We joked that Hogan McSmalls was a baby replacement. My sister had just had a baby. So had a couple of friends. But, he wasn’t, not really. He was much more than that.
In 2006, I had a chronic illness that kept me home all the time. Exhausted, in pain, and alone too much, I floated through my days feeling like a waste of space. A specialist put me on an experimental treatment that supposedly made you worse before you got better but I never saw any improvement. I went from working several active jobs, auditioning, taking classes, and being extremely social to getting tired walking from the bed to the bathroom. There were countless rotating symptoms and many were debilitating but the worst part of it was that I lost all my confidence. I became fearful. So, I quit everything. I made my life really tiny. I started writing for websites because I could do it from home. I said no to invitation after invitation because I never knew how I’d feel from day to day. I had just enough energy to keep up friendships with a small circle of people and to go to my many doctor’s appointments and that was it. I just stayed home. I liked our apartment but at times it seemed like a prison. There were many, many days that I didn’t see the point in living anymore.
Enter Hogie. A canine wrecking ball, a rebel, a playful little sprite. He was like if Loki (god of mischief) came to Earth and had a baby with Puck and that baby was somehow a chonky mutt. He was proud, confident, and relentlessly clever. He’d been found running down the middle of a Burbank street. The vets at the animal shelter thought his age was somewhere between 2 and 4 but they admitted it was hard to tell because his teeth had been worn down to nubs. This, they presumed, was because he’d been a street dog his whole life and was probably chewing on all sorts of things he shouldn’t have been chewing on like, you know, METAL. (If you’re trying to do the math in your head right now, let me help you. The dog calculator doesn’t go up that high but we estimated that -by his weight- Hogan was approximately 17 or, in people years, 96 at the time of his death.) I didn’t care how old he was or what his teeth looked like. I didn’t care what he was. He could’ve been a demon octopus. Hogie was mine and I loved him instantly. He quickly became my emotional support everything.
Because he was a tough little street dog, he didn’t think he needed anyone. But, he did. He needed us. He needed me. He needed to be walked, to be washed, to be fed, to be played with, to have his belly rubbed and his butt scratched. He needed someone to keep track of meds, to take him to the vet, to haul him to the dog park several times a week. He needed me to throw a stuffed corn toy approximately 829 times a day and I happily obliged. He got me off of the couch and out of my head with an ease no human could’ve reproduced. He gave me a job, a purpose. I went from drowning in self-pity 24/7 to thinking about someone other than myself. And I think that saved me.
He instinctually knew how to fetch and I taught him a bunch of tricks almost immediately. It wasn’t hard because he was crazy smart. He could sit, stay, roll over, play dead, and shake. You could put a treat on his head or paw and make him wait until you said, “Okay,” to eat it. We potty trained him within weeks. He played actual hide and go seek with me. He was shit at the hiding part but a magnificent seeker. He was a phenomenal soccer goalie, guarding the hallway from my goal attempts with giant smile on his fuzzy face. He was capable of finding any food on the street, no matter how hidden. Gutter pizza? No problem. Hot dog in a bush? Found and gobbled before I could even register what was happening. (He optimistically checked that bush every single walk for YEARS until dementia grabbed his brain.)
As Hogie got older and more comfortable with us, I got better and healthier. I started seeing a therapist. I got a yoga certification. I made drastic changes in my lifestyle and the way I mentally dealt with past traumas, which helped my physical pain as well. Hogie was there for me, always. He wasn’t a snuggler but he’d lick tears away when I cried and put a paw on my arm when I had panic attacks. He’d guard the door to the bathroom while I took a bath and insert himself under the desk while I wrote: a warm, fuzzy footstool. Even when he was bad, he delighted me. A lot of people online knew and loved Hogie because of the stories I constantly wrote about him. He even had his own hashtag on Instagram. I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to share him with the world.
In his years with us, he tried to eat a Vitamix, a Keurig, an iPod, countless pots and pans, Tupperware, and pretty much every purse or piece of luggage my poor sister brought into our house. Basically, anything that had ever touched food, he tried to consume. If your bag had ever come in contact with a protein bar or a bag of Pop Chips, that shit was a goner. Everything we owned had bite marks; some of it does to this day. I’d come home and find the toaster on the couch or the house smelling like gas because he’d accidentally turned on a stove burner during his never ending pursuit of forbidden snacks. He got plenty of food and treats and peanut butter Kongs, of course, he just wanted more, more, MORE. And, to my constant annoyance and glee, he was willing to do literally anything to get it.
We Hogie-proofed our apartment to within an inch of its life. We installed child-proof stove knobs and cabinet thingies, we put in a baby gate (he leapt over it), we put the trash inside a locked bathroom every time we left the house and closed the door to the bedroom so he wouldn’t eat a coffee mug on the bed again. You know, totally normal dog-parent shit. But, he was creative AND determined. He always, always found a way.
Everyone’s favorite story is the one about how he figured out he could use our kitchen drawers as stairs to climb up onto the kitchen counters. (Dude was a foot and a half tall, tops, and built like a chicken nugget.) Once there, he somehow got the childproofed cabinets open, jumped up and knocked the entire top shelf contents onto the counter so he could enjoy a little brunch buffet. He ate baker’s chocolate, a giant bag of Splenda (I know, I know, it was like 2008, I’m SORRY), and some other weird food we’d stored way up high to protect him. He spent hours in the hospital hooked up to an IV, scared the living shit out of us, came home, and promptly ate some K-cups we’d stored on a top shelf in a closed closet the very next time we left him alone.
When he couldn’t find actual food or items that smelled vaguely of food, he would go for something food-adjacent. I had a heating pad that was basically just a sock stuffed with raw rice but, to Hogie, it was a delicacy. We came home after a concert to rice everywhere, half a sock, and a very happy dog. For the next week, he shot raw rice out of his ass like a machine gun. It was disgusting but it was also amazing and hilarious and just SO VERY HIM.
One time I was walking him when a neighbor said, oh there’s the little roof barker. I said, “What are you talking about?” and he explained to me that my dog had been standing proudly out on our roof the day before barking at the entire neighborhood. Which explained a lot, actually, because I’d found a screen on the front lawn and the big living room window of our second floor apartment gaping open. I’d blamed the wind but, nope, it was the dog. It was always the dog.
When Hogie got a bit older, we moved into a duplex. It was bigger, with plenty of room for him to chase me and spread his toys out everywhere. One day I came home to an empty house. No sign of the dog anywhere. I searched closets, under the bed, behind the couch. All the doors and windows were closed. My brain couldn’t make sense of it. I became convinced someone had STOLEN MY DOG and then, I guess, locked the door behind themselves? Nope. Here’s what he did: he opened the locked door that led out onto the little balcony, CLOSED AND LOCKED IT BEHIND HIMSELF (I still don’t understand how he did this), and jumped 10 feet down to the driveway. Then he took a little tour of the neighborhood doing and eating who the hell knows what before a nice old lady in a truck picked him up and returned him to us. She said he was a good boy but we knew better.
He was the worst boy. But, also, he was the best.
I’m better now. I have energy. I’m not in pain all the time. I try to be a good person and give back to others. I have meaningful relationships and I project love out into the universe. Most days I do not feel like a waste of space. This is all because of a sweet, crazy mess of a dog who changed the course of my life and who I’ll miss to my dying day. I never knew what he was actually thinking, of course, but I believe that if Hogie could leave us with any wisdom it would be this: Eat everything you can, have fun, and fuck shit up.
So, that’s what I’m gonna do. Thank you to everyone who loved him.
*photo of Hogie with his corn in the house where he made an escape worthy of his namesake, Hogan’s Heroes.