This piece was first published in Quarto's 2018 Spring Print Edition
We mutate and expand, shrink and multiply, the names of those we love. We test the limits of recognition, staking claim to our addressee’s conception of self – widening it infinitely, then anchoring it in the cadence of our voice.
I got Schween when she was six months, and I was ten years old. Her name, like the frequency with which I walk her and her precise familial relation to me (she is my daughter, sister or best frenemy, depending on the day) is constantly in flux. At the time we bought Schween, her name was Kelsey, and it took us about a year to fully reject that in exchange for “Dwenas,” which was derived from the nickname I use for my father: Dud. Through some etymological roller coaster, Dwenas morphed into Schween – a fitting euonym for a miniature weenie dog.
The dachshund is a barrel-chested bobblehead with legs the size of chicken nuggets. In height, the average doxie is about one third of its length, and as a result of its enlarged chest and elongate snout (over which it thoughtfully gazes) these creatures appear to be looking past an imagined interlocutor. Their posture would reek of haughtiness, were it not for the fact that among their species, there are few who reside below them.
When up on all fours, the mini stands at approximately six inches, and the standard at ten – top of head to ground. Lying down, the doxie is a dwarf sphinx with two nubby, feline paws.
The dachshund has a wedge-shaped head fit for a tricorne hat.
There is something about this breed that suggests the human and something that, at the same time, defies its every property. I will often walk into my living room and find Schween at its center, staring off into the distance with a look of such sophisticated contemplation – one, to borrow Mark Twain’s description of the first dachshund he beheld, “so resigned and pious” – that it belies her bratwurst physique.
From Richard and Lady Dondorff of Windsor (Drive),1 to Scarlett and Hazel Judy (all of whom I am acquainted with), there exists a propensity among dachshund owners towards nomenclatural personification – a desire to name their hounds something not human-y but also doggish like Lucy, Daisy, or Bailey, but something so human it verges on caricature.
I however, chose to stray from this trend, and pursued nominative descriptivism instead: not only does my dachshund go by Schween, she also (and more frequently) goes by Weenie.
It is a relief to know that I am joined in my departure from the anthropomorphic tradition by Dr. Anton Chekhov, who elected to name his two doxies Quinine and Bromine, in keeping with his scientific background.
Napoleon Bonaparte opted to split the difference, naming one of his Fausette, and the other Grenouille, or “frog”.
Due to a precedent of nominal elasticity that my family established early on, Weenie is constantly cycling through epithets; a most telling favorite, and one that’s stuck around for a few years now, is Corn Chip Susan (abbr. CCS). “Corn Chip Susan” came to me when, lying on the couch using Weenie as a pillow, I finally was able to pinpoint the odor she exudes when she’s warm and particularly fluffy, breathing shallowly, and has been sitting in the sun incubating in her own dogness for several hours; it’s a good smell, a starchy smell, and one that cries out for the accompaniment of salsa. Why “Susan,” you might ask? Why not.
Weenie’s assumed some other, more off the cuff monikers, including but not limited to: Loretta Jones Jr. (of which there is no senior), Queen of Sheba Lorenzo, and most recently (and inexplicably) Nikki LoPinto – simply the name of a girl from my high school class with absolutely no relevance to my family, self, or dog.
In contrast, Pablo Picasso elected to name his doxie something with remarkably fewer connotations and contours: Lump.
Weenie has four whiskers sprouting from her forehead, two above each eye. They are remarkably long and perpetually upright. I call them her brows, and often remind her that she’s due for a threading.
Her nails are tiny, tortoiseshell shofars. Sllick click sllick click: these marbled macaroni make their way across the hardwood floor.
When she runs, her legs soar out from under her in opposite directions and she becomes a line parallel to the ground traversed.
You can always tell when she’s been in grass. It doesn’t take long before you begin extracting bialy-shaped nests of twigs from the dreaded fur on her thighs.
