Joe had wanted a dog for a long time, but he was certain that a dachshund wasn't the breed for him. Until he met Greta. In this episode, he shares the story of a chance encounter that changed his life, and how a difficult dog taught him about patience and never giving up on the one you love.
JOE: And then my friend called and said, ‘I found your dog, come and meet her’. And she was this big – I think she was two and a half pounds, and I didn’t want a dachshund, ‘cause I thought they were ugly and oh, they’re so fat. And he was like, ‘Just look at her’, and she kind of crawled out of his lap, she was so small, and I was like ‘I don’t know’. And then she crawled in my lap and she, like, tucked her little nose under her paw – which she does, still, and I thought hmmm …
MJ: Hello, I’m Mitchell Jordan and you’re listening to Love Is A Doxie. In this episode, we go to New York to meet 17-year-old Greta and her owner, Joe, whose voice you just heard. Both a major time difference and an international travel ban meant that Joe and I had to chat via Zoom, but at least Greta was able to make an appearance, too. Theirs is a touching story about the power of community, never giving up on the one you love and a reminder that, one day, we all have to say goodbye. Let’s go back to where it all began …
A performer’s life is one of change. Every night can be a different city, a different country even. It’s something Joe knows too well. As a singer in musical, Mama Mia, he was accustomed to travelling around the US. But one day, he found himself longing for something different.
JOE: I was on tour with Mama Mia, and I decided I wanted a dog so I started looking to adopt. I decided I wanted some yappy chihuahua – that’s what I wanted, some bossy, aggressive little chihuahua – I thought that would be funny. But I couldn’t adopt because I was travelling around so much – PetFinder or whatever agency was sceptical I could provide a good home. So, I was in Detroit and decided one morning, ‘I’m gunna go buy a dog.’
MJ: As you heard before, Joe wasn’t a dachshund fan – far from it. But as any dachshund owner knows, your first encounter, it’s never the last. Well, not if your heart has anything to do with it, anyway.
JOE: I just didn’t want her to be taken, I didn’t want her to be purchased by someone else.
MJ: Owning a dog is such a different experience from loving them, minding them, things Joe was used to.
JOE: I’d been like the dog-watcher to all my friends. They’d go away, their dogs would come stay here, I’d go stay at their house, so I was sort of like the aunty to all my friend’s dogs.
MJ: A dog is not a goldfish that can be confined to the corner, fed a few flakes each day and left to its own devices. A dog wants you, needs you, and Greta wanted all of Joe. There were times when it all got too much.
JOE: Yeah, she was very difficult to house-train, she was a difficult dog – she is a difficult dog – so I was crazy to travel with her. She peed where she slept, she didn’t like to be left alone so she would have these anxiety attacks; she was fairly destructive to shoes, papers, books, it was hard to get her to eat on schedule. I had never had a dog before so I was reading books, I hired a trainer, I was going off the advice of friends who were travelling with their dogs on the road … I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe when Greta was four or five, I was gunna get rid of her because she was driving me crazy: I couldn’t house-train her, I couldn’t leave her alone, so I was going to give her away. And my dad called, he was always trying to talk me out of it, because they had fallen in love with her at this point, you know. He called me ‘Do you know how many times we wanted to give you away and we couldn’t? You don’t give family away. You can’t give her away.’ And I really thought about that and that was the best advice he gave me about her, she’s part of the family, that’s it – make it work.
MJ: Obviously, he listened to his father. The bond with Greta deepened, though she would have her own challenges, too.
JOE: She had two spinal surgeries, and they were both extremely hard and my parents were incredibly supportive during that part, too. You know, they said ‘do whatever it takes, so long as she’s not suffering.’ And now, at the end of Greta’s life, that’s the one thing, the bit of advice: don’t let her suffer, make sure you’re not keeping her alive selfishly; make sure she’s happy and able to enjoy. So, they’ve given some good advice because they love her. Umm, when I couldn’t travel with her, they take her or they’ve taken her for weeks at a time – she’ll go and spend time with my dad in the yard and hang out with my mum. They’ve really enjoyed raking care of her.
