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A Woman's Best Friend

A Woman's Best Friend Is Four-Legged, Furry--and thinks With Its Nose
Erica Jong
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

Man's best friend is also a woman's. A strong woman can accomplish anything with a loyal dog at her side. Men may come and go, but dogs walk (and sniff) on forever. Like men, dogs think with their noses. Unlike men, dogs are fiercely loyal. I could tell you the story of my life through the dogs I have loved. I could tell you the story of the losses in my life through their deaths. Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love and loyalty. They depart to teach us about loss. We try to replace them but never quite succeed. A new dog never replaces an old dog; it merely expands the heart. If you have loved many dogs, your heart is very big.  

Did I say merely? What dogs teach us is hardly mere. They teach us that if you love a creature, you can pick up its shit and not mind. They teach us that nothing is disgusting in love--neither smells nor spills. They teach us that all bodily effluvia are as sacred to God as prayers.  

Where to begin this narrative of dogs I have loved? Shall I begin with Tangerine, the black cocker spaniel that came into my life the summer I was 13 when I lived in Lenox, Massachusetts? Or shall I begin with Jacques, the black poodle who joined our family on Central Park West when I was 16? These were family dogs, shared with sisters, yelled at by my mother (never a dog person), so in a way they don't count.  

The first dog I adopted on my own was a Bichon Frise called Poochkin, named after Aleksandr Pushkin, my grandfather's favorite poet. I bought him at a pet store on the Upper East Side (before I was enlightened about the horrors of puppy mills). I was 30 and fighting my desire for a baby when I fell in love with Poochkin. He was a baby surrogate for a while and then became the inspiration for pregnancy. (I so babied that dog that I was more than ready to baby a baby.) My then-husband and I not only slept with Poochkin, we bathed with him, brushed him and jointly blew his curly coat dry (I worked the brush and Jon worked the dryer).  

When we moved to Connecticut, Poochkin became a country dog, knocking up the neighbor's bitch (a Maltese), marking his territory aggressively and masturbating with the Marimekko pillows. He ran wild in the Connecticut woods, attracting ticks and brambles--until he finally met a terrible end under the wheels of a Jeep driven by my daughter's nanny while my daughter was strapped in her car seat in the back.

The nanny was in love with the carpenter who was building a new study for me. In her romantic delirium, she backed out of the driveway, and over the dog. I remember the howls of pain as I rushed Poochkin to the vet, my clothes covered with his blood, my heart as crushed as his. Not long ago I saw a Sally Jessy Raphael segment called "I Ran Over My Own Granddaughter" and I thought of Poochkin. I felt as guilty as those unhappy grandmothers did, although I wasn't even driving the car that killed Poochkin.  

Poochkin died on the vet's operating table. I still keep an urn with his ashes in my study in Connecticut. Poochkin's dog collar and tags are draped casually around the urn's marble neck. On rainy nights I seem to hear him scratching at the back door to be let in.  

During the days of Poochkin we also adopted a mutt from the pound, a big sorrowful-eyed red Raggedy Ann of a dog. Her pound name was Buffy, but we anointed her Virginia Woof. She persisted in answering to Buffy. She came to us with worms, dysentery and fleas. We nursed her back to health and in a month or two she became an ideal companion. Someone had trained her carefully and soon she reverted to that discipline.  

When my daughter Molly was born, Buffy used to guard me while I nursed the baby, howling at Poochkin maternally if he tried to jump on me seeking a nipple for himself. Buffy was a female; she understood that the baby came first. Poochkin had a male's narcissism: he humped pillows while I nursed the baby. He was not pleased that the pack leader (me) no longer gave him pride of place. He was like a childish husband having a fling to spite the new dyad of mother and baby. Every pillow became stiff.  

Not long after Poochkin's death, my marriage fell apart. Jon got Buffy in the divorce. The baby was to be shared, but I lost Buffy to my ex. It was clear I needed a new dog. I went to a Bichon breeder in Connecticut and adopted a Bichon bitch. Emily Doggenson had such great bloodlines and such a brilliant future in the ring that the breeder would sell her to me only if I agreed to show her. Naive as I was about strange Connecticut customs like breeding and showing dogs, I went along with this folly.  


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