February 14, 2007

Skull on the back

The couple in front of me are both tall and lean, elegantly dressed even in black. Trotting along beside them and getting occasionally tangled in their feet is a small dog, a pug, leash trailing upwards to one of their hands.

The dog has a skull on his back.

OK, let's be more accurate. The dog wears a jacket velcroed around his torso, and little tie-up boots, and sewn on the jacket is a skull patch. Can't tell if there's anything sewn on the boots.

A writer friend had told me, just the previous evening, that even if I had once had a dog in this country (which I had), I really had no idea about the relationship New Yorkers have with their pets. Especially, but not limited to, dogs. So she invited me to meet her at her vet on the Upper West Side. Meet the pets, meet the owners, meet the vet ... why not?

When I get there, the first two dogs I see are, appropriately for NYC, black. One is Manolito, a fluffy little pom with curiously and elegantly spotted legs, almost as if he's wearing stockings (he isn't, I checked). His owner shows him off, then he suddenly lunges for the door and prances out. She prances out behind, tossing her head, saying "He's gotta go!" So they go indeed.

The other dog is a squat, small-made pug. When the vet, a cheery lady with long blonde hair called Laurie Greene, comes out, she takes one look at this fellow and says to all of us in the reception area: "Funny thing about these guys. One day they're tiny puppies, then suddenly they're" -- and here she puffs out her cheeks and flexes her arms and half-squats -- "suddenly they're PUGS!"

Pug in question sits down solidly, as if in response, stares at her and pants. He seems puzzled. He might be saying "Hey, I always have been a pug, y'know?"

And as I write that I realize that I'm picking up on what seems a typically NYC pet owner trait: anthropomorphizing (did I get that right?). Pet owners here are constantly speaking for their pets, saying things they (the pets) might say if they could say stuff, and invariably in moderately childlike tones. "She's like," a dog owner might say of her handsome boxer, "'get me home right now, OK? I'm tired!'"

On the table next to me are the glossy magazines "Dog Fancy" and "Cat Fancy", and a leaflet asking: "Want a Well-Behaved Dog?" I don't, mainly because I don't have a dog, but I leaf through it anyway. "We Make it Easy", it says, and I find out that "We" refers to Bark Busters Home Dog Training. Well behaved dogs are fine, but do they really mean that about busting barks? Why?

Anyway, hours later when I see the skull on the pug who's tangled in his owners' feet, I finally think I understand my writer friend. I mean, I've known plenty of people who have owned dogs, and most were pretty fond of them (the dogs). (And no doubt the dogs were fond in return). But in NYC, the fondness happens on a different scale. Here, not just a jacket on little Buster, but an eye-catching patch sewn on as well.

And apropos of nothing, I want to tell you that I write this with Ravel's Bolero playing out of a speaker somewhere above me. If I remember right, my handsome Rhodesian Ridgeback never liked that tune. He was always like, "Turn it off already!"


Nisha Pillai said...

I do assign dialogue to my chocolate lab all the time. And I don't even live in New York!

On the bright (?) side, he doesn't wear clothes. No jacket, and no patch for Mocha. He talks too much anyway!

Anonymous said...

not to mention the dog day-care centers, dog spas, and dog yoga classes ("doga", I'm told) that appear to be flourishing in the City.