No pet is without its idiosyncrasies – and neither is Ethel! Here, in our new weekly column, we’ll tackle your pet dilemmas

By Helin Jung
Updated January 12, 2010 10:11 PM

January is National Train Your Dog Month, and associate editor Helin Jung and her Maltese Ethel are kicking it off with a new column in which they’ll tackle your pet dilemmas. Take a few minutes to meet Ethel and then send us your own questions about your furry (or scaly!) companions.

You might remember meeting Ethel, my 9-year-old Maltese. She came into my life in November, when I adopted her from the Humane Society of New York, and in those first few weeks, she could do no wrong. Turns out, I was the one that was wrong about her, and she had I have since taken a kind of crash course in animal training and behavior.

Ethel had been a coddled, privileged bag dog for her whole life, minus the two weeks she was at the shelter. Sure, she was great with people and probably made a wonderful therapy dog, but she had never been apart from her previous owner. Ever. As one friend put it, I had been “saddled with someone else’s crazy.” For one, I couldn’t leave Ethel alone in the house for five minutes before she was whining, howling and scratching at the door. Then there was the peeing – every place – and tearing through the contents of my bathroom trash can.

I couldn’t imagine how the rest of our lives together would play out. The tunnel was dark. Hello, couch. Goodbye, life I used to know.

It took me a few weeks, but I finally called for help. As part of the starter kit, the Humane Society offers the advice and services of a professional animal trainer, a wonderful man named Bill Berloni (he works with all of Broadway’s animals!). When I called Bill, he sighed. “Why didn’t you call me sooner?”

Ethel was dealing with separation anxiety, and though it was a mild case (she wasn’t causing injury to herself or throwing herself out any windows), Bill came to my apartment for a few sessions. No doubt, Ethel is smart, and within a few weeks, she had “sit,” “stay,” and “chill” down like a good dog. Together, we had become a crack pair of training pros.

Still, Ethel has a particularly stubborn nature, and it might take many more months before this little Maltese takes another step toward independence. At least now we’ve both had a peek into the world of doggie drama, and can really sympathize with other owners out there dealing with doggie issues.

Which brings us to this column: We want to give you a place to ask your questions about your furry/feathery/scaly/other loved ones. I was lucky enough to get some help from an animal expert, and I’d like to share my access with you. Tell me about what you’re going through, from the littlest annoyances to the seemingly insurmountable issues, and I’ll reach out to all the pros in our circle to help you try and break through, just as I did with Ethel. E-mail me at and look for “Ask Ethel” every Tuesday.

And so we begin … tell me, what can Ethel and I tackle for you next week?