The Universe is one great kindergarten for man. Everything that exists has brought with it its own peculiar lesson.
— Orison Swett Marden
The day I adopted Skylar Grey at San Francisco Animal Care and Control, executive director Rebecca Katz handed me a new puppy parent packet. As I skimmed through the various handouts, Rebecca said, “You should get her into puppy kindergarten, too.”
“Puppy kindergarten?” I asked, laughing just a little.
Jazzy was my first dog — well, the first dog I picked up after, fed, and took care of. My mother passed away just before I finished college, and when I moved to the City I brought her three beloved cats, which were much easier to hide from our landlord, Mr. Derby, than a dog. Once, as Mr. Derby was fixing our dishwasher, he glanced toward the sliding glass door to find six chartreuse eyes staring back at him. “The neighbor’s cats,” I said confidently. “They like to lie in the sun on our deck.” A few years later I wound up buying the house from Mr. Derby, and as we signed the final papers he said, “By the way, I knew about the cats.”
As the neighborhood gentrified and the druggies moved out, they often left their pets behind. Suddenly, the connected yards behind our Haight-Ashbury Victorian were crawling with abandoned cats. I enlisted a feral cat rescue group to help with trapping, spaying, and neutering. We rereleased them, put out food and water, and one of my roommates even built beds under our deck so the cats could stay warm and dry. We never could catch the cagey orange tabby I called Kelly (after the promiscuous daughter on Married with Children) — she already had two scraggly kittens and was obviously pregnant again. Kelly had her litter in the back of a ’57 Cadillac in the garage next door. Eventually she learned to trust me, and once the kittens were weaned I had Kelly spayed and found homes for three of her offspring. The fourth, an orange tabby with an insolent expression and perfect Groucho Marx moustache, became my favorite cat of all time, Steven. He was my constant companion for 15 years, but when he passed away in July 2006, I knew it was the right time to adopt a puppy: Not only was I a homeowner who worked from home, my best friend, Bill, who rented my basement, would make an excellent father figure. And so, on Sept. 6, 2006, I adopted my beloved pit bull, Jasmine Blue.
The first day I had Jazzy, I decided to take her to Buena Vista Park, a good 15-minute walk from our house. Her foster mom made it clear that Jazzy had spent the first six months of her life in a Hayward backyard with no socialization and had only learned to walk on a leash recently, but I was undeterred. As we headed out, she was pulling hard and lunging at every dog we passed trying to play (much to the annoyance of their parents). We finally got to Buena Vista Park and sat down to rest under a shady tree. “OK, Jazzy, let’s go home,” I said after half an hour or so, but she was having none of it. “Come on, Jazz,” I said in a little firmer tone as I tugged on her leash. It was obvious Jazzy wasn’t used to walking; at just seven months old, she was out of shape. Exhausted and stubborn, she flopped on her side panting profusely and ignored me. It took all my patience and nearly an hour to get her home.
“Puppy kindergarten, huh?”
Rebecca nodded, jotting the information down on a Post-It. “It’s great for socialization, basic commands, leash skills …”
I tucked the Post-It into my new puppy parent packet. “Puppy kindergarten sounds perfect.”