Diane Lachtrupp Martinez is a professional dancer with a specialty in Argentine Tango. The former owner of Stepping Out Dance Studio, one of the largest in NYC, she now lives in Saratoga Springs with her husband Johnny Martinez and her two sons. A full time dancer and teacher, she balances her chaotic life of teaching, choreographing and performing while caring for her family and navigating her complicated gluten, dairy and soy free diet.
We weren't expecting it. We rarely spoke of it. We had even said to the kids on several occasions, "When you start listening, then we will consider it. We do not need one more occupant in our home that doesn't listen." Having a dog, had made our younger son's top five on his Christmas list - again. But - when our friend told us on Christmas, that there were two dogs who needed a home or they would go to the pound, we thought - "Maybe?"
Personally, I did not see it happening. I grew up with outside dogs (German Shepherds), who had free reign of the 35 acre property, lived in a dog house ( except in extreme weather conditions) and most importantly, were in charge of their own poop. The last one really stuck with me, as did Jerry Seinfeld's comment, " The Aliens must think that dogs are in charge, as they see us scooping their poop."
I love dogs, but a city dog was a whole other animal. Allow me to point out one more poop issue: on the plus side, we have an enclosed back yard that is great for small humans and dogs and we use it a lot. Many spring, summer and fall evenings over the years, we could be seen playing soccer, baseball, volleyball, Kan Jam, ping pong or badminton in our backyard. The idea of having to be vigilant about dog poop was unappealing.
Furthermore, did we have the time? Presently, my credit card was at large, my camera charger hadn't been seen in months and my cell phone went missing on a regular basis. Did I seem like a qualified person to have a dog?
And then my husband Johnny said, "I've never had a dog and it might be a fun change." I thought that maybe a little alteration in household dynamic might be illuminating. We called our friend and agreed to meet the two dogs on New Year's Day. At this point, we had not told the kids and were still undecided but leaning towards a new four legged roommate.
Before riding over to see the dogs our friend told us that on of the dogs had already been spoken for - Ruppert. Hunter was still available. We were a little disappointed but nonetheless happy for Ruppert.
As we rode over to our friends, to meet Hunter, we told the kids our mission and that this was not definite, just a meeting. "We're getting a dog?" my youngest son said excitedly, obviously not listening and illustrating my earlier not listening comment. "How old is the dog?"
“The dog is 4 years old,” my husband stated “and needs a home.”
“I really wanted a puppy,” my younger son counters.
“What’s his name inquires?” inquires my sixteen year old.
“Hunter,” my husband responds. “We are just looking,” although my husband and I already knew where our hearts lay.
Hunter did not disappoint. He was a lively, very friendly dog who appeared happy and displayed a great deal of charm. His breed is a mix of Labrador and Beagle and he has a ginger lab coat. Our meeting included jumping and licking as well as showing us his ability to sit and stay. There was no snarling or bared teeth, only an affectionate dog who showed some nervousness due to his current state of transition and instability.
Within five minutes, my younger son had changed his tune and did not care that Hunter was not a puppy. “Let’s take him,” he said with conviction and enthusiasm. My older son ( a dog lover) was equally pleased and he and Hunter took to each other.
We left our friends home with a good feeling and a promise to call by tomorrow. It is not below us, as parents, to try and leverage a situation into something that will get the kids to clean their rooms. Johnny and I were now good with the dog and had a family meeting on the ride home bringing up such topics as 1) Are you willing to clean your room to prepare for the dog? 2) Are you willing to walk the dog? 3) Are you willing to feed the dog? and finally 4) Are you willing to scoop the poop? My husband and I received 4 not well thought out answers to these probing questions but they did not lack sincerity or enthusiasm.
With with an element of surprise and shock and very little planning, we called our friend the next day and said that “Yes - we would love to give Hunter a good home.”
Four years later we have had many experiences with Hunter and he is very much a part of the family. Although a committed barker and overly vigilant with anyone or anything that walks by our home, he is a sweet and affectionate dog and we love him.