Only recently did I discover that Weenie has just over half the number of teeth she’s supposed to. The way she theatrically tosses her head back when eating anything at all (hiking the food to her two lone molars) is arguably indicative of a Larger Problem. But the sight of her doing so – this odd, beyond-herself gesture – always made me think of a tiny drag queen laughing.2
Perhaps it is the humanness, perhaps the alienness, or perhaps, as I’m inclined to think, it is the tension of the two in one body, that has attracted so many artists and eccentrics to this breed of dog – both as a muse and a companion.
E.B. White was one among a range of literary greats to hold membership in the Greater Dachshund Community. In an essay featuring Fred, White’s own dachshund, the author reflects: “I would rather train a striped zebra to balance an Indian club than induce a Dachshund to heed my slightest command.”
Weenie sits for nothing short of a fistful of food.
Andy Warhol was the father of not one, but two miniature dachshunds, Amos and Archie, the latter of whom was notoriously social. Archie would often accompany Warhol to human-only events, alongside distinguished public figures.
In 1937, John F. Kennedy became the proud owner of Dunker, the dachshund puppy he purchased for his then girlfriend. Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated the president on November 22, 1963. Jack Ruby, the man responsible for shooting and killing Oswald two days later, had four dachshunds at the time (one of whom [Sheba] he referred to as his “wife”), and was rumored to have acquired up to ten at once. My Bat Mitzvah was on the anniversary of JFK’s death, 45 years later. I also have a dachshund. I’m not totally sure where to go from there, but I do feel somehow connected to this history.
I bet Dorothy Parker cradled her dachshund’s head, angular as an alligator skull, and wondered what thinking feels like without the topography of language.
My parents agreed to buy Weenie in part because she was “potty-trained,” meaning she was taught to relieve herself on a “wee-wee pad” as opposed to say, on grass or concrete. With no intention of becoming part of the cohort of beslippered owners standing on the sidewalk at some ungodly hour, beholden to their dog’s bladder – my mother and father gladly accepted Weenie’s indoor predilection.
I, on the other hand, was quite bothered by her lavatorial use of our livingroom, and desperately wanted her to be like all the other normal dogs – and my family, by proxy, like all the other normal families. So, on many a Saturday morning, I would station myself (treats in tow) about 20 feet from my apartment building, and wait with Weenie for hours, praying that she would miraculously decide to do her business outside.
Often, I’d bring a wee-wee pad down with me as a sort of transitional object, in hopes of easing her into the new environs. Placing the flat, square diaper on the sidewalk, I’d take a step back and order: “Go.”
“Go, Weenie! Go potty!”
The wee-wee pad would catch wind and fly up on all sides of her body, encasing it like a puffed-pastry.
As with many ladies, Weenie has difficulty using the restroom in the presence of onlookers – so I’d shift my gaze away. After about a minute of staring contemplatively at my building’s awning, I’d look back down at the wee-wee pad, eager to find a deposit of any kind.
Not even a dime’s worth of pee, not once.
Most times I’d look down to find her supine, thrashing around on the pad, tongue draped out of her mouth like a Slinky.
“Weenie! No! Go! Potty!”
Out of desperation, I’d press her rump down into squatting position. She’d look up at me like, Are you fucking crazy? and I’d slowly release my foot because honestly, she had a point.
One time after a failed outdoor attempt, we got into the elevator and she peed immediately.
“Weenie!!” – and kicked her in the gut.
Two days later, when the give of her unexpecting belly was still on my foot, I wrote her a Post-it note apology and stuck it on her cage.
We do so much for ourselves.
Weenie’s taken to wearing bandanas as of late. The current one looks like a swatch from a late-90’s Tommy Bahama shirt and on it reads in graffitied script: Martini Mondays, dirty and shaken.
When she was a pup, I would, on special occasions, dress her. My garment of choice was a red, cable knit turtleneck. Had I been pressed to pick out a more challenging article of clothing to put on a year-old dachshund, I could not have. The piece was purportedly designed to accommodate the breed, however that’s like designing a pair of pants “for” an octopus.
Hers was the sort of Christmas sweater my mother always refused to buy me, so presenting Weenie in this quasi-gentile, seasonal piece was a considerable thrill. By the time she was successfully encased in the sweater tube, I was rosy-cheeked, panting and covered in fur.
