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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

(continued from page 1)

I soon learned that having a show dog is like having a kid in boarding school. You are constantly required to send money and equipment, but you rarely see your offspring. When she comes home she usually needs grooming and she claims not to know who you are. She wants to parade around the kitchen and be applauded. She doesn't want to mess her coiffure by wrestling with you on the floor or muck up her smile fetching sticks. She is, in short, a snob. Superstardom has ruined her. All the ribbons she's won have gone to her head. And the breeder wants to whelp her and take the pick of the litter. By then I was so sick of the show-dog mentality that I happily gave the breeder the pick of the litter and took the runt. This was Poochini, olive-eyed, gentle, as sweet as her mother was stuck up. Poochini and I bonded at once. That became a problem.  

Emily Doggenson began to abuse Poochini. She chewed on Poochini's tail. She humped her mercilessly to show dominance. She became the Mommie Dearest of dogs. She acted as if this darling litter-runt was a disgrace to her noble bloodlines. I kept Poochini and gave Emily back to the breeder (who was jubilant to have her champion returned to the kennel).   For a while all was well in Dogdom. Poochini arrived when my daughter was four and shepherded me through many relationships, many moves between New York and Connecticut, many summers in Venice. Poochini was amiable when I remarried; she adopted Ken faster than my daughter did and even remained good-humored when we rescued Basil Bastet, a green-eyed gray kitten from the Westport pound. Poochini was patient when we fell hopelessly in love with Basil. She even forgave Basil's unfortunate tendency to throw up on her in the car.  

Poochini was a canine model of sobriety. She accepted the things she could not change. As she grew older, she became more philosophical. When Basil succumbed to cancer at six (after many months of chemotherapy), Poochini accepted, with equanimity, Latte and Espresso, the two kittens we adopted from Bide-a-Wee. By then Poochini was winding down. She had chased Basil around the house only to curl up and sleep with her, but Latte and Espresso couldn't rouse her much. Poochini had two knees replaced, plastic surgery on her moles, and she was heading for cataract removal. Increasingly, she began to resemble a stuffed animal--a stuffed animal that leaked. But she represented a whole phase of my life. Even when she impersonated an inanimate object, I could read complex emotions in her smallest sigh or snore. Even when she peed all over the Oriental rugs, I made excuses for her.  

When she was 17 and her bodily systems were failing, I continued to mop up after her rather than question her quality of life. Even after the vet and I reached the decision that if she couldn't eat, couldn't walk, and had more and more trouble breathing she would have to be put down, I hesitated, waiting for her to recover. And she did come back to life many times. She took heart pills, arthritis pills and thyroid pills, but still I could not bear to make the arrogant decision to deprive her of what little shreds of her life remained. Finally, a day came when she lay in her own pee and couldn't get up. We cried while the vet attached the pink plastic butterfly to her vein. We cried as the poison went in and she trustingly took the dose. Her eyes remained open. A terrible shudder shook her body. A whole chapter in my life closed.  

That was six months ago and I still haven't been able to commit to a new dog. The cats have gleefully taken over the house, chasing each other and my daughter's visiting dog, Godzooki, a soulful-eyed black-and-white cocker spaniel puppy. Godzooki is loving and full of life, but I don't want to become attached to her.  

I visit Web sites devoted to poodle rescue, greyhound rescue, spaniel rescue, but Poochini's memory haunts me. I dream of Poochini. I dream that she is alive and healthy, waiting for us in Venice, on the fondamento in front of Harry's Dolce, near the crumbling palazzo we used to rent on Giudecca. With her are my grandparents, my aunt Kitty, my friend Grace--all my beloved dead. Buffy is there, too. And Basil the cat. They are simply waiting for my arrival. In my dreams, we are all reunited in the City of Shades.  

I can't bear to think of another Bichon. This time I want a big dog, a hunting animal to keep me safe when my daughter embarks on her own life. But something always stops me. My husband says: "Let's get a boy dog this time--a Labrador or a sheepdog." My daughter tells me my life is incomplete without a greyhound--or two--saved from the racetrack.  

Then, an amazing thing happens. My daughter breaks up with her old boyfriend and gets involved with a new boyfriend who has an allergy to dog hair. Suddenly I am taking Godzooki to the country on weekends, and the weekends are stretching into three and four days and sometimes even weeks. Godzooki is looking up at me as if I am her pack leader. She sits when I say sit. She retrieves her leash when I say "out." She annointeth my head with saliva.  

She may be my grand-dog, but she is acting more and more like my dog. My daughter's love life may have brought her to me, but Godzooki is here to stay. The cats seem to know this and they have stopped hissing at her. When she chases them around the apartment, they only pretend to be scared. I have even caught Latte going right up to her and sniffing. I have glimpsed Espresso rolling over to have her belly rubbed in a very cocker-spanielish way. So, I am researching cocker spaniels now and I am biding my time. Either Godzooki is the first of a matched set or she will crawl into that hollow place in my heart left by Poochini. The hollow place has grown bigger with each dog I've loved. I am probably destined to spend my twilight years with a pack of dogs and a houseful of cats. Worse ends can be imagined.  

"We have been here so short a time/ and we pretend we have invented memory," W. S. Merwin writes in his poem "Elders," speaking of human hubris among the animals. We humans like to flatter ourselves that we are smarter than the animals with which we share our lives. But really we love them for their wisdom, which is born of innocence. Dogs have no guile. Even vicious dogs such as Dobermans and pit bulls have no guile. They don't profess to love your work and then attack it. They don't lick you then bite to draw blood. In a world of hypocrisy and betrayal, dogs are direct. They never lie.  

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