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Five Dachshunds, Two Dogs And One Bitch

BITTY

When I was about three years old I became aware that there was a high level of excitement and anticipation in our house because Bitty was pregnant.

Bitty’s pregnancy percolated into my mind only because a ruling was made by my parents in her favor that allowed her to appropriate my stuffed pink elephant with the satin ears. It was explained to me that Bitty needed my pink elephant because she was pregnant.

Bitty was a homely brown dachshund with an uncharacteristically sweet and reasonable nature. Looking back, I can understand why my parents would have ruled in Bitty’s favor—she was saintly and stoic whereas I was unholy and needy. I was only marginally interesting compared to the future offspring of Bitty and her potent “husband,” Dapper Dan.

Dapper Dan belonged to my mother’s beloved half sister. My mother adored her older sister, whose spectacular wealth allowed her to carry on as though she was actually living during the turn of the century.

My bohemian-inclined, but blue blooded mother who had recklessly married a poor and complicated artist, was deeply gratified by the gifts of Lily Pulitzer cast-offs and donations of top -shelf dog semen from her sister. The union between Bitty and Dapper Dan was as unlikely as the one that took place between my parents. The class difference was just that vast, but somehow they made it work.

Given the difference in station between the two dogs, my parents must have had toweringly high hopes for the offspring, which now helps me to understand why they ruled the way they did in the matter of Lizzy V. Bitty re: The Pink Elephant.

In the early days following the ruling, I did what any self-respecting 3-year-old would have done in similar circumstances. With what little rhetorical skills I had, I protested vigorously. Despite all of this, Bitty continued to carry off the pink elephant in her teeth each night while I climbed into bed, to lie there alone in a rictus of resentment.

After spending several nights cataloging my grievances and contemplating revenge, I hit upon the perfect plan. Initially, I had assumed that the dog held all the power, but one night, I realized she had one weakness that I could easily exploit: Dachshunds are notoriously difficult to housebreak. Despite this major shortcoming, Dachshund owners are almost universally optimistic about their prospects for housebreaking them, yet their methods can vary dramatically as they become more and more desperate.

Before The Dog Whisperer made a rolled up newspaper something to be ashamed of, I had witnessed my parents resort to punitive methods out of pure frustration.

Being three, I had not had too much experience with shame, so, as I had planned, I dropped my pants and peed on the floor in my room. After the smoking gun had cooled, I summoned my mother and let the chips fall where they may. As I had anticipated, Bitty got a beating.

 

COSMO

Bitty’s pup­pies were born but I don’t remem­ber any­thing about them or any details of where they ended up. What I do know is that we kept Cosmo, who was the runt of the litter. Not only was he the runt, he was a Crypt Orchid.

Looking up the term to check for spelling, I now see that one isn’t a Crypt Orchid, one is born with cryp­torchidism. This is really a game changer for me, because until now I pic­tured some­thing exotic and rare — like an orchid with a muta­tion. My imag­i­na­tion was helped along by my par­ents who would proudly announce to vis­i­tors that “Cosmo is a Crypt Orchid” as if this was some­thing really desir­able in a dog.

Cryptorchidism sim­ply means that the tes­ti­cles have not descended.

By sev­enth grade, I had stud­ied enough European his­tory to appre­ci­ate the con­nec­tions between roy­alty and birth defects. Because of this, I accepted the cat­e­chism handed down by my par­ents that Cosmo was born the way he was because he was actu­ally “ A Royal.”   I then went on to conflate “royal” with “good.”

 

COSMO AND BITTA MEET THE COUNT AND COUNTESS VON OPPERSDORF

One evening when I was about nine, my parents had the pleasure of hosting the Count and Countess Von Oppersdorff of Oberglogau.

The Count Von Oppersdorff was a distant grandson of another Von Oppersdorff who had commissioned Beethoven to write the Fourth Symphony. As I remember, the Count was very old and frail and suffering from emphysema. Knowing nothing about the pedigree of our guests, I flitted around them, and found them very friendly and gracious.

