Do you ever wonder what you would do if you weren’t a musician? Without a doubt, I would own a rescue dog sanctuary. Sometimes I think if I ever retire, I’ll buy some property in North Carolina and get one started. Until then, my love for dogs lives through my rescue dog, Teemo.
I found Teemo on the streets of San Francisco late one night when I was driving. He was sitting in the middle of the road and I jumped out of my car to catch him (I was in serious hero mode!). He was wrapped in a t-shirt and one of his legs was tangled in it, so he could only use three of his legs. He was so scared—he growled at me then peed himself (all bark and no bite!) and then I saw that his entire bottom half was completely shaved. He was bleeding from his snout and ears. I stayed with him for an hour to gain his trust until I took him home. He was such a sweetheart the entire time.
I brought him to a local vet so they’d help him find his owner. After a few days, I decided to foster him until he’d be relocated, but luckily he was never claimed and I got him all to myself. I named him Teemo after a video-game character who he looked like and it was the only name he responded to, so I like to think he named himself.
I’ve wanted a dog my entire adult life. Growing up in North Carolina, I grew up with some amazing outdoor dogs, so I’m used to having those furry creatures around. I have such a soft spot for animals (I’m a vegan!) and I wish I could save them all. I love dogs so much I volunteer at Humane Societies, and I once sang a recital to raise funds for a local shelter.
I didn’t decide to finally adopt until I met Teemo. Or rather, until Teemo ran into me! He had the temperament that fit my lifestyle. He’s relaxed, smart, trainable, low energy, and carry-on luggage sized. It was also the right timing in my career: I finally had the time, the financial means, and the help from others to care for an animal.
What It Takes To Own A Dog
As an opera singer, it’s quite difficult to own a dog because of the transient lifestyle. It’s definitely possible and many opera singers own their own pups but how do they do it?
It takes a long time for a dog to adjust to one’s lifestyle. When it’s time to adopt, you must take 1-3 months (depending on the dog) to train him to adjust to his new home as well as gain trust with his new owner. This means he needs to learn where to release himself or what he can’t chew and most importantly to trust that his owner will always be there for him.
Even after training, a dog takes at least two hours a day of walking, letting out, love and attention, if not more.
Teemo was about four and a half years old when we got him, so I pretty much knew what I was getting. It would be much harder to try to bring a puppy into the opera singer lifestyle because they require serious training and attention until they outgrow that rambunctious puppy phase.
It’s expensive to own a dog. Dog food is not cheap and his closet full of cute little jackets and sweaters didn’t pay for itself. Travel costs, health care, and grooming expenses add up. It was important for me to wait to get a dog until I had the financial means to take care of him in the way he needs and deserves.
Training is not easy. Disciplining AND rewarding your dog demands consistency, until your dog gets to the point of respecting his household and owners. Words of affirmation and treats will get your dog where he needs to be. There’s a ton of literature on dog training but personally, I binge-watch Cesar Millan to learn the ways!
Opera and Dogs
The opera lifestyle doesn’t work for every dog. Different dogs have different needs, so an opera dog has to be chill with a flexible schedule and adaptable to the ever-changing surroundings.
My schedule is demanding when I’m in rehearsals because I only get one-hour lunch breaks. Luckily, I have someone (my wife, Irina) to spend time with Teemo so I can focus on being present at my job and actually eat my lunch.
Teemo needs to be let out every 6 hours so if I’m out late after a performance with my cast-mates, I have to be mindful of the ever-present countdown to bladder explosion. If I didn’t have a dog, I wouldn’t have to be concerned with my time in that way.
Before adopting Teemo, I made sure he had an alternative household he could be part of and feel at home—co-parents! My in-laws in Minneapolis (where I currently live) agreed to watch Teemo and take him in as their own when I can’t take him on the road (e.g. flying to Europe). Co-parenting is suitable for most dogs but you have to keep in mind what’s best for your own dog. Teemo is ecstatic whenever he gets to go to their house because of their big yard, so I don’t feel too bad leaving him behind.
A number of opera singers own dogs, most of which are at a certain point in their career where they can take on the responsibility of a dog. I rarely come across young, aspiring singers who own dogs, but it does happen. Work is the first priority for aspiring singers and it’s hard to bear the expensive costs and time dedication it takes to care for a dog. Opera life is pricey and time-consuming enough, it’s hard to add doggy costs to that, too!
Some opera dogs are emotional support animals who provide comfort and support for their owner. This makes domestic flights and hotels less expensive while allowing them in locations where dogs aren’t allowed to provide their owners with support.
Traveling with Teemo
Before Teemo took flight for the first time, we made sure his travel carrier was a place he loved to be. We placed treats inside of it when we’d be at home, and as he stepped in, we’d say, “kennel up!” Eventually, we could just say the words and he would step in on his own, followed by yummy treats and physical affirmation.
This ensured us that he could step in and out of his carrier whenever we needed him to. Traveling is stressful enough, so this step was really important.
At the airport, we “kennel him up” and carry him in his carrier through the airport with no problems. Once at security, we have to hold him in our arms, pass the carrier through the scanners, and then “kennel him up” again once we’re through.
Airlines have rarely made a problem of Teemo but sometimes his addition to the reservation gets lost, so seeing a dog can be a surprise for the agents if they’re not prepared. That gets annoying. We take care of it then and there because we paid $100-$200 to have Teemo on the flight.
Flight attendants are normally excited when they see a little furry face so no problem there, either. We place his carrier under the seat in front of Irina since she’s shorter than me and he stays there the whole flight without making a peep. Even though he’s quiet, I can tell he’s stressed out because he pants the entire flight. This is why I don’t take him to Europe because I don’t want to put him through that stress for 8-10 hours.
Ubers are usually not a problem. We text the driver ahead of time and let them know we have a small dog with us. Out of courtesy, we place his small bed on the seats so his fur doesn’t stay behind after we’re gone.
Hotels allow dogs with a fee and AirBnb rentals usually require a pet deposit or additional cleaning fees that you sometimes don’t get back.
It’s a lonely life as an opera singer and a dog provides invaluable companionship and pure joy. Every time I see his goofy smile and his excitement for vegan bones, he brings me so much happiness. He completes my family and I never regret bringing him into my life.
They say that dogs are your children until you have children, and then they’re just a dog. So, right now Teemo is my child!
Other Famous Opera Dogs
Finding Your New Best Friend
If you’re thinking about adopting, take an honest look at your life and the dog’s personality before you take that step. Find a co-parent, make the time, and assess your financial situation, etc. And contact your local shelter!
Every year in the United States around 1.5 million pets are euthanized because there are not enough homes for these animals. These homeless shelter pets already exist, so when you buy a dog from a breeder or pet store, you are taking a home away from a shelter animal. Some breeding practices contribute to a tremendous amount of abuse, negative inheritable diseases, or disabilities in dogs. With enough searching and patience you can find any breed of dog, so visit your local shelter to find your forever pet or even volunteer.
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