Saturday, May 12, 2007


Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been thinking a fair amount about dogs lately. I live in a house that is often dominated by them, especially when one of them wakes everyone up in the morning when it needs to go out. But lately, I haven’t just been thinking about my own two Bichons. My thoughts have turned to other breeds. Like Poodles. And Pit Bulls.

First things first, though. To me, there is only one breed. I really don’t know if we’ll get more dogs when our current ones die, but this much is certain -- if we do, they’ll be Bichons. For those of you who don’t know the breed, “Bichon” is short for “Bichon Frise,” which means “curly haired lap dog” in French. The breed didn’t originate in France but is best known for having been there at the time of the Revolution. Before the storming of the Bastille, they were associated with places like Versailles, and their “job” was to jump up on the laps of royalty and simply look cute. In other words, they were much like the aristocrats who cared for them, only their hearts were doubtlessly purer and their thoughts less petty.

After the Revolution, the Antoinettes and the Louis’ of the country were beheaded, but the Bichons survived. They were turned out on the street, where they had to make it in such capacities as the sidekicks for organ grinders. Bichons are pretty funny when they get on their hind legs and beg – no longer the fru-fru palace dwellers, they can be as humble and salt-of-the-earth as it gets. But even when they’re begging, you can’t help but notice their one defining characteristic: they don’t have a mean bone in their bodies. In fact, their temperament is so sweet that the American Kennel Club concludes the official “standard” for the breed by describing them as follows: “Gentle mannered, sensitive, playful and affectionate. A cheerful attitude is the hallmark of the breed and one should settle for nothing less.”

Fortunately, from what I’ve been able to surmise, few Bichon owners have to settle for anything less than a perpetually loving, peaceful companion. The “dark side” of the breed doesn’t involve meanness so much as, well, incontinence. OK, so they’re probably not physically incontinent, but when it’s raining out, sometimes they prefer to take a little tinkle in the house. Charming, huh? And, if we’re being candid, while I’ve seen many, many dumber dogs than my Bichons, I get the impression that there are quite a few smarter ones too. That’s OK, though. Intelligence is overrated in dogs. You want them to be cute, you want them to be sweet, you want them to be playful, and you want them never to turn on you or your guests. In those respects, Bichons remain unsurpassed.

Oh yeah. And if you’re allergic, you want dogs that won’t destroy your sinuses. When I was first shopping for dogs, I was told that the two best breeds for allergies were Bichons and Portugese Water Dogs, but that the latter could become “dominant members of your household” and sometimes get violent. It thus shouldn’t be surprising that I bought a Bichon. We liked him so much that we got another. They’ve been loyal ever since – at least when it’s not raining – so now, I want to repay that loyalty. If there are to be any more dogs around here, they will have to be the most benign of beasts. They will have to be Bichons.

I’d like to say that Bichons and Portguese Water Dogs were the only breeds we seriously considered bringing into the house, but that would be false. There was a point where I got caught up in the hype about doggie intelligence, and that led me to the Einsteins of canines. No, not the border collies; they’re just nerds – always obeying what their masters say – whose “doggie IQs” are vastly overrated. I’m talking about the Poodle.

“Wickedly smaht,” as they say in Beantown, Poodles are also known for their loyalty to their masters, though they can be rather mean to strangers and man do they come across as narcissistic. Thinking back, I can’t believe I really thought about getting one, but I can’t hide from the truth. Their brainiac ways enticed me to the point where I traveled down to Central Virginia to visit a woman who bred Standard Poodles. My main concern was their dander, so I buried my snout in the fur of one of the dogs to see how I’d do. Thankfully, nobody said anything, but my fear was that the breeder would politely request that I please get my snot off her dog. I was pretty embarrassed.

Yes, I know, Poodles are supposed to be good for allergies. Let’s just say they weren’t good for mine.

I bring up Poodles to commemorate the exit from the world’s stage of a marvelous man-poodle named Tony Blair. Truly, he’s been a shining example of the breed. His intelligence is palpable to anyone who’s heard him speak. I mean the way he sold that Iraq War, it almost made you believe in the war’s sanity. Almost. And he has always seemed so proud, so self-confident, that you can practically picture him, perfectly coiffed, strutting around the ring at Westminster having no doubt in his mind that he’s about to be named Best in Group for the Non-Sporting category.

It’s ironic that the Man-Poodle is a Non-Sporting breed because Blair is anything but non-sporting. He and his fellow English aristocrats have always enjoyed a challenging romp in the wilds. And in the finest tradition of the fox hunt, he has repeatedly advocated sending his own trusted minions to fight halfway across the world against treacherous predators. This predilection culminated, as we all know now, in a country where his minions had hardly a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the game. Tony is surely smart enough to have known that all along. He’s just one heck of a gutsy sportsman.

Of course, Tony, being a man-poodle, was also too intelligent to tell us all about the length of our odds, not to mention the pitiful rationale for the fox-hunt. He just loved the sport – the challenge – and so he unleashed the dogs of war, so to speak. Tony gets a bad rap for being labeled a lap dog of President Bush. He’s been advocating overseas adventures since well before Bush came to Washington. You see, he’s a man-poodle who’s obsessed with the war of good against evil, and whenever he sees evil in the world, he can’t help but personally fight to eradicate it … or at least to send other people’s children to do the job.

