Animal House

dog curtain
By Gina Kelly

By Jody Mace

It’s been a couple months since my dogs started wearing diapers.

So far just a few people know, mainly the people who have visited my house since the diaper regime began. I’m guilty of the worst kind of Facebook hypocrisy. When I post pictures of my dogs (and I do it a lot), I employ angles that hide their diapers. It’s kind of like that studied angle that many women use for their selfies—the camera slightly elevated from the face so that the face is looking up. It’s more flattering, but everyone knows what they’re up to.

Before one friend came over, I texted her, “I should tell you, we’re making both dogs wear diapers now. You will know soon enough.”

I didn’t want things to be awkward for her. There’s not a polite way to ask about dogs wearing diapers and I feared that the silence would feel weighty.

My dogs aren’t wearing diapers because they have a medical problem or because they’re old. It’s because they are acting like jerks.

My first dog, Shaggy, is an elegant little creature. He’s a schnoodle, a schnauzer/poodle mix, and sometimes I think he’s not really even a dog. He’s got this meaningful way of looking into your eyes as he tries to speak English. He can say “hello” and “I love you.” My husband, who is not as skilled at listening as I am, disputes this, but trust me.

Our second dog, Harlow, is not a specific breed exactly. He’s a medium-sized, white hairy dog. Someone found him abandoned in a nature preserve and for reasons I don’t understand, we took him in. He had clearly been neglected in every way for some time. His coat was a matted mess. He wouldn’t take food from people. He didn’t know how to walk up steps. He was distrustful of everyone.

We took him to the vet, got him his shots, and had him neutered. I took him to a behavioral trainer, one that looks beyond commands like “sit” and “stay,” and, instead focuses on building his confidence and decision-making skills. I kept him by my side every waking hour, for months, at first on a leash, until he learned to follow me around, to come when I called. The change was like a miracle. He’s relaxed now, and he bonded with us. He’s got a sweet temperament. He’s almost the perfect dog.

Except he pees everywhere. Everywhere. If we put a bag on the floor, he pees on it. He pees on the furniture, on the walls. Once my husband Stan was lying on a couch downstairs and Harlow parallel parked next to the railing in the upstairs hall and launched a perfectly aimed stream of urine onto Stan’s head.

If I’m going to be totally honest—and at this point, what do I have to lose?—I’ll mention that Harlow has also, on rare occasion, pooped in the house, too. It’s a measure of how troublesome the urine is that I have no particular emotion when I find a pile of poop. It doesn’t happen often and is fairly easily picked up. One time he left a pile that was perfectly formed into the word “HI.” Since it was kind of a miracle, I took a picture of it before cleaning it up and posted it on Facebook. Then I learned that there are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who is disgusted by pictures of dog poop, no matter how literary, and the kind that suggests I create a line of greeting cards featuring messages spelled out in dog feces.

We had this idea, before we adopted Harlow, that it would be good for Shaggy to have a dog friend. That if he spent time with a dog and not just us humans, he would learn to be more dog-like. It turns out that he didn’t learn much from Harlow. Except peeing. Our graceful, intelligent, little dog-person was now lifting his leg and peeing on the side of the couch. There really is such a thing as a pissing contest.

We worked more with the trainer. I don’t want to relive it all here, but trust me when I say that we did all the things. All the things. Finally she dropped her voice and said, “You could try belly bands.”

Belly bands are just what they sound like. Cloth bands that wrap around a male dog’s middle, attaching with Velcro. When my kids were babies, I thought it was sort of weird the way some moms went nuts over cloth diapers and cloth diaper covers. I don’t mean in a utilitarian way, but for the aesthetics. When I heard them gush about the cute patterns I thought it was a little pathetic. They’re diapers! They’re just going to be soaked in urine.

Now I get it. I started out utilitarian with the belly bands, buying just a plain white one for Harlow. But it made him look like an old man in tighty whities. Or like Walter White, cooking meth in the desert. So I bought a belly band with a cute peace sign pattern. And another one with stars. And one with tiger stripes. It made it all a little bit less sad.

