Untimorous Beastie

by Maria on January 3, 2015

People are always asking me where my hugely fluffy and dolphin-smiling Samoyed dog, Milo, is from. ‘Northamptonshire’ always gets a laugh. He’s been a great little traveler from the first, which is probably pure luck, but I put it partly down to his general ebullience. Last April, Ed and I drove a few hours north of London to get the little beastie. We stopped off first at Ed’s old prep school, where he’d been sent from Ireland at the age of eight. It was a Sunday and they now just do weekly boarding, so we walked around the school’s silent rose garden, playing field and pond. I can’t say seeing the place helped me understand its place in his psyche any better, but he was surprised and moved to remember places and things he’d forgotten, and find the new-old memories were happier than he’d thought. Then we went and plucked our white little furball from his own litter and drove three hours home with him on my lap. He didn’t wee or howl or soil himself, or even try to escape, poor little thing. Having no obvious traumas on that journey seemed to set him up to be a good car dog; well, so far so good, anyway.

Milo’s habits are simple and revolting. He is a proper South London dog. For the first couple of months there was nothing on the street he wouldn’t eat; spilt curry, vomited curry, styrofoam, plastic bags, used condoms and cigarette butts. He has absolutely no concept of gastrointestinal cause and effect. The first time he stayed overnight with Henry and his family in Ireland this summer, Milo crept out and gobbled half a gallon of gone-off shellfish that had been thrown away into a ditch down the road. When Ed is old and takes – finally – to warming up old stories for me, he’ll probably not count as a high point in our marriage the three a.m. pool of crustacean-laced dog-sick at the bottom of the bed and me under a pillow saying; ‘It’s too disgusting; you deal with it’.

Ed and Milo have their own funky little relationship. It revolves mostly around dog poo. One summer morning I came down for coffee to see Ed standing over Milo in the back garden, hands proudly on hips as he announced ‘he’s just curled out a three-pronged steamer’. We admired the turd over an al fresco breakfast and then Ed dealt with it. Garden poo is also Ed’s job.

Before Ed and I had the dog’s shit to talk about, I don’t know how we ever whiled away the hours. Quality, texture, main ingredients, frequency and volume. There’s a lot to discuss. In this way, I have, finally, become a little bit English. For a while, there, Milo’s daily rhythm was primed perfectly to require a straining squat precisely as we passed the entrance to the local Tube station at the height of rush hour. This was around the time when he was ingesting rubber bands daily. (Any reader of online gripes about Royal Mail will know a key one is how postmen discard on footpaths the rubber bands that keep packets of letters together. Another is leaving the gate open so someone else’s dog can shit in your front garden.) The highlight of Milo’s shitting career, however, was the party lights.

Early in the summer, we went to what I still think of as the North but is only Shropshire, to celebrate my brother in law’s fortieth birthday. It was probably the happiest day of Milo’s life. There were acres of children to play with, scores of crotches to sniff, bare legs to frot, seventies wigs to hunt down and kill, discarded drinks to finish and the leavings from a whole roasted pig to snuffle around for in the grass. But the best was the balloons. After he killed them and ate the rubber, there was still a flashing LED inside each one to vanquish and swallow. He’d probably gotten through a half a dozen before I was onto him and locked him away in the utility room with his toys.

For a day or two, nothing happened. I mean, nothing. Ed watched fretfully as Milo trotted alongside on morning and evening patrol, and reported back each time that there had been no ‘result’. Milo went on eating, cheerfully and copiously, but nothing came out the other end. ‘It’ll come when it comes,’ I said. As the second of six children and the eldest girl no less, I learnt young to be sanguine about toddlers’ horrible habits and unpleasant adventures, and also that there is never a shortage of wee or poo or vomit. Or tears. So don’t be wishing for them.

All day Monday, nothing. Tuesday morning arrived and morning patrol produced nothing. Ed by now was insisting on texted updates on the dog’s non-existent bowel movements.

(Did I mention he didn’t want a dog at all? And that if we had to have a dog, the last kind of dog it should be was a Samoyed? He still says we nearly divorced over it, and I say he only has two siblings and no idea what a proper row really is.)

