When we decided to sell the house, we thought it would make sense to rent an apartment in the city before buying so we could test the waters, or the concrete, as the case may be. Being former city dwellers, my husband and I were pretty confident that we wouldn’t have any trouble acclimating to our new environment. The dog, however, was another matter. Monty had been born and raised in the suburbs and so, to him, there were a fair number of challenges to navigate in the city. But the most pressing question for him, of course, was, “Where’s the toilet?”

For Suburban Monty, inside the house was not the toilet. Sidewalks and driveways were not the toilet. The toilet was anywhere there was grass. This worked fine in the ’burbs. But there was no grass in the city. Or at least, no grass where he was allowed. So, for City Monty, this was a conundrum.

I’d never even considered this problem when we decided to move to the city. I’d seen multitudes of happy looking dogs doing their business here, there and everywhere. But I’d neglected to realize that they were all city dogs and were already savvy to the ways of going to the bathroom in the city when you’re a dog. This pretty much meant, “Stop, squat, and go … anywhere … except on the grass.”

So, the day we moved in, I took him outside, to do what dogs do. But Monty looked around and thought, “Alas, there is no grass. Me thinks I have nowhere to go.” (I don’t know why I imagine the dog speaking in Shakespearean tongue, but alas, I do).

We walked for blocks and blocks and he wouldn’t go. And then, just as I was starting to think I was going to have to lay down some artificial turf in our apartment, I saw a little patch of dirt around a dead tree outside our apartment. The whole patch couldn’t have been more than a 6-by-6 square. But I walked the dog around the tree in little circles five times until he got the point, squatted, and declared the little patch of dirt his toilet.

“I call it The Tree of Desperation,” I told my husband.

“The what?” he asked.

“The Tree of Desperation,” I said. “It’s that dead tree in a patch of dirt outside the building. If he won’t go anywhere on pavement, take him to the Tree of Desperation, walk him around it a few times, and he’ll go. It’s not snazzy. But it’ll got the job done.”

My husband nodded. We had a plan. And for three weeks the dog did what dogs do at the Tree of Desperation.

Then one day I decided the dog needed to be retrained to accept the whole city as his toilet, just like all the other dogs, and some people, did.

Every day, I would walk him down the street and encourage him, “Go potty, Monty. Go potty!” He would stop and sniff at fire hydrants and fences and I’d think, “This is it. He gets it. This is where the other dogs go!” But then he would move on.

Finally, one day, after walking several blocks, we came to a street with a bike lane that had been painted green. The dog started to walk across it, and then stopped. I turned around to look at him. He looked back at me, and then squatted down and did his business.

I bent down to pet the dog.

“Close enough!”
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