While the Count sat in a Windsor chair with his oxygen, the Countess sat on the couch near him. At the other end of the couch, Bitty and Cosmo held court. Often, when they found themselves in an important social situation, such as an audience with the Count and Countess Von Oppersdorf of Oberglogau, Cosmo enjoyed chewing Bitty’s ear until it was completely soaked with frothy saliva. Periodically, Bitty would re-emerge from her blissful idyll and give a furious shake of the head, sending spit spraying in all directions.

During these sessions Cosmo would be overcome with physical feelings beyond his control, while Bitty patiently endured his attentions. The gracious Count and Countess made no comment.

 

LILY

My parents foolishly allowed me to accompany my mother when she went to the breeder to pick out a new Dachshund puppy after Bitty and Cosmo had gone to their reward.

I chose the sweet, doe eyed creature that we named Lily. By all accounts, Lily was a dud. She did none of the interesting things that Cosmo and Bitty did, and because she was so bland in personality and physically unremarkable, her lineage was called into question. Soon after she came into our home, I decamped for boarding school, and then college. I can’t remember how she died, or when.

 

POPPY AND DAISY

Poppy and Daisy were a pair of Dachshund sisters that came into our lives while I was in college. I can claim that the dogs came into “our “ lives because their reign directly affected me, My Royal Consort, and our offspring.

Poppy was frequently described as “patrician” because she was in possession of perfect Dachshund conformation. She was black like a wet seal, with beautiful brown points. Her nose was long and straight with wide set eyes and luxuriant ears set perfectly on her broad skull, her chest was deep, her waist narrow, and she had robust paws that supported sturdy, proportionate legs.

Daisy was less fortunate, exhibiting none of her sister’s good points. She was small and runty.

From day one, the two sisters were relentless in their mischief. True to form, they refused to be house broken and my parents lived in a private hell where my mother’s cherished oriental rugs and hand-embroidered ancestral duvets were regularly violated.

My parents loved to travel but were hesitant to leave their dogs with dog sitters. When I claim that my parents were hesitant about leaving the dogs with a sitter, I am being tactful. The real problem was that they had exhausted the limited pool of people they could potentially hire as a dog sitter. Our town is small and word got around.

The last dog sitter ever hired by my parents was a fellow copywriter who I worked with at my first real job after college. Anne was as steady as a clock and I was lucky to have her for a friend. I should never have exposed her to “The Girls” and my parents, but at the time, I did not yet understand that what I accepted as normal was completely crazy.

On her first day at Tree Tops, Anne was greeted with a long note, painstak­ingly writ­ten in my father’s loopy script with the requisite pet care instruc­tions that also included tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming notes. The instructions stated that if Anne was really dead set on going to work each day and aban­don­ing The Girls for eight hours, then she should leave the tele­vi­sion on to keep them enter­tained. “They like Judge Judy, Taxi, and Roseanne, but they do NOT like sports.”

After finding numerous faults with Anne’s care of the Girls in their absence, and declaring her unfit for future tours of duty, my parents offered My Royal Consort and I the house sitting job the next time they went on a trip. My Royal Consort still had Fred, a dog he had acquired in college.

Our housesitting experience was like a nightmarish game of Whack-a-Mole. Every time we turned around, there was a fresh puddle of pee or a steaming pile of crap. If we were lucky, it was on an impervious surface and we could clean it up, but with the two dogs running rampant through a three-story house filled with expensive rugs, there were some offerings that got past us.

In the end, Fred took the fall for the many transgressions of The Girls and nothing we said could exonerate her. When the subject came up in front of my siblings, they would avert their eyes, unable to stray from the family catechism and concede that Fred was innocent. I too lowered my eyes as I reflected on the saintly Bitty and how she had suffered for my sins.

If a visitor made the long climb up the stone steps to the entrance of my parent’s home, and knocked on the great wooden door with the brass knocker, a cacophony of barking would erupt from inside.  The guest, momentarily reassured by the wagging tails in the midst of all the barking, would be left to wonder why his hostess was nervously alternating between “Welcome!” and  “don’t pee!, don’t pee!”