One time a few summers ago, in a radical act of rebellion, I took Weenie to the groomer and said, I’d like her shorn, please. And they said, What? And I said, Please, if you wouldn’t mind, give her a buzz cut? And they said, That’s not typically done for long-hairs. And I said, ☺.
That day when I brought her home, I spent the entire afternoon staring at her, as she sat, squinting directly into the sun. She looked like a jaded Ugg boot.
We’ve gone through four ThunderShirts™ in Weenie’s 12 years.
Touted on its website as The Better Calming Solution Already Helping Millions of Dogs, the ThunderShirt™ is a velcro jacket used to quell acute anxiety responses in canines3. The garment works by applying slight, constant pressure around the trunk of the animal, similar to swaddling an infant. The ThunderShirt™ website suggests instances of potential use which include: thunder (unsurprisingly), fireworks, separation anxiety, car and air travel, restaurant etiquette, vet visits, crate anxiety, delivery truck noises, grooming, excitability and house guests. Among the suggested triggers, Weenie’s is nowhere to be found.
I took to yelling when I realized my mother wouldn’t look if I didn’t. If for no other reason than curiosity, it’s hard to turn away from a screaming person.
It used to be a matter of volume. If our voices reached a certain decibel, Schween would begin to shiver uncontrollably, little currents of vibration coursing beneath her coat. Into the ThunderShirt™ she goes. It’s kind of uncanny, how seamlessly it happens. My mother wraps Weenie in a matter of seconds, and begins stroking her in a feigned effort to calm her down. She coos acidic There, There’s. Who is this crazy girl yelling? she whispers as she passes her hand gently through Weenie’s coat. She’s making everyone so scared, isn’t she Schweenie.
With my eyes I implore Weenie to stop, to abandon her doghood for just a minute and hear the words being exchanged, not just their decibel. Occupied solely with her own intense disquietude, she looks unsympathetically back, recognizing me, then, as the source of her tremors.
Weenie knows only of bodies – of hugs, kicks, kisses. Words, for the most part, fail her.
She’s the filament through which my family’s energies course, and it is in these moments that I resent her for her conduit status; it makes me love her less, for it is sometimes hard to love a vessel.
Four ThunderShirts™. That’s a lot of unwrapping and rewrapping.
Split door frames and shattered mezuzahs tell of fights fought with no resolution.
Day in and day out, we wrap and we rewrap.
But Mommy, can we go over what just happened? You don’t really think that’s what just happened, do you?
Weenie rises from her bed and begins circling my mother’s feet.
If you think you’re going to crossexamine me, you’re damn out of your mind, Hannah.
Weenie’s tongue leaks out of her mouth as she rocks her head along to full-bodied breaths.
But I am just asking why you called me that. Just wait. Mommy, please just look at me.
As a weather stick bends to rising humidity, Weenie swells and shivers with our heart rates and cortisol levels, burdened by an unerring ability to anticipate turbulence.
When even the jacket can’t calm her, Weenie takes to chewing her thigh. The salivamatted haunch leaves a puddle beneath itself.
Topping Weenie’s list of Closest Friends are me, Mackey and Paul. Mackey has lived in our building for over 40 years and although she never married, this 445 resident is the proud matriarch of a long lineage of dachshunds – the last of whom relies on wheels for back legs, and wears a thick leather muzzle around his entire face. Mackey has an allegiance to ill-fitting lavender shirts, equally ill-fitting chino pants, and utilitarian footwear. Whenever she runs into Weenie, Mackey says, “Kelsey. My woman.”, in a tone that feels sort of like an inside joke. Paul, one of the building’s porters, crouches down on his knees and sings to Weenie in Portuguese at any chance he gets. He calls her Chelsea. I approve of Weenie’s choice of friends – perhaps even envy their closeness. Paul is somewhat handsome, soft-spoken and speaks four languages, and Mackey is bold in spirit, makes meaningful small-talk and I have the feeling was a radical in her youth.
Every member of Weenie’s genus is an enemy (save for her beloveds).