I’m convinced that they have no idea why they’re wearing diapers. They don’t like them but they’ve come to accept them. When they come inside they wait in a little line for me to put the diapers back on them. If I could have just five minutes during which time they’d really understand English, I would tell them one thing: “Don’t pee inside.” That’s it. I believe that if they really understood that I wanted them to never pee inside again, that they’d make their best effort to avoid doing so. They want to please me. And yet they do the very thing that pleases me the least.

Since we started the diaper regime, our life has gotten better. The dogs don’t have to stay glued to my side. We’re not cleaning the carpets all the time. Speaking of cleaning carpets, now I’d like to share with you the secret of getting dog urine out of carpets. This is a bonus, a takeaway from this essay, if you will. It’s a process that’s very inexpensive but time-consuming.

First you need to find the spots where the dogs have peed. If your carpet is tan like ours is, it may be hard to see the spots after they have dried. That’s why you need a black light. Wait until nighttime, turn off all the lights, and walk around, shining a black light on the carpet. The urine spots will glow. Some other fluids will also make the carpet glow, but that’s your own business and who am I to judge? Once you’ve found the spots, mark them by surrounding them with masking tape. Turn on your lights. Then spray a mixture that is 50/50 white vinegar and water. Soak those spots. Wait for them to dry. If you’ve saturated them sufficiently, this will take a day.

Next spray them with hydrogen peroxide that has just a little bit of dish liquid mixed in. Really lay this stuff to the stains.

When that’s dry (and it will take overnight at least), sprinkle baking soda on and then vacuum it up. This gets out the odor and the black light test will verify that it did the trick.

So compared to that process, diapering a couple of dogs several times a days is not a big deal. Their diapers are almost always dry. The belly bands discourage them from peeing inside because there’s no fun in it. So it could be worse.

But still, I can’t help but consider the complexity we’ve added to our lives. Our kids, at sixteen and nineteen, are old enough to be pretty self-sufficient. I can forget to cook dinner and nobody is going to call child protective services. They can make their own damn macaroni and cheese. Things have gotten simpler for us from the days of busy, demanding toddlers who were hell-bent on electrocuting themselves and breaking all the eggs from the refrigerator. From those days, life has, year by year, gotten simpler. And yet, instead of taking advantage of the simplicity and lack of demands on our time, we did this thing that has made our lives infinitely more complicated.

We brought animals into our house. Sometimes when I think of it, the whole concept of pets seems bizarre. We do all these things to insulate ourselves from the unpredictability of nature and the outside world. We build houses, we seal the doors and windows. We avoid building a house on a flood plain. We install locks on the doors and a security system. We buy homeowners insurance in case there’s an act of nature.

Then once we have this safe, controlled environment, we bring in animals. I believed all along that Shaggy was kind of a person. But people don’t pee on the ottoman. They just don’t. When the whole peeing thing started I’d sometimes look at these dogs and think “My god. They are animals.” They seemed like just one step away from raccoons. Once I hired an expensive pest control expert to lure a raccoon family out of our attic. But we invite the dogs into our house. To live. We say, “Yes, you are a being who likes to chew on a beef bone that’s been buried and left to rot in the ground for a week. But by all means please live in my house, which up until now, has been kept in a fairly sanitary condition. Here, sit up on the couch with me and I’ll scratch behind your ears and possibly kiss the side of your face.”

And they’re unpredictable. When we adopted Harlow, we didn’t consider the possibility that he would be an unrepentant urinator and that he would get Shaggy started too. But it would have been reasonable to assume that he’d do some things that would bring complexity into our lives. Dogs do all kinds of things. They run away. They bite. They bark at the nice couple pushing a stroller down the street as if their baby was the antichrist. They tear up cushions, leaving the cushion carcass surrounded by mountains of fluff.

I think about entropy a lot. I mean, I think about it on a superficial level, the way non-scientists do, because as soon as I start reading words like logarithm and microstate and quantum thermodynamics, I find that I need to quickly click on Youtube and watch a video of a chimpanzee riding a Segway. But the idea of entropy is that systems naturally move from order to disorder. If you put an ice cube into a cup of hot water, the water doesn’t freeze; the ice cube melts. The molecules of the ice cube, which were frozen into a rigid order, are freed to move around as a liquid.

