The Last of Dogs
By Patrick F. Cannon
This last in the series of articles about my adventures in the canine kingdom will be an ode to the glories of the Poodle. But first, I must make a correction. My daughter Beth – who has a fine and younger brain than mine – reminded me that Poodle Mimi indeed came before German Shepherd Sam. As the venerable New York Times might say: “We regret the error, although our undoubted eminence suggests that we must be forgiven.”
You may recall that poor Mimi was run over and killed by a neighbor. After the unruly Officer Sam donned his Chicago police badge, I learned my lesson and have had only Poodles since. The next was Emma, named after Emma Peel from the television series, The Avengers. Peel was played by the beautiful Diana Rigg, who partnered with the urbane John Steed, played by Patrick McNee, to foil England’s enemies in the 1960s BBC series. Rigg, who is still very much alive, is now Dame Diana and is as coolly elegant as ever.
We bought Emma from a North Shore breeder, who deigned to sell her to us on the understanding that we not show her, since she had a slight overbite. She was a few months old when we brought her back from Lake Forest (or was it Lake Bluff?) in the back of our station wagon. She cowered in the corner of the cargo area, which the children called the “slippery slip.” When my first wife Mary and I later divorced, Emma stayed with me and lived until she was 18.
Let me pause now to extol the virtues of the noble Poodle. According to many sources, Poodles are the second smartest breed, behind only Border Collies. Now, those wonderful dogs are out in all weathers herding recalcitrant sheep, i.e., actually working. In contrast, the Poodle, bred originally as a water retriever, has – through its good looks and charm – moved from the icy waters of the hunting grounds to the hearth of its owner’s cozy homes. Just which breed is actually smarter, I ask?
Poodles have wool coats rather than fur, so do not shed, nor do they have dander to assault the nasal passages of family and friends. Like sheep, their wool continues to grow, so occasional shearing is required. Unless you can manage to do this yourself without making the poor dog look stupid, it can cost sixty bucks (or more if you live in a tony neighborhood) every four to six weeks to have a professional groomer do it.
In the goofy dog show world (if you haven’t seen the movie Best in Show, you should look it up), Poodles are required to have a hair cut that makes them look absurd. The strange people who run dog shows, aided and abetted by the American Kennel Club, have decreed that Poodles must have a ludicrous cut that they claim was how they were cut in days of yore to protect vulnerable parts of their bodies from cold water. Can you actually imagine a duck or goose hunter going to all that trouble before heading to the lake or pond?
Now, it may be that King Louis XVI required the royal groomer to do so, but you know what happened to him. If you look carefully, you will see Poodles among the crowd storming the Bastille. And, by the way, in the days when vaudeville and circuses usually had dog acts, those dogs were almost always – you guessed it – Poodles.
Anyway, Emma was a miniature Poodle with few faults. After I married Jeanette, we lived in a condo for a time, so had to take her out for walks. All was fine, except in the rain, when Emma often refused to do her business until one or the other of us was soaked. When we moved to a house, we could just let her out in the back yard, so problem solved. She loved a good tug or war with an old sock and for no apparent reason would occasionally start racing around the house at breakneck speed. Sadly, when she got old she developed cataracts and eventually went blind. That and other ailments led us to eventually have her euthanized.
I can’t speak for Jeanette, but our next Poodle, a standard named Rumpole, was my favorite. He was named after Horace Rumpole, the rumpled hero of a British series called Rumpole of the Bailey. Played by the bulldoggish Leo McKern, he was a barrister married to the forbidding Hilda, whom he called “she who must be obeyed.” Rumpole, who we got as a puppy, was his elegant opposite. Emma had been black, but he was a color called Apricot. He weighed about 55 pounds when full grown, whereas Emma topped out at about 13.
I will mention only two of the many things he did that endeared him to me. I was sitting at the dining room table one day and he came over and simply laid his head in my lap and looked up at me with his big brown eyes. Later, he began to do his best to be a lap dog, but could only manage to get his front half in my lap. There he would stay for quite a while, even though it must have been awkward for him. He was never the healthiest of dogs, and had chronic problems with his back legs. He lived to be 15, good for a standard Poodle, and finally having to let him go was one of the hardest things Jeanette and I have ever had to do.
Although I confess I didn’t realize it then, our current miniature Poodle, Rosie, has gone a long way to taking his place. Their tenure overlapped a bit, because Rosie came to us when my first wife Mary died, leaving behind two dogs, Rosie and a male named Max. Max was older and a bit goofy and went to good friends of Mary’s who knew him well. We agreed to take Rosie. Rumpole was not too pleased with her arrival, but he died soon after.
Rosie, who has an amazingly soft silver coat, is now 14 and is still quite active. A great athlete, she can catch a Frisbee with the best of them, and will run and fetch toys just as long as you’re willing to throw them. My daughter Beth (both my children have dogs) immortalized her prowess with verse, from which I will quote a few lines:
I play, I play, I run, I run
I run until the day is done
And when the big long day is done
And I have played with everyone
I will curl up in your lap
And take a dozy little nap
Still chasing toys inside my head
I will take me off to bed.
I realize that not everyone likes dogs or any animal for that matter, and that’s fine. For me, however, dogs above all animals have bonded with we imperfect beings, giving us the kind of unwavering love we probably don’t deserve on our merits. They are always happy to see us return, whether from an extended stay in Europe or a trip downstairs to get the mail. They never say “where in the hell have you been” but rather “thank God you’re back!”
Copyright 2019, Patrick F. Cannon