Both of the dogs with whom Weenie has been romantically involved lived on our floor growing up. The first was Annie, the black lab-ish mutt who was always covered in sand, despite never having left Manhattan island. Weenie was nine years her junior, and they dated from around the former’s birth, to the latter’s death. Her next fling was with Willie, the Cavalier King Charles with three legs and one eye. Willie’s right eye was eaten by the neighborhood Jack Russell, and I am not sure what happened to his left leg.
Ethereal, perhaps even celebratory, a Weenie sneeze is a fine misting of fairy dust – mucus spritzed from an aerosol can. A decorous exchange follows: “Bless you!”, I shout, pause a moment, then shout again, “You’re welcome!” If sneezing feels the same for dogs as it does for humans, I am afforded about five seconds of uniquely physical empathy.
She’s a creature who makes a lot of noise just existing. Simply lifting up her head to readjust position warrants a congested huff. Her yawns – even they crackle and cluck.
Weenie’s breath smells like acid reflux and fire.
On occasion I will wake up in the middle of the night and have the privilege of being exposed to a mid-slumber toot. In my mind, the fart bears some relation to a luxury vehicle – soft, cushiony, and has a smell that’s not, as it turns out, so bad. Once the scent escapes, it has been filtered through a lattice of warm, matted fur, an aura of doggy sweat, and the bottom left corner of my comforter, where a disproportionate amount of down has amassed. Weenie is a symbol, a synecdoche, a vessel and a hacky sack; a barometer, a muse, a plaything and a prop. But in these moments, when deep in slumber a plush little blow sneaks out, she becomes something beyond me, beyond the signification with which I endow her; she is a whole being unto herself. A being that can sink into a snooze so sound not even a fart can startle her (whenever she passes gas during waking hours, she whips her head back to investigate what has sounded off just below her tail, fully oblivious to the fact that she is the culprit) – a being who, whether or not I wake up tomorrow would carry on licking legs, passing gas, whining whines, and hopefully, missing me. Nabokov once said of his own dachshund, Box, “he is so old and thickly padded with dreams”. For me too, it is this sound sleep that reminds me of the remove of her inner self.
Fingers, thighs, arms, feet, cheeks, lips, noses, knees – Weenie will lick anything human. By accident, once a night, my dad steps on her paw (which is inscribable within a snapple cap): “Fuckin’ a! Kelsey!...” He is the only person in my family who uses her given name. Weenie’s response is a quick howl of agony (which in turn prompts another “God fuckin’!”), then straight into ankle-licking she goes.
A vet deemed Weenie’s oral tic pathological about nine years ago, however it hardly took a professional to realize that this compulsive behavior was not a manifestation of joy, but of internalized anxiety, woven bodily. My friends would come over in grade school and giggle when they’d place Schween on their laps and she’d locate a patch of skin and lick it tirelessly.
“She loves me! So many doggy kisses!”
But that’s like saying ants are dancing, in post-mortem spasm.
Weenie’s eaten one quarter of her weight in Cheese Danish and has lived to tell the tale. She’s consumed in its entirety – cardboard, foil and gum – upwards of 15 packages of Trident4. She has dislocated her back knee so many times that the socket has been whittled down into something smooth and too-forgiving. She’s had an engorged tick lodged in her skull nurse her blood for so many days without us noticing that it grew to surpass a raisin in length. She’s been high for 28 hours straight, having consumed an entire pot brownie for three (humans), in under a minute.
Nothing makes her happier than a Jumbo Smoked Pig’s Foot. Unwrapping the petrified hoof transports us both to an altered state of sentience – hers, one of singular ecstasy, mine of whole-bodied nausea. It is a smell at once bodily and processed; unforgivingly acrid, it is decay preserved.
Weenie’s once-insatiable appetite is beginning to dwindle; the food in her bowl drizzled with water swells into tumid pillows, barely recognizable as kibble by 10:00 am.
In her senility, she has taken to nibbling her own shit. The act is surreal in its casualness.