Milo and I left the house at about nine o’clock. He ignored the pizza boxes and fly-tipped rubbish at the top of our street. He barely glanced at the female Staffie we passed. (My boy likes a bit of rough.) No tree, telegraph pole, postbox or locked bicycle held any interest for him. As we approached the tube station door, his pace slowed from trot to walk, then from walk to creeping squat. Right between the station’s double doors and the traffic lights of one of the busiest junctions south of the river, he stopped dead and began to yowl.

He howled and he yowled as commuters swarmed around us, sending me death stares at the animal cruelty I was clearly perpetrating. The station attendant lurched towards us and I made a token pull on Milo’s lead. Milo was not for turning. The assembled might of TFL stood back and watched, just as helpless as me. I stood by Milo, poo-bag theatrically at the ready on my raised hand, trying to play a responsible pet owner. Still nothing. The howling ceased, we moved forward a little, then paused again as Milo resumed his lament. The end came fast. A quick dip of his nether regions towards the concrete, a final bloody shriek, and there it was; a shred of bright green rubber and a fingernail-sized LED, blinking gaily back at us in the morning sun.

‘Well done, baby boy,’ I told Milo, ‘Well, well done.’

I was a little hurt for him that nobody clapped.

It was the first of several LEDs, as normal service resumed. It went on for a full week, each party light strobing brightly atop a pile of dung. I phoned my sister and asked if the balloons left over from the party were still flashing around the garden. They were. If I could remember the company that made them, I’d go online to write an, ahem, ‘glowing’ recommendation.

Since then, Milo’s pooing career has more or less plateaued. There was the ill-advised lamb bone (my fault) that ended up costing £200 by the time we got home from the vet, and more recently a small bottle of perfume consumed just before a fifteen-hour journey. It made him smell just as I imagine Peter Baelish’s brothel in Game of Thrones would – semi-nice in theory, but sub-optimal in a confined space when you’ve just made a ferry-crossing in a Force 9 gale. But as I say, in a happy family there’s never a shortage of vomit.

Ed’s convinced Milo’s a quiet genius, but I know the dog’s as thick as mince. He’s been through two puppy schools and is good at sit but still wholly unreliable on recall. I blame the parents.

But if ever a wee beastie did as he was more profoundly asked, it’s Milo. He is the happiest creature I’ve ever known. Everything is unbelievably more exciting than the last thing, for him. If it’s not food it’s play and if it’s not play it’s walk. It’s all good! All the time! He gets me out of the house every day and random people – Londoners, no less – come up to us to say ‘Hi Milo’ and have a chat. Old people, other dog owners, timid children – all of them stop to talk to him. He accepts it easily like a hairy little sun king. Randomers just smile or break into laughter as he trots by. He has a favourite café, meaning he’s the favourite, and lots of dogs he plays with most mornings. And any day, now, he’ll discover sex…

Sam Dickinson's pictures of Milo 029

Milo August 2014

P.S. If you like dogs, or just the idea of them, or just dogs in books, and can get at the BBC iPlayer, download Robert Hanks’ wonderful ‘Dog Days’ programmes just re-broadcast by Radio 4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0378t4p



MPAVictoria 01.03.15 at 2:19 pm

My god Maria, you have me in tears over here. I think Milo deserves a weekly blog post of his own. :-)

/Such a handsome boy as well.


Lynne 01.03.15 at 2:20 pm

Oh, Maria, he sounds incorrigible! and is definitely adorable. Those pictures! And he’s not even one year old, right? Sounds like he’s being very well socialized. You brought back my dog’s puppyhood…it was really hard, having a puppy, I will probably never have one again. But like Milo, she was a people-magnet (I met so many neighbours I hadn’t talked to before, even though I walked everywhere) and she’s been our dear companion all these years. She’s a golden retriever who will be 12 in April.

She never ate the variety of things Milo eats, I’m thankful to say. She pretty much stuck to organic stuff—disgusting, often, but not dangerous like I imagine LEDs are. (It’s news to me that these balloons exist, btw)

Thanks for the update. It sounds like everything is proceeding normally. It gets easier, but he will probably never be more adorable than he is now, if my experience is any guide.

