Category Archives: Cocker spaniel

Halloween

wizard hatWhen I was a kid, Halloween ranked right up there with Christmas as the best holiday ever. You got to dress up in costumes and, along with others of your tribe, wander around in the dark with paper bags or – for the more ambitious – pillowcases, soliciting candy from oddly complacent grown ups. Second to the candy, it was the being out at night, with no pesky adults riding herd over you, that was the most compelling thing about Halloween. It felt dangerous — like freedom. All too soon, I knew, my mother would confiscate my loot and, from then on, it would be her doling out the candy, lest I spontaneously combust, leaving in my wake a little heap of refined sugar. But so long as I was out on the town and footloose, it was Candy Land. And I loved candy.

My mother was a fine seamstress and an actress; you would have thought my brother Peter and my costumes would have been spectacular. But, just as I, a competent seamstress, loathe hemming or mending things for other people (boring!), so my mother wasn’t overly keen on constructing elaborate Halloween costumes. Left over from some random children’s theatre production was a wizard’s black peaked hat, appliqued with silver stars and crescent moons, and a cocker spaniel costume – basically a black skullcap held in place by a chin strap to which  floppy ears made of Persian wool were appended. The origins of the cocker spaniel costume were obscure. We had a black cocker spaniel– Ughy – the costume was black and Mother had at some point and for some reason sewn it … from which I can only deduce that the costume referred to the dog. Beyond that, I cannot say.

The upshot of all this was that one year I was a wizard and Peter was a cocker spaniel and the next year Peter was a wizard and I was a cocker spaniel. We didn’t seem to invest in our costumes as much as children do today; it was not important to my sense of self-worth that I be the right kind of fairy princess or to Peter’s that he be his favorite super hero. Really, when it came right down to it, it was all about the candy.

When my daughter Sabrina was born, I decided that, unlike my mother, I was going to go the extra mile when it came to Halloween costumes. Accordingly, by the time she was two and ambulant, I was in full Halloween mode. In September I took her to a fabric store and showed her patterns for Halloween costumes.

Sabrina as  a very sick Kermit the Frog

Sabrina as a very sick Kermit the Frog

“What do you want to be?” I asked.

“Kermit the Frog,” she replied.

Now, let me tell you, I have sewn some pretty complicated things in my life, but nothing . . . NOTHING . . . as hard as that damn Kermit the Frog costume. Good Lord! The huge stuffed head alone took me weeks to construct.

Then, on Halloween Day, Sabrina got the flu.

 I made her go out anyway.

Well, to one or two houses until, shamed by her plaintive whimpers, I packed the poor thing up, took her home and put her to bed. That’s when I decided that my mother was right and it was not a great idea for mothers to get too invested in their kid’s Halloween costumes.  Also it meant that I would never again have to construct a stuffed head. From that point on, my kids were on their own when it came to Halloween, which meant they were ghosts or hobos (a quaint notion in today’s world) or something that required a great deal of time for them to explain to those grown ups who leaned in and gamely asked, “And what might you be?”

faunLately photos of people in their Halloween costumes have been appearing on Facebook; it happens every year. My husband believes that this constitutes a trend, that, in time,  instead of Halloween parties, people will just post selfies of themselves in a costume and sit at home in the dark, eating the candy they pretended to buy for Trick or Treaters while watching videos of adorably costumed cats and dogs on YouTube. Virtual Halloween, if you will.

As for me, I’m not a big fan of dressing up. In the first place, I no longer rock a sexy nurse costume. In the second place, costumes can have consequences. The last time I donned a costume for Halloween was  in 1976 — my first date with my ex. I wore a blue velvet 1930’s style gown and purported myself to be “Blue Roses” from Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie (admittedly, it was a stretch). My ex, on the other hand, came exquisitely decked out as a faun in a costume he had himself created.

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I can tell you one thing. It sure wasn’t straight.

“Little ****”

Touli

Touli

When Tenney, the second of my parents’ two Great Danes, bought the farm, my parents decided that it would be best, given their advanced age, to go with a more compact version of The Family Dog. Accordingly, they reverted back to their first choice of dog breed  and saddled themselves with the worst dog ever – a black cocker spaniel named Skatoula, Touli for short. They had just returned from Greece and “Skatoula,”my father was fond of telling people, is the Greek word for “Little Shit.” Which about sums Touli up.

Maybe because my parents were old and didn’t move around much, Touli got it into his head that people should just stay where they were. If anyone stood up and headed, say, for the bathroom, Touli would lunge for his or her ankles, snarling and snapping. And he meant business; my parents were forever nursing some Touli-related injury that inevitably became infected thanks to the apparently toxic nature of his drool. My grand dog Albert gets anxious if anyone strays from the pack and Harry, our old collie, was forever herding the children, but corgis and collies are herders; that’s their job. Cocker spaniels are gun dogs and soft-mouthed retrievers; Touli had no business herding people and he knew it. For him it wasn’t about the flock; it was about the power.

