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That Doggie in the Window

Fat ones, skinny ones, big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones. mutts and pure breeds, smart ones and ones that never learned their name, rescue ones, ones that guard people, ones that help guide people, Lady Gaga ones, lovable ones, aggressive ones, docile ones that prefer sleep to anything, short haired and long haired ones, fat ones that prefer eating to anything, housebroken ones and ones who have decided that the floor is one big bathroom, some as big as a pony like the one that lives down the street and some small enough to fit in a teacup, black and white ones, red ones, blonde ones, well-groomed ones and mangy, wild looking ones.

Dogs are everywhere and most everybody has had at least one in their life. My first one was named Tuffy and we got him when I was 11 years old, after my father died, and I grew to love Tuffy but he never really replaced my father. Tuffy didn’t get walked because we were a lazy clan so Tuffy got to roam the wild neighborhoods of Paramus, stealing only underwear from the clotheslines of neighbors and bringing his booty home, creating great embarrassment when my mother knocked on doors, purloined underwear in hand, to ask who was missing bras, or underpants or other assorted undergarments. One Passover, the door was opened for Elijah to enter and Tuffy ran out, never to be seen again, by us, despite months of heartbreak, searching, posters on telephone poles, false sightings and ultimate dead ends.

A large, sheepdog filled the void for just a few months and we didn’t even have time to name him before he got sick and had to go. One day, months later, I arrive home from school and there is a piece of plywood in front of the kitchen door and all I can see are these black ears sticking out and that was the beginning of the Ruffy era. We were not into human names, no Saul, Harry, Louise, Josephine but instead we named our new friends with words that had nothing to do with their disposition, like Ruffy, who was not rough and Tuffy who was not tough. I had a cute pup once who I named Leon after Trotsky but within a short time he was diagnosed with a collapsed trachea, possibly caused by a plot by Lenin, and soon Leon was no more. A neighbor had a very large German shepherd, King, who has since died, who when he was alive would bark very loudly and very menacingly, baring his very, very large teeth, whenever I knocked on the neighbor’s front door, ready to eat me. Obviously an anti-Semitic dog. A friend had twin Chihuahuas and all they did was bark, incessantly and very loudly, louder than one would expect from a small dog and neither seemed to have any redeeming qualities other than they probably didn’t eat much.

My Beagle Belle, as in “beautiful,” didn’t match the description, what with floppy ears and seriously overweight but she was affectionate and her idea of housebroken was to stand by the back door and if nobody came to let her out within one minute, it was all over and Belle let it all out. Belle liked to wander through the woods and over to the library where she was the unofficial mascot until she got sick and had to be put down, a term that I do not like because it sounds like the dog has been transferred somewhere rather than being injected with poison to kill her.

Mange was what I named a stray dog who had the mange, a nasty skin disease, who I found while living in the Citrus Park Apartment Complex in northwest Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I nursed Mange back to help by bathing him regularly in used motor oil, which, miraculously and mysteriously, cleared up his condition. At night I’d tie Mange outside to a light pole until one morning, after he had been cleared of the mange, he disappeared, never to be seen again. Another dog, whose name I have blocked didn’t work out well as we had him maybe for a few weeks before he leaped out of his cage and tried to kill me and that was the end of him and I told my son that we had returned him to the farm where we had gotten him when in fact he had to be exterminated as a vicious dog.

I’ve seen people who can walk with their dogs unleashed, something that I could never do although I have tried, only to have the beast run madly and joyously away, flush with freedom, until he returns to his home later. People in the country feel differently about their dogs, where dogs are made to be outside and not inside where they can shed and turn furniture into gigantic fur balls or where they can have accidents on the rug. These dogs live outside, they may have doghouses to protect themselves from the elements, but they get used to being outside and actually prefer it to being cooped up inside as they are animals, you know.

I’ve always thought it strange to enter dogs in competitions, like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where the cheering crowds must be frightening to the canines who could care less about the competition while their owners bask in great pride. To see women trotting along while their Giant Schnauzer prances alongside and to the end where a judge lifts the tail to check out the schnauzer’s genitalia, it’s weird. We got our dogs from the pound where some volunteer would escort you in and you’d hear the dogs yelping and barking and we would look for the most pathetic one cowering in the cage and take him home and nobody had to lift his tail.

Dogs are venerated in some cultures. In ancient Egypt, there was Anubis, the jackal headed god of the underworld; Am-heh was a minor god from the Egyptian underworld, depicted as a man with the head of a hunting dog; the dog is the vahana or mount of the Hindu god Bhairava; and in the Jewish Talmud, dogs are considered to be dangerous animals who you are permitted to own only because they prevent vermin infestations. In Mexico the Aztec god of death is a dog-headed monster; in Chinese astrology, the dog is one of 12 honored animals; a dog is mentioned in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, faithfully accompanying Tobias, Tobit’s son and the angel Raphael on their journeys; Jesus told the story of the poor man Lazarus, whose sores were licked by street dogs; the Roman Catholic Church recognizes Saint Roch or Saint Rocco, who lived in the early 14th century in France, as the patron saint of dogs because he wandered into the forest where a dog brought him food to live; and Saint Guinefort was the name given to a dog who received local veneration as a saint at a French shrine from the 13th to the 20th centuries.

People are not so kind to dogs in some countries, like Bulgaria, where packs of the stray, bedraggled, hungry, wild dogs wander the streets for food and the kids throw rocks at them and in Vietnam where millions of dogs are eaten every year as a food staple or in parts of Switzerland where dogs are holiday food after they are salted and dried into a chewy jerky and mixed with sausages. Dogs are boiled alive to enhance the flavor and to be served as part of the Yulin (China) dog meat festival, also called the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival.

Not me, I don’t want to eat or beat or boil my dog, I just want him or her to be small enough to snuggle with and to carry around and someone I can talk to knowing he or she will be totally non-judgmental and ever loyal, not like people.

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Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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