Friday, April 16, 2010

Oprah is in the Building


When my sister Sheri was thirteen, a lot of parakeets began to appear on Fulton Avenue. My parents questioned their provenance and were told the birds were ailing and that the clerk at Quigley’s, the neighborhood five and dime, was letting her take them home to nurse. My father noticed that a big jar in which he threw the change from his pockets every night was nearly empty and put a stop to the parakeet acquisition.

Sheri always had pets. There was an exotic jungle cat she called Sabu. She claimed to have found it but I suspect it was a high ticket purchase. It ate only raw meat and growled when it was eating and also when it wasn’t and it shredded every curtain on Fulton Avenue. When my sister came home one day it seemed that the cat had escaped. In a way, this is true. Sabu the jungle cat escaped when my mother opened the front door and applied her foot to its posterior.

There was a silky terrier named Alfred. He would barricade me in my bedroom by standing in the doorway growling ferociously and gnashing his teeth when I tried to exit. Sheri subdued him by throwing my blanket over him and scooping him up and locking him in the bathroom. I found a bloody tooth in my bed. Sheri made a gift of the dog to a lonely elderly woman. When I later questioned the propriety of this she said that she’d spoken to the woman who’d reported that she loved Alfie dearly and didn’t really much mind staying in her room.

There were two different rodent phases. The first were piebald rats and I still get the heebie jeebies when I think of Rat Fink perched on Sheri’s shoulder, its gnarly tail coiled around her neck. Then, there were the teddy bear hamsters, which while lacking repulsive tail, were no less disgusting. The only thing that protected this vermin from mysteriously escaping ala Sabu the jungle cat was my mother and my paralyzing fear of the species.

Sheri took up with Tony, an ex-con who purported to be related to Henry Mancini and they moved to a house in Chatsworth. She acquired cowboy boots, an El Camino and a quarter horse she named Dago. She inveigled some money from my dad to further Dago’s racing career. The horse was apparently so slow that when the IRS audited my dad’s tax returns the huge horse investments were disallowed as a business loss because such a pathetic endeavor could only be considered a non-deductible hobby.

After she split up with Tony she returned to Fulton Avenue which mercifully was not zoned for livestock. She began to raise schipperkes, a black tailless breed that Colette was partial too. She had a couple dogs on the show circuit and there were always puppies underfoot. Occasionally I would accompany her to shows or to visit other breeders. The maven of all things schipperke was the three hundred pound acne scarred Eileen. I don’t remember the name of the inincorporated area where she lived, just that it was far and that she was not a stellar housekeeper. There were a number of slack jawed children clad in ill fitting stained garments lolling in front of the t.v. and the reek of dog excretions, sour dairy products and fried foods. Nevertheless, as far as my sister was concerned, Eileen was an unimpeachable authority and my father knew in advance that the thousands of dollars channeled to her via my sister for the purchase of more and more dogs would not be tax deductible.

Himself reports that one of the reasons he fell in love with me is that I could name so many breeds of dogs. He was raised at a boarding kennel and his parents raised many different breeds that, with the exception, of boxers, I dislike. There are a number of breeds that I don’t care for: shelties, collies, Dobermans, Dalmatians, Yorkshire, and to a lesser extent, silky terriers, greyhounds, whippets and Chihuahuas. The truth is I haven’t had extended contact with any of these breeds and their offenses are too fleeting to really merit my prejudice. Also, much of my animosity is probably fueled more by encounters with the owners of said breeds, rather than the dogs themselves.

A particularly ugly Chihuahua with the ludicrous name of “Little Bit” is in attendance at my office for several months while its owner serves our country in the armed forces so I feel compelled to be nice to it. It gets into my grocery bags and eats more than its body weight of a Shabbat Challah. A tiny dog, I am able to slice off the chewed portion and serve it to the kids. Unlike Little Bit and my children, Himself and I prefer the raisin variety. I call Little Bit “Little Bitch” when out of the earshot of its custodian. She tries to bite the mailman and snarls fiercely at Rover. Her owner returns unexpectedly from Afghanistan (for security purposes families only know within a one week range when their enlisted relatives are returning to the U.S) and I arrive at work to discover that Little Bit has returned to her home in Las Vegas. The little beast has all of the odious attributes that are stereotypically associated with a Chihuahua but I am crestfallen to learn she is gone, having grown strangely attached to the vile thing.

I have always had a dog, and when I think of all the stupid and embarrassing things I did in my youth, I am proud that, despite being ostracized, I stood up for my little toy poodle Gladys while I attended the hippie college where she was unfairly ostracized for not being big and unkempt and sporting a bandana. Just like I have sort of overcome my Chihuahua prejudice, although I would never adopt one, Himself, under my tutelage has come to appreciate, despite the social stigma, the superiority of the poodle breed.

Since the loss of half poodle Fido, the corgi Taffy is bereft. Some friends have a snowy poodleish Maltese that they are trying to hide from their landlord. We take her and she spends most of the weekend sitting on Himself’s lap. Our friends call on Sunday and report that they can’t bear losing the sweet thing and risk of eviction be damned, they come to fetch her. Even though it’s only been a weekend, Himself reports this with such sorrow that it breaks my heart.

Although our yard is perfectly fenced and my kennel reared husband relates to dogs better than humans, we have over the years for a number of specious reasons been turned down for adoption by various dog rescue organizations. One woman refuses us a dog because we allow our cats out of doors. Our six foot high chain link fence is deemed an inadequate enclosure for a teacup poodle. The Pasadena Animal Shelter rejects us because succumbing to intense interrogation I break down and admit that Rover may possibly have a teensy tiny bit of pitbull in him.

