It doesn’t take long to discover that there are dog people and non-dog people. The latter don’t understand when I talk to my “kids” — as I often refer to my toy poodles — Biscotti, 9; and Campari, 4. My fur-babies are an integral part of my daily life. I’m told we even look alike, the same reddish hair color with the same wavy texture. They sense my moods, never judge, know when to play and when to comfort me. My holiday cards feature them, and friends always ask how they’re doing.
I adopted each of my poodle kids– I’ve had six — at about eight weeks, shortly after they were weaned. Each time I weighed the pros and cons of adding to my family. After all, I have a full-time journalism career, time-consuming hobbies such as figurative sculpture, and a full social and travel schedule. But there always seems to be room in my heart for one more “fur kid,” and somehow I always make room at the top of my daily schedule as well. That includes time for home-schooling, healthcare including acupuncture and physical therapy, grooming and play. My commitment is not only one of finances and time, but an even greater one of emotion. My kids have an amazing capacity for love, and we develop lifelong bonds.
When I was a kid, dogs were generally considered pets and relegated to the basement or backyard. When one died, you replaced it with another, as if they were interchangeable. Not true today. Perhaps because more people are living alone, often at great distances from other family members, for some of us, pets are family. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), almost one in three American families owns a dog.
In some families, like mine, the taboos of generations past have gone by the wayside. I consider it de rigueur, for instance, to trade licks of an ice cream cone with either of my fur kids. Sometimes, though, public displays of affection to which I’ve become accustomed will shock onlookers. I was sitting in an airport lounge with one of my kids, engrossed in TV news, when a gentleman asked, “Excuse me, ma’am, don’t you know that French kissing went out with French fries?” I thought why. Trans fats, not!
But dogs can bring out remarkably frank behavior in others. Strangers stop to flirt with them, and don’t hesitate to ask the most intimate questions: “Does he sleep with you?” “Don’t you roll over on him?” “Does he attack your lover?” Now what politically correct passerby would make such an inquiry about a two-legged kid? But since you asked, every night is happily a two-dog night.
We vacation together every summer by a lake in western Maine where the kids swim, boat, and chase chipmunks and frogs in the woods. When my friends proudly show off pictures of their children and grandchildren, I’m one of the 40 percent of pet owners (according to the AKC) who pull out photos of their fur kids. And with other pup parents I exchange thoughts on sibling rivalry, healthcare and pet insurance, nutrition, education, play dates, haircutters and baby sitters.
Friends plan lavish puppy showers to welcome my new arrivals; jubilant birthday parties and festive holiday celebrations naturally follow in time. The little ones love to get special treats and toys, and, like any kid, delight in pulling on ribbons and opening gifts as well. Even when traveling on assignment, I find myself one of the 40 percent of pet owners who, says the AKC, call home to talk to fur kids left behind. I also seek out pet boutiques so I can bring home a special treat, even though they have a nursery with dozens of squeakies and stuffed animals not unlike those I collected as a child. Each has an extensive wardrobe, too, including sweaters, raincoat, boots, sun visor and life jacket for boating.
Campari is the port-o-pup trained to travel in a comfy shoulder bag. We enjoy our constant time together. I feel a little like the Pied Piper when I’m in an airport — a fur kid is a magnet. Human kids run up to ask name and age, and whether they can pet him. But I’m amazed at how many parents ask, as if of a wind-up toy, “How much did he cost?” There’s only one answer: “He’s priceless.”
Perhaps Leona Helmsley, the “Queen of Mean” wasn’t so mean after all. Who better to leave an inheritance to than a loving devoted fur kid, who has shared ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and life experiences too numerous to count. After all, what’s a lap dog for?