Emily Yoffe greets a visitor on her Tenleytown street with a small, adorable beagle at the end of a leash. The dog seems oblivious to the newcomer, staring at some phantom 10 inches in front of her snout. As Yoffe coaxes the dog into the house—not without some difficulty—she pauses to call out, “Biscuit!”
From two yards away, a large golden cat comes bounding toward the door.
“We call him the ‘dog cat,’” Yoffe says of Biscuit. But it’s the cute-and-dumb Sasha who’s the subject of the Slate writer’s first book, What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.
What did Sasha do? She ran off a lot. She excreted a lot. And she ate her owner’s bra. “I should explain,” says Yoffe, as Sasha nuzzles into the visitor’s purse. “She just ate the straps. The cups she put in her crate as sort of totemic items.”
At Slate, Yoffe writes about pets—and also, as one of the the online magazine’s Human Guinea Pigs, about her own adventures. (The 49-year-old has hawked a product on QVC, taken a vow of silence, and entered the Mrs. Washington, D.C., pageant, among other stunts.) But “when I got Sasha, this was just a life experience,” she says. Her daughter’s first written sentence was “I love dogs,” and once she saw her first beagle, there was no dissuading her from having one. Yoffe’s husband colluded with the kid. But Yoffe was a lifelong cat person—the family already had Biscuit and his brother Goldie.
Nevertheless, they took on Sasha. “There are a lot of unwanted beagles,” Yoffe explains. Most of them are bred as hunting dogs—in rural areas, the breed is “still a working dog. It’s a whole different philosophy from a pet…‘That dog don’t hunt’ was probably invented for rescue beagles.” Thus, there are castoffs like Sasha, whom the family got from an organization called Beagle Rescue, Education and Welfare (BREW). The family has since taken on a series of BREW foster beagles as well, though the fostering is on hold as they relocate to Chevy Chase, Md.
What the Dog Did contains tales of canines far worse than sweet Sasha. In a chapter called “Satan Vomit and Ear Flubber,” Yoffe recounts the lives of her sister’s dogs, Knut and Paris, in lavish scatological detail. The author would not once have characterized herself as inured to such icky stuff: When taking training classes with Sasha, she wondered, Anyone not noticing their hands are covered with dog saliva? Then again, she notes, tugging Sasha away from the now-enraptured visitor, “once you’ve had a kid you’re already used to being immersed in someone else’s bodily functions.”
Yoffe isn’t hard-pressed to describe the attraction of pet ownership: “There is this beauty of the ‘other.’ The relationship takes place without words.” Furthermore, a pet “doesn’t come with all the baggage of a child, the great hopes. My hopes for Sasha? Don’t poop on the rug.”
—Pamela Murray Winters