When an Editor—or Any Journalist—Needs a Friend

By Jack Limpert

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The editor and his dog: No deadlines, lots of long walks.

John Fischer, the respected editor of Harper’s in the 1960s, said that an editor at work has no friends. You are there only to please the reader. You say no a lot—almost always to PR and ad people, often to writers, sometimes to publishers.

It can wear you down. Caroline Miller, once the editor of New York magazine, told me the most dangerous time of day for her was late afternoon when she was tired and didn’t have the energy to say no. I learned the hard way that when you’re not sure if it should be a yes or a no, say no. You usually can change a no to a yes, but once you say yes, it’s hard to reverse it.

For an editor, saying no to writers is the hardest. The best stories come when both the writer and editor are enthusiastic about going ahead. When a writer wants to do a story and you have to say no, it does wear you down.

I found having a dog made me feel less of a SOB. So my advice is if you need some love, if you need a friend, get a dog.

Here’s a story I wrote for the Washingtonian about the dogs that helped keep me sane. They made me feel better about life. They got me out of the work cocoon, helped me meet lots of people who weren’t journalists, and let me see the sky.

We Went on Long Walks Together, Rain or Shine

One winter day in 1983, I ran into a Bethesda neighbor, who said his golden retriever had just had puppies and why didn’t I bring our two little girls over to see them. Why not, I thought. The next afternoon, I took Annie, six, and Jeannie, two, across the street.

What was I thinking? They were going to see darling little bundles of golden fur, pick them up and cuddle them, then quietly go home?

We made one of the puppies a Christmas-morning surprise. As the kids unwrapped a box, they found a happy dog we named Lindy, a new friend who would love them no matter what.

Three decades and three golden retrievers later, our house is much quieter. The girls have grown up and moved away. Lindy lived 12 good years. We cried when Andy battled cancer and had to be put down way too young. Then we had old pal Danny—he almost made it to 15 and died peacefully at home in August. Annie and Jeannie both came home that day.

Now on cold mornings I think, good, I can fix a cup of coffee and relax in the kitchen with the paper. No more checking to see if I have enough plastic bags to clean up after what dogs do. When my wife goes to work, I can read and write without being pestered to open the back door and toss a tennis ball. It’s the first time in 32 years we haven’t had a dog.

I do kind of miss the neighbors. Walking the dog morning and night kept me in touch with most everyone on our street, how they and their kids were doing, what was going on, when they were going to be away and didn’t want newspapers left in the yard or boxes sitting overnight by the front door.

And I got to know just about everyone who walked a dog through the neighborhood. Dog walkers almost always say hello to one another as their dogs say hello. Often that leads to conversations about where you got your dog, which may lead to where you’re from, where you went to school, and so on. “What do you do?”—asked so often in downtown DC—rarely comes up.

Once the dog and I were at the park, we’d go out on an open field with a big view of the sky. We sometimes could see the moon in the morning, the changing cloud formations, the birds. We’d see deer, lots of squirrels, and, last summer, a surprising number of rabbits. Those little bunnies moved so slowly—I wondered how many would live to next spring.

We’d see planes from National Airport gaining altitude and heading west. Danny would bark at the noise in the sky, and I’d remember the honeymoon in Barbados and other memorable plane trips. We’d see a helicopter and wonder if it was the President going to Camp David. All those people and planes—a daily reminder that it’s a big world and you’re a small part of it. It was easy to let my mind wander—it’s amazing how much better you think when you’re not sitting at a computer.

The truth was that even on cold, rainy mornings it felt good to walk the dog. Lindy, Andy, and Danny all greeted the day with enthusiasm. Come on, let’s have some fun. Nice days or bad, I could handle it—I’m not a fair-weather friend.

Will we start again with another puppy? Probably not. As much as we loved raising our dogs and as much as they helped make us a happy family, it’s now a little late for all that. Still, not all dogs out there looking for homes are puppies. Maybe there’s an old rescue looking for a friend. We could go on long walks together, rain or shine.


  1. John Corcoran, Jr. says

    What a lovely piece, Jack.

    It hits home as our immediate family have been dogless about two years now, and my wife and I have decided against getting another one. A tough call, made easier by the fact the kids have long since moved out, and more difficult by stories like yours that remind us just what magnificent creatures they are, and what great friends they become.

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