Since they were wee pups, my dogs Tim and Joe have spent their days on our apartment on the 8th floor of a Greenwich Village building. They had free rein — running around the living room, rassling on the cowhide rug, napping on the couch, yapping at the elevator — and if they want fresh air, they could go out on one of our balconies and look down on the street to monitor for cats and large black dogs.

Three times a day, they would don their collars and leashes for a walk up to the Park and down Thompson Street. Tim would pee on the corner of West 3rd Street, Joe would poo outside the Catholic Center, then they would come back through the double doors of our lobby and hop in the elevator. They were so comfortable with this routine that if I had a chore to run, I could let them ride up on the elevator on their own, confident that they would get out on 8 and wait for me in the apartment.

Their lives were pretty typical of New York dogs, many of whose lives are quite unusual. I have a friend who cooks her dog breakfast every morning and then pays a person to sit in her apartment all day with her dog so she never has to be alone. Maybe that’s typical too. When she complains about how badly the dog behaves, I would tell her (jokingly),”You need to just chain that dawg up in the yard and leave her to guard your property.”

When we arrived in L.A., Tim and Joe were a little bewildered. No elevators to ride, no fire engines to bark at, no half-eaten chicken bones to snatch off the sidewalk.

At first, we left them briefly alone in the house and they had a field day, knocking things over, peeing, howling at the neighbors.  Then we bought a gate so they could be sequestered in the kitchen — more peeing, more whining. I was getting worried — while I do spend a lot of time working in the house, I need to be able to go to Costco without hiring a dog sitter every time.

Each morning, I open the kitchen door and they trip down the steps into the backyard.  Within seconds of waking up, they can be peeing — dog heaven. But for Tim this luxury was utterly confusing. He looked up at me as if to say,”If you don’t want to pee in the house, but only outside on a leash when we go for a walk, what am I supposed to do here in the yard ?” Meanwhile, his brother was under a lemon tree, extruding a foot-long turd.

As I walked them, around the block several times a day, I noticed all the dogs barking at us from behind our neighbors’ fences. A lightbulb went on in my head. Aha! People leave their dogs in the backyard all day while they are at work. Yarddogs!

And so began Tim and Joe’s, transitions to yarddogginess. After several days in the back, they are content to spend the day lolling in the grass, sniffing through the geraniums, or relaxing in the shade of the orange trees. When I come home, they amble up to me casually, not clambering up my shins or clawing madly at the screen door. They meet me like a fellow animal. Being yard dogs, spending the day watching the hummingbirds at the feeder or rolling on the lawn, has made them more dog-like. The cold, hard streets of New York seem far away.

We built  a fomecore dog house. Joe likes it. Tim's not so sure.
We built a fomecore dog house. Joe likes it. Tim’s not so sure.

Slowly, I am undergoing my own yarddog transformation. I spent my first two weeks here in a frenzy of activity, building furnitures, stocking the pantry, reading guidebooks, writing and painting to fill the walls. I felt like I was still doing a job, in this new jury-rigged office I’d built in the back yard. I was still putting on my collar and leash and mimicking my old life in New York. But no one was holding the other end, no one was there to guide me and tell me what do.  I’d started to work for myself, but I had an absentee boss. I lost my sense of what the day’s work amounted to, because I was doing a lot of busy work to fill the day and it wasn’t moving me forward. And, for the first time in my adult life, I was alone all day. Instead of being surrounded by colleagues, meetings and deadlines, I was an old weirdo sitting alone in the garage drawing pictures for the hell of it. It should have felt liberating but I was still far from liberation.

So I made a couple of changes.

I started to structure my day and to set up some goals. I put landmarks on my calendar: going to the gym, drawing, working on my book, preparing my presentations, going to museums, and so on.  I would work on one project for a couple of hours, take a break and switch to some thing else.  It was still orderly, and somewhat corporate in its structure, but it provided me with a lot of relief, just like walking Tim around the bock before setting him free in the yard.  Eventually, I’m sure my regimen will loosen up as I discover new rhythms and a sense of accomplishment, but for now, I am getting lot more done and I feel more relaxed in this new life.

