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Humorist Wade Rouse: Why We Love, and Put Up With, Our Dogs

Is your dog pushing your buttons?

Wade Rouse uses humor to bring people together, as he proves in his current memoir, It's All Relative: 2 Families, 3 Dogs, 34 Holidays & 50 Boxes of Wine. In his hilarious new collection of essays, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship, written, 11 best-selling authors talk about their relationships with their rescue dogs.Here's more from Wade:

Jennifer Haupt; When and why did you begin collecting humorous stories about man and his best-friend beast?

Wade Rouse: I've always had rescue dogs in my life. I've had six, from abused beagles to abandoned mutts. After we recently found an abandoned, dying, blind dog wandering helplessly in the woods behind our Michigan cottage, I felt compelled to do something. And my M.O. as an author has always been to unite through humor, and raise awareness through laughter, rather than finger-point or preach.

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I wanted to write about the neurotic relationship we have with our pets, without any Marley & Me sadness, and I set out to gather the very best humorists in America to share original stories about their rescue dogs.

JH: This collection of essays really is hilarious, right from the foreword by Chelsea Handler's dog, Chunk. Do you have one that particularly resonates with you?

WR: I know it's totally cornball to say I love them all, but I do. I didn't want to publish a single clunker. I didn't want this to be a typical anthology, which can often be hit and miss. I wanted all homeruns, and think I achieved that.

You're right, though: Chunk's essay perfectly summed up the edgy humor and incredible compassion of this book. It's a perfect foreword. And I particularly love Alice Bradley's "Menage a Dog" essay about her husband's devotion (even during her pregnancy) to their dog. I think the essay by Alec Mapa (comic/actor from Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives) which jokes about saints being reincarnated as gay couples' dogs - as a thank-you for all they've done in their past - is a riot. And the essay by comic and author Bob Smith, who is battling ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease, about walking his rather nervous rescue dog around Manhattan - and how healing that is, spiritually and physically, to both of them - is simply stunning. I also love Jill Conner Browne's sassy, sweet Southern finale to the collection.

JH: You have two dogs, Marge and Mabel, whom you thank in the acknowledgements. Which one is the bigger bitch and why?

WR: Sadly, my partner, Gary, and I lost our beloved 80-pound mutt, Marge, who was truly my best friend in the world, this April. She made it to nearly 14, which is amazing for that big of a dog. But I miss her terribly.

Truth be told: They could both be difficult, but Marge was the bigger bitch, largely because we made her needy and co-dependent. We couldn't even kennel Marge to go on a vacation, or weekend trip, as she went on a hunger strike the minute she couldn't see us while she ate - I mean, we couldn't even leave the kitchen. That dog could also work her way out of any locked kennel, crate and room, as well as any door, be it hinged or hooked, bolted or padlocked. Marge was like a doggy MacGyver. She could use her large snout to turn handles or knobs, her paws and teeth to unlock doors, her giant head to push a closed structure open like a bulldozer. Once loose, she would free all other trapped dogs, a sort of Norma Rae staging a kennel riot, before standing back and watching the chaos she had created. Once this smokescreen was in motion, only then would Marge walk free, on a quest to find her daddies. I know this, because I've seen it on those nanny-cam's kennels utilize. But that dog slept on my feet every day while I wrote. She never left my side. I credit her with helping me write five books, because she was right there giving me support every second, urging me on, centering me with kisses, exercising with me.

I have a huge hole in my heart. But Mabel (who is a 4-year-old Labradoodle-beagle rescue) is trying her darnedest to fill it: And, believe me, she has her bitchy side. She's all about the "cush": She always needs a soft spot, whether it's your lap or your pillow. And she is very vocal: She tries to talk to us every second of the day. Although I like my quiet, I believe God surrounds me with the most vocal creatures (human and hound) in the universe to keep me on my toes.

JH: How did you come up with this anthology's great title?

WR: It's funny because the title for the book actually came before the book was even reality, while I was still mulling the idea of an anthology. On that day, Mabel, woke me up at 5:30 a.m. to eat, and then, after doing so, promptly took my place in bed. Our older mutt, Marge (a Heinz 57 who looked like Scooby-Doo) then woke up and wanted to go on a walk. By the time I was done feeding her, Mabel was up and wanted to walk. By the time I had finished and was ready for my breakfast, both dogs were asleep on the bed again. In my spot! I ate, went for a run, and I thought, "You know what, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship."

And that title really summed up what I wanted to accomplish with this book. I wanted a hilarious collection of stories about the loving, but usually neurotic, relationships people have with their pets. I wanted funny and touching. And this title says it all. It's also the first title I've ever come up with that has stuck all the way through to the published book. Usually, an author's working title is changed many times by the publisher before a final title is agreed upon and selected.

JH: What's one thing you let your dogs get away with that you really shouldn't -- but you're not going to stop?

WR: Sleeping in the bed. We said we'd never allow it, but then ... it's like when a parent says, "No to the baby in the bed, even if it's crying." Same thing. I think there is a wonderful comfort, joy and beauty to having the family all together, sleeping. We've been good with the whole no food-begging thing at the table. And Mabel is an ideal traveler. She simply gets in the car, lays down and sighs.

JH: : Does one ever really own a dog?

WR: No. Dogs own us. Really, having a dog is like being in any relationship: There must be mutual respect, understanding and love. Still, I always say I'm the pack leader, but - down deep - I know the truth.

JH: What's the one true thing you've learned, over the years, from having dogs as members of your family?

WR: Total, unconditional love and trust. A realization that dogs never judge you: They simply love you and want to be with you.

I learned from Marge, too, that a dog has an amazing capacity to understand human emotion. She could sense when I was happy, sad, tired, nervous, and could look at me in a way, or nudge me in a way, or kiss me in a way, that made me step out of my emotions, and see things more clearly. Walking her, running with her, playing Frisbee with her, simply lying in the yard beside side, all these simple pleasures comforted me, brought us both great joy.

JH: What's next for you?

WR: A lot! Which is a blessing. I'll be touring for this book this fall, and doing events with many of the book's contributors in places like New York City and Chicago. We hope to raise awareness for a lot of local shelters, as well as money for the Humane Society of the United States, to which I'm donating a portion of the royalties from this book. It's going to be a blast. And my next book is a memoir entitled, THIS BLOWS! A Life, in Locks. It is what I'm calling the first-ever "hair-moir," a memoir about my addiction to my hair - something to which I think most of us can relate.

Wade Rouse has established himself as one of America's favorite memoirists (and, according to Writer's Digest, "One of the Top 10 Writers, Dead or Alive, We'd Love to Have Drinks With"). He's the author of five books, including the bestselling, Today show Must-Read, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, the Target Break-out Bestseller, Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler, and America's Boy, selected by Borders as one of its Best Literary Memoirs of the Year.

Jennifer Haupt is a writer based in Seattle, Washington. She has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Readers Digest, and The Christian Science Monitor.

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