Mar 19 • 12M

Chapter 12, Part 4: Martin and Jack

When I said goodbye to my dog, Jack, my companion for 16 years, I realized how important of a character he was in all of my relationships, including with Martin Shkreli.

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My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
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Journalists, television producers, and other observers have asked me many times, in the aftermath of my public relationship disaster with Martin Shkreli, how I managed to handle it all. 

What steadied me as I navigated my way out of a marriage, and out of my career as a mainstream media reporter, into the arms of a famous white-collar criminal…and then under an unflattering media spotlight as he spurned me? What was my outlet through the ups and downs and eventual devastating conclusion? What was my “rock”? 

My usual answer was that I was blessed with supportive family and friends and that I had a high degree of self-reliance. Both of those things were true. But I was omitting one source of unconditional love which had done much to sustain me. He had been by my side since my early 20s, through more transformative experiences than I could count, including everything involving the “Pharma Bro.” He was my dog, Jack.

A mutual friend of mine and Martin’s suprised me with this screen-printed blanket in 2020. He included pictures of me and Martin and of Jack.
A mutual friend of mine and Martin’s suprised me with this screen-printed blanket in 2020. He included pictures of me and Martin and of Jack. Martin supposedly suggested the phrase at the top.

I did not realize how much psychic weight I had heaped onto that gangly, copper-colored, 23-pound canine, and how deeply he had burrowed himself into every aspect of my life, until he was gone. That day came just recently, on March 11, 2023. After 16 years with Jack, I cradled his furry form in my living room while he took his final breath. His heart thumped faintly one last time as I held my palm to his chest.

When the veterinarian who had euthanized him zipped him into a dog-sized body bag and carried him away, years of emotions that he had kept at bay rushed toward me like demons flying out of Pandora’s box. Fortunately, a good friend was with me to help me through the loss, but I still felt more alone than I ever had before in my life. The cheerful, brave face I was able to put on in interviews and in Twitter fights about Martin could not be summoned. Without Jack somewhere in the background, tip-tapping his way along the wood floor, I wasn’t invincible anymore. 

Jack factored heavily as a character in nearly all of my adult relationships, including with my ex-husband and with Martin. Although Martin never met Jack, the dog still served as an always-safe conversation topic and a bridge through so many situations that might have otherwise alienated us from each other. Strangely, Martin and Jack also had remarkably similar personalities. “Lol, you definitely have a type, don’t you?” Martin said to me once, when I was expressing annoyance at my dog being difficult over something.

I found Jack in the summer of 2007 at an animal shelter in Tucson, Arizona, when I was a reporter covering tourism and real estate for the Arizona Daily Star. Although he was small and scrawny, he projected dominance: In the enclosure he shared with an enormous (but probably very submissive) Saint Bernard, Jack had claimed ownership of the only blanket. While the other dogs in the shelter barked and yelped, desperate for attention, he sat quietly, looking regal yet depressed. I coaxed him to approach me. He sniffed my hand slowly, and then licked it just once – a declaration of approval – and returned to the blanket. 

A WhatsApp chat between me (green) and Martin (white) while he was in prison. He used the alias “Dan Iriving” when using his contraband phone.
A WhatsApp chat between me (green) and Martin (white) while he was in prison. He used the alias “Dan Irving” when using his contraband phone.

Two days later when I picked him up, after he was neutered as required by the shelter, he was groggy from anesthesia and had forgotten me. Reflexively, he turned away from me and tried to head back into the hospital area, prompting “awwws” from staff. But I sat down next to him, put my head close to his head, and spoke softly, promising I would always keep him safe. After that, he understood he was going home with me and he followed me eagerly.

No one at the shelter knew what “breed” Jack was. He had come in as a stray, estimated at a year old. They described him as a “beagle” mix. I suspected, based on his size and willfulness (he was always well-mannered but never very compliant), that he was either part basenji or Shiba Inu. I found out later, after I swabbed his cheek for genetic testing, that he was exactly half Redbone Coonhound, an elegant breed of hunting dog featured in the book “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and the rest was a motley assortment of mostly chihuahua.

A purebred Redbone Coonhound.
A purebred Redbone Coonhound.

I liked to imagine him as being the product of a “Lady and the Tramp,” style romance, where a proud, show-quality female hound had been charmed on the sly by a scruffy hustler of a mutt. (The other way around seemed less probable from a logistical perspective.) However it happened, the coupling created beautiful offspring. Light and long-legged, Jack was built like a deer, and he could run just as fast. He could also leap 3’ to 4’-high fences with ease.

It made sense to me that he had been found as a stray. He loved to run, could wriggle out of collars and leashes, and he was all but uncatchable unless he wanted to be caught. In Tucson, he darted away from me once to do a “joy” run down the street at dusk and nearly gave me a heart attack. Luckily, he wasn’t trying to escape from me; I found him a few minutes later, waiting for me on my doorstep. His tail stopped mid-wag, though, and he looked contrite when he saw how frightened and angry I was – “Oh my GOD, you little asshole,” I hissed – and he never did it again.

