blog, Knit Simple Magazine, and, most recently, the Globe and Mail. She lives with a small, woolly white dog and her husband (neither of which in any way resemble the characters in "The Dog Shakes"). You can find her on Wordpress.

What Our Readers Are Saying

"Susanne Fletcher has written a most marvellous and amusing little piece here! Who knew that one could write a whole tract on dog poop?  Canada is definitely a different place—but a most marvellous and amusing little place!  And Ms. Fletcher is to be congratulated—both for some excellent writing and for being distinctly Canadian in her prose."

- Russel B.


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