After almost 12 years, I still go to hold her paw like a hand when I feel she’s comfortable enough in her position that she can stand a little human nuisance; she still taunts me with that same one-second linger in my palm before pulling away indignantly. She’s normally lying on her side when I go for the paw hold, a long roll of back fat outlining her spine an inch away. When I lay next to her on the ground we are a big thing and a small thing, but it’s not always that comforting to feel big.
There are times when I talk to her about things that I wouldn’t tell anyone with the language to pass them on and she breathes a big sigh out her little nose and I do the same out my slightly larger nose and there’s a sort of harmony in our collective breath that stands in quite nicely for words.
When I cry into her belly at night she wiggles out from under me to get a better angle from which to lick my tears. I am not under the impression that she is doing this as a deliberate gesture to comfort me; these little salty water bombs are liquid gold to her. But the fact of the matter is that when I’ve cried enough to dizzy myself, and she’s licked enough to lose consciousness, we do end up falling asleep together, our bodies limp and interlocked.
In the past year, Weenie has lost both her sight and hearing.
It’s been a long time coming, this loss of senses. Her role as my family’s barometer has fried her faculties, I suppose. Maybe their deterioration is for the best.
In her blindness, Weenie is found barking relentlessly into space. After a few minutes of railing against one void, she’ll reorient herself towards a new nothing, tense into the same pose and unleash another torrent of yaps.
In King Lear, Gloucester trades sight for insight, and comes to see the world feelingly. Perhaps Weenie will grow to understand my family more meaningfully, without the interference of noise.
We’ve begun to call her Helen, à la Helen Keller.
We build these worlds around our dogs – construct realities in which we are, by default, the center and then note contentedly how, Secretly, hah, I know she loves me.
My grandfather insists that you can’t love something that can’t love you back.
But what about something that holds love so well?
What about something that sponges up untempered feeling as it leaks out of you – something that keeps love faithfully within its forgiving body, and perhaps doesn’t give it back in most senses of the term, but accepts it so kindly, which, in a way, is a sort of giving?
According to Queen Victoria, “Nothing will turn a man's home into a castle more quickly and effectively than a dachshund.” I agree, kind of, and mostly in the sense that there is a sort of grandeur in cohabitating with an embodiment of the absurd – in getting up every day and feeding, looking after and earnestly loving a tubular canine. That being said, the physical or even ceremonial enormity that this sentiment suggests is somewhat misleading – for the power of the dachshund, I would argue, lies in its very opposite.
Weenie shrinks my world, and I appreciate her for that. When a front tooth is the size of a sesame seed, or a head resting on a leg fits comfortably on your outstretched hand, you are forced to take stock of things a bit more diminutively. The very height of the dachshund – or lack thereof – is humbling; it invites you downward. I get on Weenie’s level, stomach on floor, and only then can I truly look into her eyes – those milky beads of cataractic secrecy.
1Lady Dondorff of Windsor (Drive) is the black and tan, short-haired mini who belongs to my friend, Adam. When I asked Adam for a sentence or two on how he felt about his weenie – could he briefly describe his relationship with her? – I got the following response: “My Lady Dondorff of Windsor (Drive) cannot be summarized so briefly.” In turn, I received a lengthy paragraph detailing his Lady’s idiosyncrasies – behavioral and otherwise –, concluding that LDOW is, in sum, “an empress of paradoxes.” I thanked Adam for his compliance and he replied the following: “I hope those sentences convey the Dachshund Owner Psychosis Syndrome that I suffer from. Suffer!!”
2I’ve never gotten a straight answer re tooth loss, but I have a hunch it has something to do with the toothpaste we use for her (albeit sparingly), which is jet black and smells like hot rubber.
3It is worth mentioning, if for no other reason than my own puzzlement, that ThunderShirt™ advertises with the following oxymoronic, if not utterly petrifying slogan: Insanely Calm.
4Weenie chomps these packs like apples, splitting through the wrapping, into the meat of the gum, chewing very little, then swallowing one indiscriminating mouthful at a time. The component parts are nonetheless recognizable upon egress. Aftermath wee-wee pads are decorated by gum-wound turds, confettied with foil.