So is there also a sort of entropy at play in our personal relationships? When things become too simple, do we have a tendency to add elements that complicate them? In a sense, any time we take on the responsibility of caring for another being, we’re opening ourselves up to complications that we can’t predict. How do we know that the child we bring into the world won’t have a disability that will require us to reshuffle our lives? Or that the man we marry won’t have a stroke a year later? We don’t.

The issue of nurturing is all mixed up in this idea of personal entropy for me. I took in these dogs and that means I made a promise to take care of them, even if they brought chaos into my life.

I think we have pets because at a very fundamental level we have a need to nurture. And with that nurturing comes all kinds of risks. In the scheme of things, the diapers aren’t a big deal. But every time I put a diaper onto a dog, I’m struck by the ridiculousness of the situation. Dogs, healthy dogs, wearing diapers. But I’m also sometimes reminded of the bond we share with these animals, and the promise we make when we teach them to love us. When Harlow learned to trust us, to sit by us and awkwardly lean against our bodies, looking at us as if to say “Is this how it’s done? This love thing?” we lost the choice of letting him go. He was ours.


JODY MACE is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. Her essays have appeared in O Magazine, Brain, Child, The Washington Post, and many other publications, as well as several anthologies. Her website is She publishes the website Charlotte on the Cheap in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a regular contributor to Full Grown People.

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29 thoughts on “Animal House

  1. I was so ready to judge your dog diapering ways, but really—who can judge? This was the funniest piece I have read in a long time. Thank you for the laughs, and the awareness that maybe, just maybe, I (dog free though I am) invite the chaos into my life.

  2. This is so funny, I am DYING. I am glad the doggy diapers (real! unlike the doggy dentures from the commercials!) are helping, because pee in the house is Not Good.

  3. Great read and you have assured me that my choice to NOT have a dog or cat in my life at this time (kids grown and gone, no toys to trip over, neat, clean house, no responsibilities except to go to work and come home, can travel on a moments notice)was the right one! Thanks. (I do dog-sit occasionally and get my dog “fix” then.) Very glad you are keeping them though….you “get it”.

  4. Love it! Ha, I never heard of a belly band!
    And thanks for the carpet cleaning instructions! I am doing that today!
    And… I will be Beth someday! Well, I can dream about it…

  5. Jody: me too. In our case, beloved dog loses confidence after one baby, two babies, international move. Having a diapered dog was so isolating in England. It was like, “hi! We’re your new American neighbors–let’s be friends!” And in walks our dog. Wearing a diaper. You know, I think I wrote an essay about it…I’ll go look for it online. Anyway, well done and I feel you.

  6. I am reading this right after I smelled something odd in my dining room, where I had removed the urine-stained area rug just days before. Sure enough, my seven-year-old piebald dachshund, Mr. Henry Longfellow, was at it again! I bought him on an impulse weeks after my husband’s death from melanoma in 2007, as a friend to my golden retriever Sophie. The truth is that he provides me with endless joy and love, especially with my only child away at college. Having two dogs, in reality, is twice as hard, and expensive, as having one dog, and I probably should not have taken this on. And yet. Henry inspires me and makes me laugh. He sleeps under the blankets and licks my toes all night, to the horror of my non-dog-crazy friends. I cannot imagine life without my doxie!

  7. Friends got a dalmatian puppy who turned out to be deaf. “Get another dog,” someone said, “so when you call the other dog, the dalmatian will come too.” That worked for a few months until the second dog had the, “Wait a minute, why am I the only sucker who comes when they call?” epiphany. So, my friend says ruefully, “Now we have two dogs who don’t listen.” I am going to remind her there are worse traits in dogs!
    Despite the ubiquity of “lol,” so few things on the web actually make me laugh out loud. This did. Thanks.

