Posted on Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Resident scholars at Unsolicited Opinions. org, the prestigious think
tank where this column originates, strive to avoid controversy during
the holiday season. Many readers are strung out to begin with,
particularly those who have succumbed to the latest trend headlined in
the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times: driving the family
dog halfway across the country to visit his or her human “relatives.”
The Times reports that in “dog-personspeak,” your parents are your dog’s
“grandparents.” I guess that’d make your brothers and sisters their
“uncles” and “aunts,” their children the dog’s “cousins,” and so forth.
Exactly what to call the tramp who broke up your cousin Dwayne’s
marriage isn’t clear. Judging by those interviewed for the feature,
humans fluent in dog-person-speak appear to inhabit a timeless Dick and
Jane and Spot world where divorce and family strife are unknown.
At least, that is, until Cody Bear, the beloved Labrador retriever,
arrived uninvited for Christmas. Alas, Cody Bear’s “uncle’s” fiancée
turned out to be allergic to dogs and broke out in hives, eventually
precipitating, according to Cody Bear’s doting “mom,” a “family blowup
between my brother and I... [that ] resulted in my mother not speaking
to me for two months and my brother for four.”
And this is different from non-canine Christmas visits how?
In many families, some sarcastic pedant would correct “Mom’s” grammar,
asking how somebody too polite to say “between my brother and me” could
be rude enough to bring the damn dog without an invitation, and a
classic holiday grudge match would be under way.
Even so, the six resident scholars at Unsolicited Opinions. org,
including all five Canine Americans, agree that blaming Cody Bear is
unduly harsh. Most Labradors would have merrily retrieved every
ball-like ornament on the Christmas tree, eaten half the gifts and
regurgitated the wrapping paper on the rest. We’d say Cody Bear’s family
got off easy. You get hives, you scratch them. What’s the big deal?
We also find little fault with Dude, an honest dog’s dog—more
“authentic” and “comfortable in his own skin,” as political pundits say,
than all 237 presidential candidates combined. Taken uninvited to a
garden-party wedding, Dude allegedly leapt into an ornamental pond,
tracked mud across elegant white-upholstered sofas and ate the hors
d’oeuvres. Upon receiving an apology note with a paw print, the Times
reports, the bride quit talking to her former friends.
Agreed, the paw print is sickeningly hyper-cute. But we’re confident
that Dude was coerced.
Misunderstandings like these arise, we resident scholars agreed, where
there’s a confusion of realms. On our picturesque rural campus, for
example, everybody’s got his or her duties. I make the coffee, write the
columns, keep the supper dishes filled and clean up occasional
The basset hounds inspect the stables, play chase, supervise nap time
and prevent furniture from levitating. We haven’t had a couch float away
since Fred and Beverly joined our staff. Not even the time that Fred
vanished over the ridge pursuing a white-tailed deer, spending three
days wandering Highway 60 until a kindly neighbor who knows everybody in
the county ascertained his approximate whereabouts by phone.
The Fort Smith shelter where we found Fred warned that he was bad to
roam. He no longer ventures outdoors without his radio tracking collar.
But can anybody produce a better example of Canine American can-do
spirit and determination than a basset hound chasing a deer? We think
Fred belongs on a postage stamp, proudly recumbent on a (non-white)
Fred did once accompany me on an August sabbatical. I phoned an old
friend at his Montana ranch.
“I’m thinking of driving up for a visit and bringing two basset hounds,”
“Excellent,” he replied.
After about a week of Fred’s stealing food off the counters (he’s short,
but long ), raiding the trash (the container he can’t open doesn’t
exist), not to mention climbing the fence and lighting out for the Crazy
Mountains, my friend pronounced his verdict.
“He’s an amusing fellow,” Ansel said, “but an annoying house guest.”
The two Great Pyrenees are in charge of security. It’s simple enough.
Any fourlegged individual with sharp teeth who’s personally unknown to
them gets escorted off the premises with prejudice. We don’t see much of
the Paris Hilton type hereabouts, but anybody tempted to visit our
picturesque campus should be forewarned: The Pyrenees are apt to mistake
little bug-eyed, purse-riding, toenail-painted, rhinestone-wearing
yappers for rats or opossums, and that’s worse than being a coyote.
Finally, there’s Buffy, the spaniel. Indoors, Buffy thinks she’s my wife
and growls whenever the human one hugs me. Around the barn, like her TV
namesake, she morphs into her secret identity as Mudpie, the spaniel
superhero, perfuming herself with horse manure like all the rest. On the
Times ’ Web site, many overcivilized metropolitan readers wrote
persnickety comments about dirty, smelly dogs. On this point, all six
resident scholars were unanimous: Mere cleanliness is highly overrated.
—–––––• –––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author
and recipient of the National Magazine Award.