How big is he, by the way?


Lynne 01.03.15 at 2:22 pm

MPAV, yeah, actually my eyes were strangely moist, too. How is your dog? Was her name Stella or am I making that up?


Brett Bellmore 01.03.15 at 2:31 pm

Much of a shedding problem? We’re looking for a dog for our 6 year old, and Samoyed are beautiful dogs. But my wife demands a breed that doesn’t shed much.

Of course, here in S.C. a Samoyed would have to be sheared practically bald much of the year, to avoid heat stroke.


MPAVictoria 01.03.15 at 2:35 pm

“MPAV, yeah, actually my eyes were strangely moist, too. How is your dog? Was her name Stella or am I making that up?”

Wow! Great memory Lynne! Stella is doing pretty well all things considered. Winters are hard on her but mostly she just curls up beside us on the couch and sleeps now. Plus she is getting more of her favourite treat, Christmas Oranges. Nothing makes her happier than being fed a Christmas orange one slice at a time. :-)


MPAVictoria 01.03.15 at 2:37 pm

“Of course, here in S.C. a Samoyed would have to be sheared practically bald much of the year, to avoid heat stroke.”

My parents have a poodle/lab cross that doesn’t shed much. Turned into a beautiful and very friendly dog. Loads of energy though, which is why I think my partner and I might stick to adopting older animals with good personalities from rescues. Puppies are super cute but I am not sure I want to put in the work that Maria and Lynne have.


Lynne 01.03.15 at 2:43 pm

Aw, that’s a lovely picture, Stella being handfed her favourite treat. Our dog’s acquired a taste for Scotch mints, of all things. I take a couple into the living room in the evening when we are going to watch TV and if I don’t watch out, either the cat has batted them or the dog has eaten them. Or both.


Brett Bellmore 01.03.15 at 2:45 pm

It’s probably going to be a poodle, non shedding, and they’re an intelligent breed. We had a Jack Russell back before we moved from Michigan, (Adopted him out, can you imagine taking a Jack Russell from 16 acres in the country, to an apartment? He’d have gone mad.)

I still think a Jack Russell would be a match for our energetic 6 year old, but there’s no question but that they shed.


Maria 01.03.15 at 2:48 pm

MPA I’ve been meaning to post about him for ages so yes, his future adventures will be documented. (Ed’s a bit annoyed all I’ve written about re. Milo is poo. Milo himself seems ok with it.)

Stella sounds so sweet…….!

Lynne, yes, they are total people-magnets! It’s kind of why I got him – that and the regular gentle exercise – but we meet and talk to so many more people than I’d expected.

Re. the whole puppy thing, yes, it’s a lot of work and we’re only part way through. My mum has a Samoyed who was basically pretty hard work till she was about three, so I’m pacing myself. But knowing it’s a good two to three year time before he mellows has actually been great in terms of potting time and life. I’ve been used to moving somewhere new every two years, and now having a dog that doesn’t grow up for much longer than that is really calming. It’s clearly me that needs calming down, not Milo!

As to doing it again, I kind of get how people who’ve done it already and adored their wee beastie don’t want to start over.

Brett – oddly enough, he doesn’t shed much day to day. You find his hairs on some clothing or in tea (nice) but it’s not really filling vacuum cleaners or accumulating on furniture. He will moult once a year, and the females do twice. Then apparently you have to comb them out and get great big bags of hair. As to a hot climate, Milo did ok with the south of England. They tend to drink lots of water and grow less fur in summer. I keep telling myself the breed is originally from Siberia, where they have those continental climate 40 degree celsius summers. So while I’d say they’re not optimised for heat – presumably the humidity doesn’t count as much since dogs pant rather than sweat? – it’s still worth thinking about having a dog in that climate. Or at least asking around, anyway.


Maria 01.03.15 at 2:51 pm

Potting time and life? Plotting! i.e. thinking about it, pacing and such.


Maria 01.03.15 at 3:05 pm

Just remembered the long gag set-up in – I think it was Mason & Dixon – where Thomas Pynchon has a dog called the Learned English Dog. At one point you turn the page and at the top of the next one is the sentence: “The LED blinked.”