Although he was usually relaxed inside the house, he could also be profoundly neurotic. He suffered human-like anxiety attacks, complete with pacing and hyperventilating, that were triggered by almost everything – loud noises, travel in virtually any form of moving vehicle, the vet’s office, the chirp of a dying smoke detector, young children, repairmen, landlords… and the list went on. Roommates in New York were hit or miss. (On the plus side, if he and the roommates got along, that usually meant they were good people.)

Jack as a young dog, just a few years old. Photo taken by my ex-husband in Brooklyn.
Jack as a young dog, just a few years old. Photo taken by my ex-husband in Brooklyn.

If I brought him to a picnic in the park and there were too many people around, he would eventually get exhausted by them, like an introverted human would, and try to hide under a table. Sometimes, seeing him at peak nervousness, friends would surmise that he might have been abused before I adopted him. But the longer I had him the more I suspected anxiety was just part of the package with Jack. For instance, when I moved from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Harlem with him, he developed a phobia of cardboard boxes (I guess because he disliked the unpacking process). For weeks, he would hide under my bed every time I got an Amazon delivery.

But all the generalized doggy anxiety in the world didn’t stop him from displaying chihuahua-style chutzpah. Friendly and curious toward most other dogs, he had a stubborn chip on his shoulder when it came to muscular breeds like pit bulls and mastiffs. Even when they were well-behaved and calm, his hackles would raise the second he saw one and he would erupt into snarls of fury. 

The fact that any of these big dogs could have snapped his neck in a second made no difference to him. He also didn’t care how many times I snatched him up, reprimanding him, and apologized profusely to the other dogs’ owners. He needed to tell those other dogs he was the “boss.”

While he counted on me to be his rescuer on many occasions, like when he inevitably instigated trouble with bigger dogs, I knew I could not by any means expect the same response from him. No part of him was a heroic “Lassie” type. He was not likely to take any notice if a child was trapped in a well, or if some person was injured and needed assistance. I do not recall him ever lavishing any special attention on me when I was sick, beyond his typical requests for cuddles and head scratches.

But when he once discovered a bite-sized chunk of fried fish under the couch, he fell into apocalyptic despair. I was in the shower. He barged into the bathroom and stuck his face through the curtain, yelping and barking with such intensity that I was worried my neighbors would think he was being tortured. I ended up having to move the couch, while still wrapped in a towel, so he could retrieve the fish piece in order to get him to stop. 

Jack as a very old dog, around 17 years old, in Harlem.
Jack as a very old dog, around 17 years old, in Harlem.

All the more frustrating,I knew he was completely capable of crawling under the couch and obtaining his sought-after morsel himself, without my intervention. If I had been away from the apartment, he would have undoubtedly done so and not made a sound or bothered anyone. But I was home and so he preferred to get me to do it.

Stories like this always amused Martin and could bring us back together whenever he was sore at me over a terrible situation I couldn’t help, or we otherwise had a misunderstanding. Maybe it was because he was an animal lover himself. Or it was an easy dialogue to fall into because he had always attracted women who were animal lovers. Maybe he also recognized that my relationship with Jack wasn’t unlike my relationship with him.

Another WhatsApp chat between Martin and I while he was in prison.

Over WhatsApp on his illegal cellphone and the prison email system I frequently complained to Martin about Jack’s panic attacks, his sudden fear of cardboard boxes, and his many inconvenient demands. Martin could see my real feelings shining through all of the negatives, though. If anything, he could see that the qualities I was complaining about endeared me even more to the little beast.

“But you love him,” Martin said, knowingly.

“Yes,” I replied without hesitation. “Very much.”

Apart from many panic attacks and a few episodes of gastritis, Jack was an extraordinarily healthy dog. He aged gracefully over the years, still looking handsome and trim as his shiny red coat turned fluffier and faded to near white. Even as a very old man, he still liked to dart away from me and scamper down the carpeted hallways of my apartment building – a scaled-down and “safe” version of his earlier joy runs.

Then in early 2023, he developed lymphoma. His advanced age and onset of early-stage kidney disease made trying to fight it seem like it would end in pyrrhic victory at best. I treated him with steroids to hold the cancer back, but it eventually powered through. His energy flagged, and I realized it was “time.” On his last day, he barely moved from his bed, and he put up almost no resistance as a veterinary nurse inserted a catheter into his vein. 

The drugs worked quickly, first putting him into a deep sleep and then sending him “to heaven,” as the vet quaintly euphemized. I was engulfed by sadness and loneliness, but not guilt or regret. I had kept my promise to him, for all his life. No matter how difficult, inconvenient or neurotic, or prone to creating problems for himself he was, I kept him safe. And that, in turn, had given me strength.

A full image of the blanket (a gift from friend Charles Tanner, a boxer who was incarcerated with Martin and received clemency from Donald Trump).
A full image of the blanket (a gift from friend Charles Tanner, a boxer who was incarcerated with Martin and received clemency from Donald Trump).