A few days ago, after being a regular follower of AOL’s popular PAW NATION, it was especially exciting when I saw my own book about KATIE featured on the site. The conversation I had by phone with the interviewer, Liz Ozaist, was a very emotional one, as Liz is also a passionate dog lover. We talked about the joys of dog ownership and the deep sorrow that comes with the loss of man’s very best friend.
I hope you enjoy it:
Every dog owner knows how exceptional the human-canine bond can be, but celebrity journalist Glenn Plaskin’s cocker spaniel, Katie, had an even more unique talent: She single-handedly turned a floor of strangers living in a lower Manhattan high rise into a family by nosing her way into each person’s apartment… and heart. Plaskin reminisces about the four-legged star of his new book, “Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors Into a Family.”
Do you think there are other stories like yours of people coming together because of a special animal?
Absolutely. I believe there are communities throughout the U.S. with neighborhood mascots that race from backyard to backyard, uniting strangers along the way. I tell people that dogs are like emotional anchors; even though they’re not able to speak, they have a strong sense of communication and are sensitive to emotions. If you have something on the end of a leash, it can lead you anywhere.
How did Katie go about charming several people on your floor?
I like to say that I took the initiative and she was my ambassador. When I first got Katie, I didn’t know a thing about dogs. A neighbor, Pearl, had once owned a cocker spaniel, so I knocked on her door for advice, and the rest is history. Katie crawled into her lap and never left. After breakfast, she’d wait at my door to be let out and then she’d run down the hall straight for Pearl’s apartment, where she’d spend several hours with Pearl and her husband before heading back to my place. We started leaving our doors open, so Katie could push them open herself. She eventually ended up doing the same thing with John, a single dad who lived down the hall with his son Ryan. My dog brought us all together, helping us to create our own version of a family.
Katie was a big people pleaser, but she wasn’t too keen on hanging out with other canines. Why do you think she was so averse to her own kind?
That was all my fault. I didn’t know that you need to socialize dogs within the first three months, exposing them to everything from other dogs to kids and even traffic. Katie didn’t have contact with other dogs until it was too late, so she became a human dog. Whenever we came across another dog on the street, she’d put her nose up into the air and look at them as if they were alien creatures.
You brought Katie along to several celebrity interviews. What’s your favorite anecdote?
I named her after Katharine Hepburn, so I decided to take Katie to meet her once. Hepburn’s reaction wasn’t exactly what I expected. After glaring down at Katie, she exclaimed, “Small compliment, a midget me!”
It must have been tough to lose Katie. What advice would you give to someone grieving for a pet?
A friend of mine once said an incredible thing about how animals hide their suffering from us because their mission in life is to make us happy. I know that’s what Katie would have wanted — for me not to be too sad — but it wasn’t easy. I actually wrote a blog about how to recover from the death of a pet. A few things I learned: Go ahead and cry, no matter how old you are. You don’t have to be stoic. Second, tap into memories by framing photos, watching videos, and reliving moments by talking to people who knew your pet and understand loss. I also held a memorial for Katie — two, actually, because so many people wanted to come! Finally, don’t try to replace your pet because you can never really replicate what you had. Like humans, each animal is unique.
Was it difficult to get another dog?
After waiting eight years, I brought home a cocker spaniel puppy named Lucy last May, so I now have a new chapter to write! She’s completely different from Katie. Lucy’s very alpha and will go up to a husky and bite its tail to play. She’s also more difficult to train. I’ve lost 18 pounds since I got her because of all the walks we go on. I call it the puppy diet. She’s laying claim to her own hallway turf too. The other day, I asked her if she wanted to visit Stanley, her dachshund boyfriend, and she ran down the hall to get him.
What’s the underlying message you hope readers glean from your book?
A family is anything you want it to be, whether it’s human, canine, young, or old. Often, it’s not our biological ties that bind us to the people who mean the most in our lives.
Plaskin and his cocker-spaniel puppy, Lucy, will be at Meet the Breeds for a book signing on Saturday, Oct. 16 from 1–3 p.m. at the AKC Humane Fund Booth.
More on MEET THE BREEDS IN TOMORROW’S BLOG