Tuesday, February 12, 2008

To The Dogs

The Westminster Dog Show is in town, with assorted overgroomed canines and their people trying for the big prize. Aesthetically, I admire cats, though I'm terribly allergic; emotionally, I can't help responding to dogs. I find myself smiling at them on the street, petting them when they approach me; I'm a complete dog slut.

I lived with two Chesapeake Bay retrievers for years. Orion and Cassiopeia (names selected from Bulfinch for a dog bred to hunt and the darkest puppy in the litter, respectively) were wonderful creatures, loving and smart with strong personalities, and were not at all elegant.

Cassie, smallish and delicate (as Chessies go) with a feminine walk, was a show dog for a while at the breeder's request. So I endured many a day in a civic center or under a broiling California sun on a high school football field, watching handlers put her through her paces and marveling at the crowd of assorted amateur eugenicists, badly dressed in stain-resistant polyester, many of whom had all the worst characteristics of beauty pageant parents without any of the genes that might produce attractive human offspring.

Orion was another story. A phenomenal athlete who could swim for hours and catch anything in mid-air, he quickly became the Shaquille O'Neal of the breed, outweighing me (thus, fortunately, rendering him ineligible for shows). He was a temperamental puppy who demanded lots of attention, who loved to be held and petted, and who wanted things done exactly his way. In those respects, we were a lot alike.

I left them and their sunny yard and their pool more than five years ago. When I would visit, they responded as if I'd never been gone. Last summer, Orion died at the ripe old age of 12 after a long decline. The last time I saw him, I held him for a long time, feeling his rough coat against my face, breathing in his dogginess.

As Byron once said of his Newfoundland Boatswain, he possessed
Beauty without vanity,
Strength without insolence,
Courage without ferocity,
And all the virtues of Man
Without his Vices.
Someday, I may have another husband. I can't imagine that I will ever have another dog.

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