Another realization I had was that though I am not physically surrounded by co-workers, I do know a lot of people who are doing similar things. They are the ones who inspired me and showed me what a different sort of work life could be like. Illustrators, designers, drawing teachers, entrepreneurs, who work on their own and have designed successful creative careers and who I can reach with a an email or by opening Skype. They are my new colleagues. So many of my friends have generously offered me their time, chatting with me and giving me perspective. Sharing their wisdom has shown me how to do this. I am still weird, still in the garage, but I am not alone.

Changing one’s life is exciting and fresh but it is also scary and a lot of work.  I am learning so much every day.

14 thoughts on “Yarddogs.”

  1. A lot of big changes for all of you. But how exciting – the newness of things. You’ll settle in just fine but don’t ever let it become only routine. 🙂


  2. Remember Danny, you have flipped from one side of the WORLD to the other. New York and LA could not be more different. So it’s not just a new rhythm in your “work” life, which would feel different even if you’d remained in NY–you have completely upended life-as-you-knew-it. You gave it a lot of thought, so you know this is what you wanted to do. You are in adjustment. I’ve always said it takes around six weeks to acclimate to a new job or a new home, and truthfully, that is always the best time for me, when things are new and I don’t yet quite have it under my belt. In time–and probably not long, if not already–you will have formed (perhaps without even realizing it) new “tentpoles” that will define you as a West Coaster (if that’s what you are). As a displaced New Yorker myself (although only in NJ), I know that LA would not be for me, unless there were some compelling overriding person or situation that brought me there, in which case it would probably be heaven! Ha!


  3. I half smile and half tear up as I read this. I am still hanging on to a tiny tattered end of my professional career, as a counselor. Case load down from 35 hours a week (client hours) to 9-15 clients. Huge difference from just a few years ago…but not sure I am ready to cut the cord completely and lock the office door behind me.
    But it’s Friday, one of my days off, and I am home drawing in front of the computer, having exercised and had my smoothie. I have few concrete plans after this. I think I want to cook something large to store for the weeks to come in my freezer. The cat needs a vet appointment for shots. But the day is mine and I get to create it however I want it to be. Yes, it’s both freeing and scary. I hear you!


  4. While I am yearning for the day when I “retire”, I fear the same things. I took a week off this summer and went to Cape Cod to work on my novel. Within a day I was climbing the walls, though technically I was outside on the patio. Although it only lasted a week, I learned within a day or two that the idea of sitting all day by myself doing art and/or writing was not as appealing as it sounds. Walking, going for coffee, sitting in public spaces, exercising, etc., had to be scheduled in as if I had appointments. I am very sure you will get the hang of it and wonder soon enough how you ever lasted so long in the corporate rat race!


  5. Sorry Danny, but lately I’ve been hearing too many horrible things about dog-napping……right from people’s own backyards. Your dogs aren’t safe left alone, fence or not. There are monsters out there who search for animals left alone. I hate having to sound like the crabby old goat…..but I know you must love your dogs and couldn’t let it go.


  6. I unfortunately have to agree with Suzanne, I’m not sure it’s safe to leave them in the backyard. I know you aren’t gone long, but there are some crazy people out there. Please be careful; they are sweet dogs from what I’ve read of them on your blog. I have two Dachshunds myself, they’re the best.


  7. Molly dog – my sketching & pub companion – has spent her 12.5 years living in our garden (yard). She has a very large kennel and she loves it as she can sit and sniff at all the goings – on in the area and can walk and stretch her legs. When we first had her we were warned about dog snatchers; she was an expensive puppy and in this country a rare breed. However we took a risk as we were told that it was healthier for her to be outside. Everyone in our area knows Molly and I suggest that if you have any qualms about keeping your two dogs outside then talk to your neighbours. Start with those that keep ‘yard dogs’ themselves – people love talking about their dogs – not only is it a great way to make friends but nosy neighbours are a godsend against burglary, dog snatching etc…


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