Blair has never admitted he was wrong in Iraq. And really, how could he? A man-poodle is a proud breed, a regal breed. He can’t admit to a mistake. It would go against his self image as a “breed above.” Tony is smarter than the rest of us, he’s more moral than the rest of us, he’s more commendably resolute than the rest of us, and when it rains – and it does that a lot in England – he never tinkles on the carpet. So what if he has helped opened up the Pandora’s Box of international anarchy and wasted the better part of a trillion dollars. He’s looked good, he’s sounded articulate, and he’s reassured us all that even in the most trying of situations, Poodles – especially Standard Poodles – will always stand tall.

Anyone who knows dogs can tell you that, while Bichons might make the world’s worst watchdogs (unless you’d like your burglars to be licked when they break into your house), Standard Poodles are actually pretty decent ones. The shame is that, due to the way they’re coiffed in dog shows, “real men” don’t appreciate Standards as “real dogs.” If you’re traveling to a Red State and want to show off your dog, there are only a few breeds available to you. One of those breeds is most certainly the Pit Bull.

Pit Bulls are in the news these days, and not just because they’re up to their usual kid-mauling tricks. This time, ironically, the Pit Bulls are the victims. Allegedly … let me say that again … allegedly, they were being raised in large numbers at a home owned by the Atlanta Falcons’ star quarterback, Michael Vick, for the purpose of being entered in dog fights. Let me take that back. I think it’s pretty well accepted that they were being raised at one of Vick’s homes so that they could participate in dog fights. What’s disputed is whether Vick personally had any knowledge of that fact. A Web site exists for “Mike Vick K-9 Kennels” which references the Vick house that was raided by the police. And people who know Vick have told CNN and ESPN that they can’t help but believe that he was aware of his house’s role in dog fighting. But I won’t draw any firm conclusions about his guilt or innocence until we get more facts. What I can say is that someone here is guilty. Consider the following description of the scene at the Vick house published by an outlet called the Associated Content:

“According to reports, police found more than 70 dogs on the property, many of them scarred, injured, malnourished, and appeared abused, either by neglect or other means. ‘Some had significant scarring,’ said Kathy Strouse from Chesapeake Animal Control. ‘Some had wounds. Some had eye problems.’ In addition, police discovered what is known as a ‘rape stand,’ where a female dog may be tethered in order to give male dogs access to her in order to facilitate breeding. According to animal control officers, [the] bust was one of the largest dog fighting instances they've seen.”

Reportedly, a Web site for an Atlanta-area breeder, Sanders Kennels, displays Vick himself holding a Presa Canario puppy, an animal that supposedly is "bred for loyalty, protection, guarding, and peace of mind. They can and will protect.'' Indeed. Well, as a lover of dogs – maybe not man-poodles, but at least dogs – let me say that I am just as loyal to my pet’s species as most dogs are to their masters. And because of that loyalty, I certainly hope that the investigators devote the resources needed to identify each and every person who made it possible to raise and torture the 70 dogs who were found at the Vick house. If Michael Vick is one of those people, he should be banned for life from the NFL. Heck, whoever is involved in illegal dog-fighting (and there should be no dog fighting that isn’t illegal) deserves to do hard time, where they can cuddle up with the kind of guys Vick has to evade for a living. I’m not talking about safeties and corners; I’m talking defensive linemen and linebackers.

Of course, that’s just my view. Dog fighting is still merely a misdemeanor in Idaho and Wyoming. So maybe the idea of torturing “man’s best friend” isn’t as big a deal as I thought. No, that can’t be right. Maybe some of the folks in the reddest of red America are just off their stupid, macho rockers. Even a man-poodle like Tony Blair could tell you that.


Bert Bananas said...

In 18 words or less, what was this post about?

I got your unhappiness with the Iraq Adventure. Was there anything else?

In my house we're partial to Black Labs, but only if they're from the dog pound...

Daniel Spiro said...

The post was about:

Love for dogs that are neither brilliant nor especially talented, distaste for Blair as a used car salesman for a crazy war, and hope that if Vick was involved in supporting dog fighting, we never have to watch him throw another football on TV.

That's more than 18 words -- sorry.

Bert Bananas said...

I was surprised by your use of the three word phrase, "...a crazy war..."

My first reaction was, 'oh, now that's redundant...'

But then I wondered, '...does he think there have been sane wars? And if that's the case, can the Iraq Adventure be made less crazy? Or was it simply crazy to get involved? In other words, is it simply politically motivated 20/20 hindsightedness?

Daniel Spiro said...

Joining World War II was the epitome of a non-insane act of war. As for the motivation behind this one, you'll have to ask someone else. The whole adventure has me shaking my head in disbelief.

Bert Bananas said...

Aha! Now I have some clarity...

You expect rationality. Not a bad thing to want, but it's in short supply and humans have proven this over and over.

I doubt there will ever be proof, but just as with the Revolutionary War, there is probably a sound basis for the observation that, one-third of the American populace wanted/expected to go to war against England/The Axis, one-third wanted to stay out of the war, and one-third simply had no opinion.

I think it was this tension that kept us out of WWII until the Japanese celebrated the first Pearl Harbor Day.

One can posit the theory that if GWB had been President in the late 30s he would have built up the military and gone to war against Hitler in 1939, because it was the right thing to do. Two-thirds of the Nation would have been against him...

Daniel Spiro said...

I've no idea what GWB would have done as President in 1939. But despite our delay in entering the great war, I'm glad our leader was who he was.

As for rationality, I certainly hope for it, but expecting it can be frustrating. I just heard today, for example, of a liberal San Franciscan adult -- my friend's sister-in-law -- who isn't supporting Obama because "he isn't a [real] Christian."

The ignorance of people never ceases to amaze.

Bert Bananas said...

I hear that Mitt Romney has the same problem, in that many don't consider Mormons to be 'true Christians.'