We are dog people. But this just means that we really love dogs, my beloved more than almost all people and me more than most. But the rescuers all have this weird power trip thing going and dating back to watching my sister deal with the schipperke lady Eileen, and my sister herself, I have always wondered about the pathology that seems peculiar to certain animal enthusiasts. While Himself is introverted and will undoubtedly post in his comment here a link to an article that elucidates the condition of introversion which he forwards to all and sundry to persuade them that he isn’t just an asshole, he does have normal and good relationships with a (limited) number of people.

The thing with my sister and the breeders and most of the rescue people we have dealt with is different. I am curious as to whether there have been psychological studies of those who use animals to compensate for their inadequate relationships with human beings but the closest I can come are a couple of articles in psychiatry journals about animal hoarders. The type of folks you read about in the newspaper, who are discovered with several hundred cats, have definitely upped the ante on mere breeders and rescue people but they do seem to be pathologically kindred spirits.

Many of the collectors emphasized that their animals gave them "unquestioning and uncritical love." They tended to personalize and anthropomorphosize their pets and viewed themselves as rescuers of suffering or unloved animals (Worth and Beck, 1981).

“---in nearly 60% of cases the hoarder would not acknowledge the problem In 69% of cases, animal feces and urine accumulated in living areas, and over one-quarter of the hoarders' beds were soiled with feces or urine. Hoarders' justifications for their behavior included an intense love of animals, the feeling that animals were surrogate children, the belief that no one else would or could take care of them. (Patronek, 1999).


The Maltese, having been rescinded I set about finding a new companion for Himself and the corgi. It seems righteous that the part poodle vacancy created by the passing of Fido be filled with another part poodle and I start scouring the Internet. We decide that a young female would best fit in with two adult male dogs. I look at rescue sites like Fairy Dog Father and the cryptic H.A.L.T. (Helping Animals Live Through) Pet Overpopulation. I am not surprised that there are many Chihuahuas listed. I find a small female poodle mix available for adoption. Even after swearing never to deal with another rescue group again, I complete the five page application thinking about how much easier it would be to adopt a child, well, maybe not a Russian one.

The application passes muster. The next step is to visit the dog. This is followed by a home inspection. If the home is deemed suitable, after forking over a large check, we would be allowed to pick up the dog. I schedule a visit with the dog and realize the dog is being housed on a tiny street at the very top of Laurel Canyon. Having already broken the etched in stone edict against dealing with rescue people, the truth is, I am too friggin’ lazy to drive up Laurel Canyon.

I go to the city animal shelter website. There is only one female puppy. It is a cute little black Staffordshire (euphemism for pitbull) terrier. My beloved Bowser, one of the greats, looked similar and was adopted twenty five years ago from the same Lacy Street shelter. Just like I wimped out on taking Fido on her last ride, I also feel emotionally unable to visit the animal shelter and this is another errand I foist on Himself and the kids. The seventeen year old calls me on his cellphone and I can barely hear for all the yapping.
“Dad wants a poodle.”
“Is it a female?”
“No.”
“Is it a puppy?”
“No.”
I remind the seventeen year old about the integration issues and he relates this to his father. The female terrier puppy is adopted but at the end of the procedure Himself is informed that the dog, at only eight weeks, is to be transported to East Los Angeles the following day to be spayed and he would have to pick her up there.

Himself named Taffy “Taffy.” I am not crazy about the name, finding it too common. I was also annoyed when another kid named Leo turned up at the nursery school. I determine it is my turn to name the dog. We are out of the old fashioned dog names I am partial to, having used Bowser, Fido and Rover. Spot, unfortunately is not appropriate so I propose Bowser Jr. and nearly incite a riot. I suggest we contact godfather, major domo, oldest friend Richard for an impartial verdict. I know the deck is stacked because he actually named Bowser “Bowser” and up until bonding with her had been mortified of dogs. I am therefore very surprised when he too vetoes the name.

After much more heated discussion we all agree the association with fame and fortune makes Oprah a good name for the puppy. Poor Oprah, talk show host Oprah, was bashed recently in a Kitty Kelly biography. Apparently Oprah’s mom lives high on the hog but has not been given Oprah’s phone number. She is only able to contact her via one of her assistants. I bet the reason people are condemning Oprah for this is out of jealousy. Who wouldn’t want an assistant to field Mom’s calls?

As I write this, my family, with the seventeen year old behind the wheel, is taking surface streets from Altadena to East Los Angeles to retrieve our new animal companion. Himself has lamented a number of times about the pound poodle which we all hope finds a happy home. When I return to Casamurphy with the raisin and the plain challahs to light the Shabbat candles there will be a new dog to love. Dogs are easy to love and easy to be loved by. People are a much greater challenge. I love being a dog person but am thankful to be a people person too.

Shabbat Shalom.

2 comments:

FionnchĂș said...

It was "Historic South Central," not ELA, but Oprah C. is fine and peed immediately upon arrival and tried to play with a mortified Taffy. Whose name's Welsh, therefore fitting for a Corgi. Whose bloody tooth was in your bed? Don't blame the Silky; it might have been your last childhood bicuspid for all we know. Thanks for the memories, and may OC lead us to many more. xxx me

P.S. "Caring for Your Introvert" by Jonathan Rauch.

Mimi Pond said...

I think you have to write a whole lot more about Fulton Avenue and your sister and mother! That's a rich mine to tap right there. Taffy is a suck-ass name.