Now when I deal with Milo’s poo, I sometimes think of Pynchon.


Lynne 01.03.15 at 3:14 pm

Brett, it seems that if you get a breed that doesn’t shed, it needs to be groomed. I thought I’d prefer the hair over the trips to the canine beauty salon, but YMMV. We now have three long-haired pets and the hair has to be seen to be believed. I’d never had cats before and the hair is simply…unbelievable. I never noticed the dog hair so much unless I was actually brushing her but there is impossible not to notice the cat hair.

About having pets in the south, though, the heat would be a huge consideration. Dogs are unable to sweat to cool themselves so they overheat easily. I apologize if I’m telling you something you already know. Every summer we hear of dogs (and young children) left in hot cars so it’s something I think about.

Are you going to get a puppy or an older dog?


Lynne 01.03.15 at 3:15 pm

Maria, I didn’t want to discourage you so I didn’t mention that our dog also became easier around 3. :)


Brett Bellmore 01.03.15 at 3:27 pm

Oh, yeah, aware of the grooming. I suppose my wife can use the same buzz cutter she uses on me once a month. ;)

We have a heavily wooded backyard, very shady in the summer, with a nice rocky creek along one side. Not really a difficult environment for a dog to stay cool in, and my wife says if there’s no shedding problem the dog is welcome in the air-conditioned house.

Personally I’d prefer a puppy, as you aren’t stuck with somebody else’s training problems, the dog grows up as part of the family. But I think the best dog we ever had was a Brittany that somebody threw out of the back of a moving pickup truck while we were unpacking at our new ancient farmhouse when we moved to the country. After she got over rolling over and pissing on herself when you walked up to her, and got some meat on her bones, the most loyal dog you could have asked for.


PJW 01.03.15 at 4:27 pm

I always wanted a Samoyed as a child in the ’60s but my parents liked Beagles and Bassets, also fine dogs. I have always thought they are the most beautiful breed of dog. Once I was in a stable enough position in my life to consider owning a pet, I knew I wanted to have a Samoyed. As luck would have it, a stunningly beautiful Samoyed/Keeshond mix was abandoned at the local animal shelter and my wife and I rescued it in 1990. This was the first of three Samoyed/Keeshonds we’ve owned since then. The gaps between ownership are to allow us to get over the loss of the dogs. I always say when they die that I won’t get another because it’s just too painful to go through again. I relented again two years ago and we have our third Samoyed/Keeshond, who gets along fine with our five cats.


James 01.03.15 at 4:33 pm

You’re a hell of a storyteller. The Irish in you, of course.


Brett Bellmore 01.03.15 at 4:39 pm

I recall our neighbor across the street back in Michigan killed some of the nicest Samoyeds; Had them outside through the winter, which they loved, but would just dump their food and go on with what he was doing. Didn’t even notice that their collars had gotten so tight with the fur growing under them, that they couldn’t swallow.

Poor guys starved to death with food right in front of them. Didn’t miss him when the police eventually took him away after he got drunk and shot up the front of our house. I’ve known some real rednecks in my life, he’s the only one I didn’t much like.


MPAVictoria 01.03.15 at 4:55 pm

Maria you also make a great point about how big a topic of conversation pets become for couples. I really am not sure what my partner and I talked about before we got our dog and the two cats. Now we are always chatting about the various adventures and silly things they get up to. Plus, I also really believe they help my partner in dealing with depression. Pets really are amazing.


MPAVictoria 01.03.15 at 5:02 pm

“Our dog’s acquired a taste for Scotch mints, of all things.”

Scotch mints! That is adorable.

