Little Dogs, Big City

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Coming to New York

"Yeah," Dave says, "you have to watch out for little dogs in the city." A few days later Sticky and Larry's flight lands at Newark airport at 7 on a muggy June morning. My husband, Josh, and I have taken an earlier flight and are waiting nervously outside our building for the pet transport van. "Sticky and Larry must be so homesick by now," I say. "I read that sometimes it's hard for a country dog to adjust to city life."

"What happens in those cases?" my husband asks.

"You might have to medicate it. Or put it in a head halter," I say darkly. We stand in silence, trying to picture Sticky popping pills and Larry wearing a head halter -- would he look like Hannibal Lecter, all trussed up with angry eyes? The pet transport van pulls to the curb. The driver unloads the crates -- ominously silent crates, I think. I drop to my knees, crooning, "Sticky, Larry, it will be okay."

I flip the latch and Sticky nonchalantly sashays into the sunlight. She takes in her surroundings -- the park across the street, the manicured topiaries that flank the building -- and licks my hand. Then wags her tail. Larry scrambles out, too, and accepts a rawhide stick from my husband's outstretched hand. He takes a drag on it and wags his tail.

From that moment they become different dogs. They trot happily into the park, where we take off their leashes and they scamper and sniff. In the elevator they stare expectantly at the door, as if it's a game show and could open any second to reveal marvelous riches. We hardly ever hear them bark now. Maybe it's because you never see a stranger walking past a ninth-floor window. Or because the old plaster walls silence the traffic sounds.

Whatever it is, New York City agrees with them. I am shocked as Sticky and Larry caper around, acting like Eva Gabor on Green Acres ("Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue"). I can't understand what just happened.

"Why weren't they traumatized by the move?" I ask Josh.

"Maybe they don't care where they are," he says. He may be on to something: I've heard that dogs are attached to people rather than places. Seems that the movies you see about a dog that single-mindedly finds its way back after a move to another town or state (who among us did not cry our eyes out at The Incredible Journey?) are fudging a bit. The dog is not trying to get back to a place. It's looking for its people.

In other words, my little dogs could move anywhere, anytime. So long as they go with me.

Life post-move is not all nirvana, of course. There are still a couple of small issues: Sticky and Larry bark whenever they hear our neighbor turn her key in her door. Traipsing along city sidewalks, the dogs get as filthy as sewer rats, and once they teamed up and almost caught a squirrel that was old and sick and suspiciously slow to climb a tree with a "Beware of Rabid Animals" sign posted on it.

For the most part, though, my dogs have wised up to city life. A few months later Larry and Sticky are trotting along a path in Central Park. Larry has a twig dangling from his lips when he gets to the top of a rise and sees a pit bull. The three dogs freeze in their tracks. The big dog, wearing a studded collar, contemplates the tiny, fluffy appetizers. Sticky runs behind my legs. But Larry? His hackles rise, his butterfly ears flare and he growls.

Country dog mistake! "Larry, stop," I plead, trying to pull him away.

But then, a funny thing happens. Instead of snapping up Larry in one bite, the bigger dog cocks its head, backs off very slowly, then turns and trots away.

A job transfer is sending Michelle Slatalla and her dogs back to California. Sticky and Larry have not yet been told they have to give up their beloved elevator rides.


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