Cerebrus

Cerebrus

When it comes to clothes, my husband eschews flamboyance. The only thing that trumps his aversion to standing out sartorially is family feeling. That is why he one day donned a pair of fluorescent lime green swimming trunks in preparation for a dip in the pool – his sisters had given them to him as a birthday present. This was when we discovered that Touli was an undercover officer in the Fashion Police. He took one look at Ken’s trunks and his head exploded. It was like a horror movie. Before our eyes Touli metamorphosed into the Cerberus of classical mythology, the multi-headed dog who guards the entrance of the underworld to prevent the dead from escaping and the living from entering. The only way to appease the hell hound he had turned into was for Ken to retreat to the bedroom and replace the green trunks with a more subdued pair. Only then was he allowed to pass. (Touli later had the same reaction to a set of golf clubs. Which I sort of understand.)

 

In order to procure treats, Touli would snatch a high value target – Mom’s glasses, the remote, and, on three separate occasions, one of my father’s hearing aids — and dive under the bed with it. Any attempt to regain the purloined object manually would result in savaged fingers and yet another suppurating wound for my parents. Instead, they would raid the supply of dog biscuits and cry, “Meat cookie! Meat cookie!” until Touli would slink out from under the bed, grr-ing, and a grim exchange of prisoners would take place. Two of Dad’s hearing aids did not survive the ordeal and had to replaced at great expense.

During meals, Touli would stand beside my mother’s chair and bark at her. He would pause in his barking every few minutes to give her a little nip – this by way of impressing upon her the fact that she’d better feed him or else. He did this all meal long, without interruption. (In our house dogs do not do this. Our first golden, Buddy, would sit silently by as we ate, looking stricken and drooling, but never making so much as a peep. As for Nellie, she’s proactive without being too pushy. First she steals the napkin from my lap exactly twice, then she lies down directly on my feet, just to remind me that she is there and would like to be considered for the prized gig of pre-rinse cycle.) One night my husband had finally had enough of trying to talk over Touli’s incessant, insistent barking. He seized his muzzle, looked him straight in the eye and shouted, “SHUT UP!” Touli stared at him, incredulous. Clearly no one had ever yelled at him before. His mouth opened and closed as if to bark; no sound emerged. I don’t know who was more shocked – the dog or my parents. “Your Mom and Dad looked at me,” Ken remembers, “and I realized I’d crossed a red line.”

My brother Peter once saw a different side of Touli – desolation in a dog suit. “Mom and Dad had gone out and there was just me at home,” he told me. “Touli sat by the window and howled. Then he collapsed on the door sill and lay there in a heap, looking completely abject, as though he couldn’t believe they had left him and he had no idea how he was going to cope going forward.” Peter then keeled over on the couch and lay there on his side in imitation of Touli, whimpering softly and shivering, looking frightened and pathetic.

Mom made me promise to take Touli if anything happened to her and Dad. I reluctantly agreed. Fortunately, that day never came. Touli contracted a rare canine virus at the young age of seven and slipped away in a matter of a couple of days – days over the course of which my parents forked out over $3,000 in an attempt to save his miserable ass.

Big Mac

Big Mac

Touli had one trick. “Find Big Mac,” Dad would say and Touli, charged with purpose, would bustle off, returning some time later  with a squeaky rubber hamburger. My parents saw this as a sign of Touli’s intelligence. I didn’t have the heart to point out that there are border collies who can recognize and retrieve hundreds of different objects – one famous one can identify over a thousand. When we were packing up Dad’s apartment, I found Big Mac and gave it to Nellie. She played with it for a while, then ate it, squeaker and all.

And that was that.

Crocapuppy

My brother Peter and Frances

My brother Peter and Frances

My family had a rule: the time between dogs should be as short as humanly possible.  No sooner had Ughy, our beloved seventeen year old cocker spaniel, shuffled off this mortal coil than his replacement was locked down. And by “no sooner” I mean that same day.  I’m not sure whether the new puppy was on Mom and Dad’s radar or whether, immediately upon  Ughy’s demise, they rushed out into the street, crying, “A puppy!  Dear God!  Let there be a puppy!” I rather suspect the latter, given how ill advised the choice of Fancy, a.k.a, Frances, a.k.a. Crocapuppy, turned out to be.

To say that Frances was overbred would be an understatement. Frances was the product of incest. A lot of incest.   She was a parti-colored cocker spaniel, meaning that her coat was two colors, buff and white.  The breeders were aiming for a completely white cocker spaniel, so kept mating the lightest male in a litter to the lightest female, which, as often as not, turned out to be his mother.  And this had been going on for generations before Frances wobbled balefully onto the scene.