Stella has recently decided that she loves the inside of pumpkins. We found this out when were were doing our jack o’lantern for Halloween. We left the guts on the floor on some newspaper and then had to run outside for a couple minutes. We came back and found Stella lying on her side in the middle of all the bright orange debris, panting up a storm. Her belly puffed out and full. She had tried to eat all the pumpkin guts! Her poops were a strange shade of orange for the next couple days…


Donald A. Coffin 01.03.15 at 5:54 pm

My own recommendation is to try a rescue dog. We got ours a bit more than 5 years ago (my first dog, at age 61+, my wife’s nth (she can’t remember how many). And the dog (we refer to her breed as being a Unique) has been a joy. Playful (death on squeaky toys), a good alarm (anyone coming up the drive sets her off, even people she knows and likes–which is anyone she knows), fond of her belly rubs…more fun than I, a confirmed non-per-person, could ever have imagined.


John Garrett 01.03.15 at 7:12 pm

My kids were raised by Sunshine, our beloved late border collie, with a little help from us. Her favorite activity was to herd the kids into a tight circle, sit down, and nod to me that her job was done. Sunshine taught us all much about responsibility, loyalty, living in the moment. She has been gone for many years, but she remains and will always be central to my kids’ happiest memories of childhood, and when we’re together we talk about her often. Another good reason to let a dog help raise your kids.



Andrew F. 01.03.15 at 8:09 pm

That was a charming and hilarious story, though you realize that you’ve now set a high bar for future Milo stories.

I think one of the tough parts about dogs is how extremely skilled they are at hiding pain and discomfort. Although they’ll very insistently ask for your help when it’s time to eat or when a door needs to be opened, they’ll also try to fool you into thinking that nothing is wrong until you notice a limp or something. As to their eating habits – I really don’t understand how dogs have survived as a species. I have fished enough strange or manifestly inedible objects out of the mouths of dogs (puppies in particular) to choke a herd of horses. Ah hah, wait a second, I do understand their mechanism for survival after all. Very clever.


J. Parnell Thomas 01.03.15 at 9:15 pm

That dog has the cold empty killer’s eyes of a bear or a shark. Alternatively it’s just a stuffed doll and you’re trying to put one over one us.


Brett Bellmore 01.03.15 at 9:23 pm

Well, puppies are baby dogs, what do you expect?

Our Sam, the Jack Russell, could do a headstand in a bowl of leftover Schezwan, and a few seconds later the bowl would be licked clean, with the hot peppers left in the bottom. Ham bones, (After boiling for soup stock, of course.) he would make vanish, and the next day poop dry white dust. Freaked me out the first time it happened. When we were fishing in the pond, he’d swim out to us, and we’d toss him any undersized perch. He’d just crunch them down, loved them.

Great dogs, Jack Russells.


Ken_L 01.04.15 at 1:04 am

I remember when we picked up our poodle puppy he sat on my lap in the car and gazed searchingly at my face. I thought it was very cute. When he was still doing it an hour later, it was thoroughly unnerving. Then he gave a single loud bark, almost causing my partner to crash the car, and went to sleep.

He turned out to be a great dog too.


J. Parnell Thomas 01.04.15 at 2:17 am

Reminds me of a scene from the movie AI.


ZM 01.04.15 at 2:19 am

Such a cute dog and funny story Maria! My old little Burmese cat (the dogs of the cat world) would sit or stand by the gate waiting for strangers to pass by and give her attention and a pat. Often she would sit up a tree on the street corner waiting for me to come home and jump down and run to the gate when she saw me. Sometimes she’d decide to follow me down the street until I picked her up and took her home – once this entailed a rather funny chase around the town hall. She had a bit of wicked streak sometimes though – when she was in a particular mood with me she’d jump up on to the mantelpiece and start walking along it shooting me a look and then flicking ornaments off with her paw – I soon learned nothing breakable could go on the mantelpiece. . She also loved to jump on to my neighbour’s roof – now I’m quite sure when I wasn’t at home she could get down from the roof perfectly well by herself – but when I was at home she would meow loudly and piteously until I had to help her down – which meant me standing on a chair and holding up a cushion from the sofa for her to step down from the roof upon.


MPAVictoria 01.04.15 at 5:04 am

I love it ZM! She sounds like quite a character.

/More pet stories please!


Meredith 01.04.15 at 5:33 am

Maria, happy happy. I do wish you’d consider writing for the New Yorker or some such. You are not wasted here! But you deserve a wider audience.