  8. Elizabeth, I don’t have to read another word all day because my needs have been fulfilled by learning that your dog is named Mr. Henry Longfellow. Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone. You are awfully kind to someone whose dogs wear diapers. Good luck with the carpets, Francie. Stan says to really lay those solutions on, let them soak in, and totally dry before going on to the next step.

  9. That’s it. Jody Mace, I love you forever. We no longer have to suffer in silence, we of the emotional-peeing-dog community. Our dog regularly re-enacts the scene from “The Excorcist” where a feverish Regan comes downstairs to her mother’s cocktail party and says “You’ll die up there” before unleashing a stream of piss on the carpet. I was hip to the vinegar and baking soda scene, but the blacklight and belly band bits are new. You may have saved my marriage.

  10. Jody, this was just awesome–funny and so true. I foster dogs in addition to having two of my own, so I can vouch for efficacy of the three-step vinegar/hydrogen peroxide/baking soda treatment. And for the things we do to fulfill the urge to nurture as well as he inevitability of entropy. Especially with dogs.

  11. This is so wonderful. I think you’re onto something, too. It might be the same theme that made the TV show Monk so wonderful. He had to get messy for his character to grow. One episode even involved a dog.

  12. This was laugh out loud hilarious! I have gone to extreme lengths myself, for pets. We installed a $400 fan in our upstairs bedroom closet so that a litter box could be left int he closet and not suffocate me while I was in the same room. We had to rip out the flooring from our entire downstairs when the cats peed on it as revenge for getting dogs. That was over two years ago, and the laminate we chose to lay in the place of carpet is still unfinished at the edges, and might well remain that way until it’s time to sell the place. *sigh* For the love of animals!

  13. i LOVE this. i have three kids, one with a disability, and as soon as they were all settled into elementary school, i felt the need to adopt a dog. in addition to our cat, who peed all over our house. and then, another cat. they are all very loved and make the house much more fun.

  14. Jody! I can’t wait for my husband to get home so he can read this. Our kids think our dog is lonely and they’d almost convinced us to find him a friend. They even have the name picked out: “Dabuddy.” (As in Da Buddy of the first dog.) THIS, THIS, THIS is the dose of reality we all needed. Couldn’t have been more timely, hilarious, or well written.

  15. This was so lovely and sweet and funny and it also made me think.
    Couldn’t ask for more.
    All that from a piece about dogs wearing diapers. Who knew?

  16. I’ll weigh in with cats: we have four, and two are peeing all over the place. One because he’s a jerk and the other because she’s old and can’t be bothered anymore. If I could diaper them I’d do it so fast. When I am Skyping with my dad and mention the places I’ve had to clean or shoes to throw out on addition to washing out the older cat’s box, he gets a stunned expression that makes me realize how bad it is. My husband and I had the same conversation about our duty to care for them all, no matter how pissed off we get. But after this, no more pets for me. This was a great essay – thank you!

  17. Jody — I love this so much, both the story and your writing and the topic! (I am a huge dog lover. HUGE.)

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, too: “When things become too simple, do we have a tendency to add elements that complicate them?”

    Somehow it’s wrapped murkily with the idea of having purpose and giving meaning to our existence. At least for me.

    Wonderful stuff — thank you for sharing it!!

  18. Thanks for all the nice comments! I was surprised by how many people related to this on some level or other.

  19. I feel like I’m at a support group, like I’ve finally found people who understand me. Hi, I’m Cha Cha, and my dog wears a diaper.

    Actually, my doxie mix figured out a way to roll down belly bands, so he’s now straightjacketed into The PeeKeeper, kind of an overall of shame. But it works. People laugh. They don’t understand. But I’m no longer buying paper towels in mega bulk. Just kind of bulk.

    Jody, great essay. Thank you!

  20. We love your wonderful blog, and also hearing from our belly band customers. Thanks, and so happy to hear that your house is now pee free! LOL As a writer myself, I have to compliment you on a great piece of writing!

  21. I really enjoyed this and the timing was especially appropriate after sweeping up the remains of firewood and the new shoes my husband bought himself yesterday. One dog gets past it and thing I got another. If I had the money I have lost in shoes alone, I could buy a small island.

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