Whenever you bent down to pet Frances, she was so overcome with excitement that she promptly fell to the ground, rolled onto her back and  proceeded to pee all over her stomach, resulting in chronic and piteous eczema of her nether regions.  This unfortunate propensity, however, was the only evidence of submissive behavior that Frances served up over the course of her life.  The rest of the time, she was just an ornery old mess.

Frances was a hoarder. Her specialty was socks.  She would filch them from our respective dirty clothes hampers and add them to an ever-growing heap in the little hall that separated the dining room from Dad’s study.  There she would guard them until, as my mother used to say,   dark circles would start to form under her eyes and someone would have to go in and save her from herself, not to mention the socks.

Pinkies

Pinkies

This was all made more complicated by the fact that Mom and I used to give Frances our hand-me-down pinkies. Pinkies were those fuzzy pink slippers popular in the sixties and Mother and I both wore them.  Frances would sashay around the house, exuding innocence, the pinkie of the moment clamped between her jaws.  No sooner had she had lulled us into complacency, however, than she would raid the dirty clothes hampers of the house, cramming the purloined socks down in the depths of the pinkie, and make a beeline for the Hall of Socks.  For years after her death, my brother Peter and I would catch ourselves hesitating on the threshold of that narrow passageway, the image of an obsessed and furious  Crocapuppy  lodged in our memory like a tooth. Eventually all of Frances’s pinkies went to the dark side and we would have to wrest the offending slipper from her and bury it in the back yard.   Which was OK.  There were always more pinkies where that came from.

Like any respectable dog, Frances was voracious. She was also bold.  One night my parents were hosting a cast party for a production of The Boys in the Band, which centers around a birthday party. In keeping with the birthday theme, someone had contributed to the feast a large sheet cake complete with many small candles.  Since this was a drinking party, however, the cake had few takers . . . until Frances jumped up on a dining room chair, then onto the table itself, and proceeded to hoover the entire cake down, candles and all, before anyone could rouse him or herself to action.  Then she proceeded to throw up the entire cake, complete with intact candles, while madly sprinting around the entire house.

Frances had many enemies, most of whom were dogs eerily resembling herself who hid out in mirrors and in the panes of glass in French doors. These she would attack with vigor on a regular basis, hurling herself repeatedly against them.   Our house had two double sets of French doors and two single French doors.  They kept her pretty busy.

Lovey

Lovey

Her arch enemy, however, her very nemesis arrived on the scene the day my mother and father unexpectedly brought home a Great Dane puppy named Lovey.   Mom had a notion that, because Frances was a female and Lovey was a puppy, she might feel motherly towards the interloper.  In this she was sadly mistaken. Frances loathed Lovey from the moment she laid eyes upon him.  And it didn’t matter that she was a lowly and rather overweight cocker spaniel and he grew up to stand 6’5” on his hind legs.   First impressions count, especially with dogs; Lovey was terrified of Frances her entire life.      Whenever he wanted to go upstairs, Frances would lie on the lower landing and look baleful.  (There was no dog that could do baleful like Frances.)  Lovey would hesitate, dancing on the spot, his claws clicking against the floor, then tentatively take a step or two towards the stairs.  Frances’s lips would quiver and then slowly draw back to reveal her teeth.  She would growl. Lovey would retreat in confusion.  This would go on until Mom would cry out, “Frances!  For Heaven’s sake! Let Lovey go upstairs!” At which point Frances would grudgingly rise and insolently trundle downstairs, giving Lovey a look in passing that clearly meant, “I’ll deal with you later.”

My brother and I felt sorry for Frances.  She had not been enough dog for my parents and so they had supplanted her with Lovey.  When I went looking for photos of Frances for this post, there were precious few.  Of course, once Peter and I were teenagers, there were precious few of us either.  There were, however, dozens and dozens of photos of Lovey – Lovey with his ears taped, Lovey lying on his back in inadvertently lewd  postures, Lovey sprawled upon my parents bed, which he shared with them,  Lovey standing with his front paws on Dad’s shoulders.  If strangers were to look at my parents’ photo albums, they might be forgiven for thinking that this couple had two adorable children who, just before puberty, were tragically killed in a car accident along with their cocker spaniel, after which point the couple got a Great Dane puppy upon whom, going forward, they focused all their attention and affection.  Peter and I agreed that, if Mom and Dad were going to neglect Frances, we ought to try and brush her more and take her out for walks.

But, of course, we were teenagers so that never happened.

Frances died when I was away in graduate school. Dad woke one morning to find that she had gone in her sleep.   I don’t know where she was in the house when she died.  In my mind, it was not in my parents’ bedroom, but in some more remote part of the house, alone, perhaps in the Hall of Socks.  She did not live nearly as long as the venerable Ughy had – eleven to his seventeen years — but neither was she as loved as he was.

RIP, Crocapuppy.