My husband and I each always have had dogs (in different styles — he comes from a world where they live outside and are there first for hunting or guarding, I from a more “pet”-oriented world), but a life without a dog, for either of us, is impossible to imagine. Though we did live without one for a few years after his father, then my mother and then my father, died (while his mother ailed, losing her touch with reality, a couple of thousand of miles away) — the mechanics of life did not then seem to include a new dog after our lab of many years had died…. A very strange time of transition in our lives, and no dog shared it with us. Our (newly grown) children noticed. Concerned for us, they pressed and pressed about our getting a dog. We finally did, and we are now as happily obsessed with our English Springer, Flory, as you two with Milo. (Our children are equally obsessed with Flory, or pretend to be, on our behalf.)

If anyone has bothered to figure out who I am (you, Maria, easily know), the picture of me available on line, smiling somewhat timidly (for me) at the camera, was taken when Flory was sitting on my lap enveloped by my arms, a 10-week old just arrived in my arms and lap. Who knew, then, what lay ahead? Lots of love and happiness, and poop.

Much love.


Main Street Muse 01.04.15 at 12:49 pm

What a fabulous story Maria! Milo sounds quite adorable.

We have a pound puppy – a shelter dog. We were told he was a husky/Australian cattle dog mix, but we think he’s a Carolina dog – he was found in the wild and has the body shape and personality of a primitive dog. (NY Times had a story on these dogs last year.) He’s very loyal, but a little prickly around visitors. Milo sounds much friendlier!

I went decades without a dog; now cannot imagine life without one.


Eric 01.05.15 at 11:59 pm

We both laughed until we had tears in our eyes as we read your article.

We have three Samoyeds; one a 6 month old puppy. He, too, eats anything and we obsess about his “poopers”, precisely as you described.

Thanks SO much! Eric and Sue


nick s 01.06.15 at 4:24 am

I first became aware of Samoyeds via Philip Greenspun’s website, which was fairly groundbreaking back in the mid/late-90s when the web was still bright and new and mostly friendly, rather like a Samoyed. I’d never met one until a puppy showed up with his people at a local market a few months ago, and he was as delightful as all the stories about those furry smilers had led me to believe.

(The people were also very pleased that I knew he was a Samoyed. I did not know, and thus did not ask, about the pooping thing.)


Michael Sprague 01.06.15 at 8:35 am

This is the best poop report I have ever read, and I have filed a few myself.

What I expect to keep with me from this is “in a happy family there’s never a shortage of vomit.” These seem like words to live by.

Happy New Year!


carol 01.06.15 at 6:14 pm

My neighbor’s 2 yr old maltipoo rescue dog has cost his retired owner thousands in trips to the emergency vet. He’s eaten a disassembled ball point pen, amanita mushroom, … he seems to have a death wish. I hope he grows out of this behavior. My senior dog is attracted to everything even remotely construed as edible, but confines his non-edible forays to dirty tissues and the crotches of my underwear. (The habit of leaving clothes from the dryer on the couch to be folded had to be cured as soon as we adopted him.)


Robert Hanks 01.06.15 at 10:28 pm

Many thanks for the publicity, Maria. I’m deeply impressed by Milo’s digestive system; I will encourage my whippet to scavenge more creatively.


The Temporary Name 01.06.15 at 10:38 pm

Brett: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schnoodle

I am not a dog person, but all the schnoodles I have met have been sweet and smart and patient. Very little shedding, not a big cause of allergies, and they’re not going to knock your kid over.


Don Gadda 01.07.15 at 3:55 pm

Maria, Thank you, I laughed till my stomach hurt. Milo is so much like King Oscar (an 11 week old english setter/munsterlander). I can see Milo through my reader’s eye and I can imagine the two of them together doing something just awful- and loving it. Oscar is here in the office with me this morning. Soon he will be big enough to leave at home with his great uncle, Sven. You might consider, because Milo is a total chick magnate taking him to Trafalgar Square with a sign reading PET THE WORLDS CUTEST PUPPY – ONE POUND PER PET! I’m thinking these boys could represent income streams. Better than poop streams! Best wishes, Don (in Idaho)

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