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Ethel [the dog] and the downward spiral into beef-stew-induced mania

I do a lot of my work on the couch, cup of tea or coffee within reach on the low bamboo coffee table next to me. There’s an identical couch opposite me, but I never sit on that one. At the end of this couch – my couch – is a chair with pinkish orange cushions, and on that chair – inevitably – is Ethel. I feel confident that I can say no human has sat on that chair since I moved in, it’s Ethel’s chair. She sits on it. She digs snakes out of it (separate story). She pushes the pillows into a pile and lays on top, or pushes the pillows into a pile and burrows underneath. It is her nap chair, her “fretting during a thunderstorm” chair, her stretch-out-as-only-a-dachshund-can chair. I sit on the couch, nice view out the window to my left, view of Ethel straight ahead over my computer / book / day planner full of stuff I’ll never actually get to.


This is the face of addiction.

It’s 9pm, and we’re in our respective spots. I’m editing essays about the importance of diversity to a college campus (or any community, for that matter) and Ethel is facing away from me, snoring, half buried in pinkish orange pillows. I need more hot water for tea, and stand up to move toward the kitchen. Ethel is awake, instantly. Wriggling out of the pillows, she jumps down and cuts me off to beat me to the kitchen. I almost fall over in my attempts to not step on her. In the 10 steps it takes for me to get to the kitchen, Ethel has run to the kitchen and back to me three times, circled the couches twice, and knocked over her bowl of water. I turn on the gas for tea, and get a towel for the new puddle. Except the towels are on top of the refrigerator, and that’s where Ethel hopes I’m going, because that’s where I keep the stuff. The beef stew. The big tupperware container of beef chunks, gravy, potato and carrot and fat globs that this vegetarian now spoons in small amounts onto Ethel’s food at every meal. The fact that I’m near the fridge draws a frantically excited whine from the wiggly mass of brown fur that was quietly sleeping at my feet 20 seconds ago. I pour hot water in the mug, throw the towel in the laundry bin, and return to my seat. Ethel is making now panicky laps around the apartment, into the kitchen, back out, over to me, across my lap (and computer), along the back of the couch, back to the kitchen. MOM YOU FORGOT TO GIVE ME THE STEW I NEED THE STEW PLEASE OMG BEEF PLEASE I’M SO HUNGRY JUST A LITTLE PLEASE.

Let me step back a bit.

Ethel eats imported French dog food that is delivered from a specialty pet shop in bags that last for about two months but which cost just under $100. It’s fancy stuff for a motley little dachshund, but…there aren’t many options and well whatever. The other brand available here (Purina) gave her bladder stones and the vet recommended a swap, so here we are. This isn’t the first posh adjustment she’s had – the mold-prevention shampoo (yes mold) she gets washed with costs $32 a bottle and the American Apparel hoodie (yes they make dog clothes) I bought her on a whim…about the same.

She gets a scoop in the morning and one in the evening…along with a random assortment of human leftovers, fruit, yogurt, the odd bit of food-garbage from the street, and “secret” treats from any friend who comes for a meal. They bribe their way into her heart with french fries, hummus dipped baguette chunks, fried spring rolls, bits of chicken, fish, naan, and mild curry. It’s not a bad situation, really…Ethel is a happy omnivore.

Except Ethel is now bored by this. Well…Ethel is bored namely by the expensive dog food that is really what makes the whole thing even vaguely “balanced” as a diet. My method of dealing with this boredom could have been described as “apathetic”. She’ll eat it when she’s hungry enough. Or not. She’s a bit fat anyway.

But twice a week, Ethel spends the the morning with Binh, my cleaning-lady and Generally Awesome Life Assistant. Binh leave containers of fresh cut fruit, hummus, and stir fry in the fridge. Binh notices when I’m running out of shampoo, makes cookies when I appear to be having a rough week, organizes the condiments on the refrigerator door by type and size order. She decided I need vitamins. Her boyfriend fixes things, replaces lightbulbs in my apartment with 12 ft ceilings, builds additional shelving for my tiny kitchen. She orchestrated my move across town, she walks Ethel, she locates weird things I can’t find in Hanoi. She leaves me little notes about the food she’s prepared, about the fact that I’m out of gin but don’t worry she’ll grab it on her way over on Thursday, about how thin I look these days and “isn’t that a great silver lining to a break-up?” She’s amazing.

One week ago, the note was about Ethel.

Hey dear. I’ve noticed Ethel is bored with her food. Is it OK if I start making a big container of beef stew once a week? You can put a few spoons on her food, she’ll be more excited. I think it would be nice for her. 

I agreed, feeling mildly uncomfortable at how absurdly spoiled Ethel is. Then the beef stew happened. She was ecstatic with the first meal, obviously thinking it was a fluke. We’re a week in now, and if a bowl arrives with no chunks of beef and carrot, with no gravy…she barks, trying to point out what an important thing I’ve forgotten. She’s twitchy (more than normal), and her ears perk up if I look towards the kitchen. If it’s near a mealtime and I’m near the kitchen, she’s hopeful, excited, smiling, loving. Her tail is wagging. She’s my best friend. If that doesn’t result in beef stew, she’s doing laps. Howling at me. Whining. Computer/lap stomping.

It doesn’t matter if she’s eaten, she needs more. More beef. More. Just one more fix. One. More.


3 replies »

  1. This is SO funny, I am laughing out loud. This could be a stand up routine as you mimic Ethel going back and forth…LOVE IT, Needed a good laugh.

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