Although we have developed a number of routines and systems to integrate our life with a dog, we still our working on a couple of areas. We have established routines when we leave him at home and how to travel with him. What we are still working on is what to do if we are traveling with him and go into a restaurant and need to leave him in car.
Last Spring, we were heading to NYC and had to attend a soccer game for our son on the way. What to do? It was a Spring day and the weather was just right and he would be comfortable in the car with the windows open. But he is a barker, so the concern was not only for his safety but not to disturb the neighbors and not get arrested. We were not sure of the law.
So, I called the vet and they recommended an open window and a note on the car stating that we were checking on our dog frequently and if they saw any issues, to please call this number. Apparently in NY state, a passerby can break into your car legally if they perceive the dog to be in danger.
I liked this answer and pursued it. Upon arriving at the indoor soccer game, I had made two notes and attached them to the car and opened the windows for ventilation. We came out every 15 to 20 minutes to check on Hunter, hang out with him and assure him, we would be back. Success and no phone calls to us. But - I wondered if anyone had seen the signs and what were their thoughts.
I got my answer this summer over Labor Day weekend. We had gone up to my brother’s camp on Lake Champlain for a couple of days and on the way back we stopped in Burlington to brunch with other family members. It was not an outdoor cafe style restaurant that allowed dogs, so Hunter’s whereabouts during brunch was an issue.
My brother pretty much insisted on a rotation system of people spending time with Hunter outside whilst we dined inside. We said we would periodically check on him, leave a note and of course have the windows open. My brother was understandably concerned about the noise issue as Hunter is a barker and the night before , when Hunter was left at my brother’s camp and we were dining in town, my brother received a call from the neighbors that Hunter had been barking fairly consistently. My brother, David, did not want a repeat.
However, I reminded him, “He’s not your dog and not your problem. We will handle this. Are you running for office in Burlington and is Hunter is threatening your reputation.” David did not appreciate my comment and was not convinced and proceeded to walk Hunter around the parking lot as we entered the restaurant.
There was tension in the air and I was not giving up. I went to the front desk at the hotel/restaurant and got pen and paper and scotch tape and went back to the parking lot with my supplies. David and Hunter were glumly circling the parking lot. I reiterated my note plan and frequent visits to the car and a promise that if there was a lot of barking on visits, we were change our tactics. But really, didn’t we want Hunter to ultimately be able to stay comfortably and safely in the car for a little while on occasion? Seeing the note, seemed to instill more confidence in my brother and he went in the restaurant. On a side note, my brother and I have the enviable ability to disagree, express our disagreement with a non-yelling tone and walk away close friends. I practice asserting myself on my brother.
The note we now leave in the car. Laminate???
I attached my note to the car that said, “ We are in the restaurant. We will be checking on our dog frequently. If you notice a problem, please contact us at 518-932-6447.” Although I was the note writer and the car checker, I left my husband’s number as I rarely answer my phone due to phone location issues. My husband had pretty much washed his hands of the situation but was willing to answer the phone.
For the next half hour, I came out to the parking lot on several occasions, crept along the macadam surface and peeked around cars to gain an unperceived glimpse of our dog and to be within ear shot and guess what - He was sitting their calmly in the car. He did not cease staring in the direction to which we had walked away but he was quiet none the less.
On my third parking lot visit, I witness a family gazing at the car. I break out of my hiding place and ask impulsively, “Did you see my note.”
A young man holding his child replies, “Yes, and it’s brilliant.” Success!! The ensuing conversation reveals other car/dog situations they had come upon and this won was by far the one that gave them confidence as to the dog’s safety and the owner’s concern. I had received the feedback we needed.
I practically run inside the restaurant to announce to the table of 10 family members my success. It is received with a sheepish grin by my brother and a medium response by everyone else. I feel it is a mix of “ leave to Diane to talk to people she doesn’t know in the parking lot, Hunter will be barking in the future and we’re glad it’s over.” In certain matters, I have a hard shell and take their comments as a compliment. We now had a successful routine for leaving Hunter in the car for short periods.
Happiness - Dog in well ventilated car with note!!
I want to stress that the note is not the law and that I will provide info on the law for my next blog entry. Please leave comments or experiences you have had with your dog in the car.