We called them the Pug People. They lived in our subdivision, twenty miles outside of Portland, Oregon, and every where they went they took their dog with them, a Pug. Now I’m sure Pugs make decent enough pets and, indeed, they have the reputation of being a much-adored addition to anyone’s family. In fact, I don’t dislike Pugs in general. Asian royalty loved them. Goya painted them. And one of my favorite Hollywood performances of modern times was a Pug named Frank in Men in Black.
The real problem with the Pug People was they took their dog everywhere and carried him in one of those close to the chest baby carriers with Velcro straps. Not only that, they dressed him up and, get this, their dog had more than a dozen outfits from Nordstrom. When it comes to pets I’m fairly open-minded but I have no interest in a pet that’s dressed better than I am.
Cassie, our black standard poodle, moved with us to Mexico. She may not have dressed better, but she was my superior in other ways. One look at her and you could tell she had class. Looking at me and you wonder what class I had dropped out of. Standard poodles, by and large, are graceful creatures. They don’t run so much as they gallop, like a well-trained circus horse.
Cassie, on the other hand, ran with such enthusiasm that her butt would swing out ahead of the rest of her body, much like a gate swinging back and forth. Even her walk was something of a fashion statement. We called her walk “ditty-bopping” and it seemed to fit.
Standards are hardy and strong, and they like to pull. An Alaskan named John Suter ran a team of standards in the Iditarod many years back, and they performed quite well. At some point, the Iditarod folks changed the rules so that only “northern breeds” could compete and that was the end of that. I like to think the poodles were in the lead in their first Iditarod until they hit a saloon with a cheese spread and show tunes on the jukebox. They’re smart and know their priorities.
The history of poodle ownership is dotted with famous names. John Steinbeck, of course, owned a standard poodle named Charley. Other writers who owned poodles include Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein, Erma Brombeck, Neil Simon, and James Thurber. Many poodle owners come as no surprise, from Josephine, the Empress of France, to Marilyn Monroe to Mary Kay. Other owners, such as Vladimir Putin, are head-scratchers.
I came across a veritable dog crate of ownership stories from poodlelore and wish to close this blog post with one such, uh, tale. When Sir Winston Churchill’s mini-poodle was run over and killed, a leading breeder of English bulldogs offered him the pick of the litter. She was appropriately thanked and then told, “If Mr. Churchill has another dog it will be a poodle again.” I fully understood the sentiment, for having Cassie had pretty much ruined us for any other breed. Standard poodles set a very high standard, indeed.
Cassie died in 2008. When she passed away, I thought of the words from the song “Mr. Bojangles,” the dancer whose dog “up and died, he up and died… And after 20 years he still grieves.”
A good dog is hard to find and even harder to lose.