MJ: During this year’s lockdowns, Joe aligned his ethics with his actions and became a vegan – with the support of Greta.
JOE: I thought she would be like ‘urgh, lentils! Urgh, sweet potatoes!’ but, umm, she seems to enjoy whatever – I think that’s her motivation; whatever we’re eating – especially my boyfriend – whatever he’s eating, she loves it, she wants it.
MJ: New York City doesn’t strike most people as the sort of place you stop to chat with your neighbours. At least that’s what I thought when I visited years ago. But Hell’s Kitchen, a neighbourhood on the west-side of Manhattan, where Joe has lived for decades, is a different story.
JOE: It’s a mixture of people who have live here for 50 years with their parents with young people moving in and people live me who’ve been here 20 years, so we all know each other. I know everyone in the building. There’s like, not a rehab facility, but sort of like a halfway house next door – everybody there knows Greta. You know, people see Greta coming down the street and you hear, ‘Greta! Greta!’ Everybody knows Greta.
MJ: In fact, it’s a place where Greta made a lasting impact on the residents. One weekend, when Joe and his partner went away for some time together, the couple’s neighbours stopped to play baby – well, doxie – sitter.
The weekend would prove life-changing for the couple, who made a big decision after the gift of Greta’ company.
JOE: After spending time with Greta, ummm, they decided to get a dachshund – Elvis – and that’s Greta’s best friend and boyfriend. He’s amazing as well. Greta’s not a big fan of other dogs, she doesn’t really like other dogs, she tends to bite them even though she has no teeth, but when she sees Elvis, her little face softens and she just licks him and he licks her back and they’re very affectionate. And they have a cat, as well, named Martin. And the three of them together as so cute together, it’s Greta’s most joyous time, is when she sees Elvis.
MJ: But, after seventeen years, Greta isn’t the same dog she once was. She’s still strong-willed, but her body is defying her and Joe and his partner are preparing themselves for what every pet-owner dreads: the time when you must say goodbye.
JOE: Yeah, the last year has been touch-and-go, she’s had this chronic cough and about a year ago we thought we’d need to put her down, but she bounced back. And that’s sort of been an ongoing thing. She’s also had in the last few months serious kidney issues, pancreatitis, she had a pretty severe seizure and she kind of goes in and out of health. Like, just a few days ago we thought, ‘This is it, we have to call for someone to the apartment to put her down because she’s suffering.’ And then she bounces back; right now it’s really about giving her what she needs, as we assess everyday where she is. Yes, we’re coming to the end. I selfishly want her to make it to 18 but I can’t set goals for that way because she has to be healthy and she has to be functional and happy. You know, that decision, you know, my boyfriend is incredibly compassionate but able to see the bigger picture; I think very emotionally. And while he thinks very emotionally, he’s also able to say ‘is she suffering what is her quality of life?’ and that’s where the decision will go – what is her quality of life? What is her integrity like?
MJ: What makes a good life? According to Joe, Greta has had it all.
JOE: Every day of her life has been special; every day has been Christmas and her birthday wrapped up into one.
MJ: And, by choosing to keep her, he’s had it all, too.
JOE: I can read her now – you know what I mean? She goes to my boyfriend for, like, treats, but when she’s sick she comes to me and she looks right at me. For the most part, I can read her right back. I guess I’ve learned about patience and love – that’s the biggest thing. I would have missed out on so much with a real relationship with her, the real relationship that we developed as a result of my decision to keep her. If I had gotten rid of her, I would have missed out on the opportunity to get to know her and stick by something in the bad times and the good. And also I got to see how much joy Greta brings to other people and how she’s touched the lives of my parents and my neighbours and strangers on the street – she gives them a smile. She has touched many people’s lives and I got to witness how awesome she is through that. Even though she drives me crazy – that doesn’t matter. I get to experience how loving and how funny and how wilful she is. I wouldn’t have experienced that if I got rid of her. I would have hopefully given her to a good home; I’m sure I would have been incredibly selective but I would have missed out on an incredible experience.
MJ: Since this interview was recorded, Joe has said goodbye to Greta and his father, who passed away within one day of each other. This episode is his tribute to them.