The Girls would get so excited by a visitor that they would lose control of their bladders and then frantically wag their tails, flipping the pee into the air and on to everyone within range.

In the end, it was their gluttony and sloth that doomed “The Girls.”  If one of our two sons carelessly allowed a Zwieback encrusted hand to drift down from the safety of the high-chair tray, one of The Girls would invariably rise up like a shark going for a surfer, and take a bite.  Even my parents had to grudgingly concede that this was inappropriate. Nevertheless, The Girls persisted, rampaging through the house, rooting through guests’ suitcases and devouring packs of birth control pills, only to poop out festive streamers of upholstery and clothing in the driveway.

After my father died in 1997, my mother was left with these two ancient hellions who had decided that they could no longer manage the stairs. My mother had to carry them up and down, which she did, valiantly, until she experienced her own orthopedic problems.

When my mother decided to have the Girls euthanized, with stealthy encouragement from me, I was torn between elation and sympathy. The dogs were her last link to my father. Without them, she would be alone in her big, empty house.

My Royal Consort dug the grave, and I ordered flowers.

 

FRED

Fred, who had taken the fall for Poppy and Daisy, died unexpectedly at a young age. She just disappeared from My Royal Consort’s apartment in Peace Dale and when he went looking he found her already dead in an alley.

When Fred was a puppy she lived in a dorm room with My Royal Consort. He came close to getting kicked out of school for having the dog, despite the fact that she was eulogized as a dedicated student and friendly presence in the dining hall. She was also remembered as a pioneer of the Freegan movement.

When My Royal Consort and I started dating, Fred would growl at me. She was jealous but I admired her devotion. Being the one with all the power, it was easy for me to be magnanimous about her irrational jealousy.

 

MISS FERN

I hated college and loved My Royal Consort, so I accelerated my program through liberal use of summer school and moved back to Rhode Island as soon as I had enough credits to graduate. Later that spring, my future sister in law let us choose a puppy from a litter she had bred. The mother, Karma, was a lovely girl who embodied all the best qualities of a Labrador Retriever. We played with her puppies for hours and were finally chosen by Miss Fern.

Despite the fact that the breeding of Karma had been well supervised, Miss Fern had a “a touch of the white wash” as my father used to like to tease, his implication being that a mutt had jumped the fence and that Miss Fern was inferior to Poppy and Daisy.

Miss Fern was the smallest of the litter, with an undershot jaw and white tipped paws.  She looked nothing like her statuesque mother, but she more than made up for it in disposition and good sense. She was a model citizen and we loved her dearly.

Up until my father started taunting me about the origins of our cherished dog, the one that could be counted on to always comport herself perfectly in any situation, I had not thought about the looniness of my home life, or ever really considered the idea that no one I knew talked or thought about others the way we did in my family.

I would furiously defend my dog, comparing and contrasting her excellent manners and disposition to the despicable behavior of The Girls. In so doing, I accidentally uncorked a whole host of ideas about class and snobbism that roiled in my head, unspoken. The injustice of it all would keep me up at night, until I finally had to make room in my mind for the idea that my mismatched parents had me hogtied with outdated ideas about class and status.

My parents wanted to be Bohemian, free wheeling and liberal, but they also desperately craved social traction with the old-money crowd. Trying to simultaneously maintain those two personas was as fruitless as trying to transform a mutt into a purebred, and was quietly driving them crazy.

When I pursued the idea of the dogs’ pedigree as it related to their manners and decorum, I found that I could extend the concept to their owners, and suddenly the chains that had bound me fell away. How exactly did my father, who spent his early years languishing in an orphanage in New Orleans before joining the Marines, get so hung up on class, status and appearance?

How did my mother, descendent of the Governor of Rhode Island and the Arch Bishop of New York City, reconcile her marriage of love to my father? But most pressingly, I wondered why these two people, a study in class contrasts, inculcated so much class anxiety in me.

 

 

 

12 comments

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  1. Judith Salomon says:

    Made me laugh out loud. Many memories came flooding back- think your Dad made us ” papers” for one of our mutts- The dogs were also pretty neurotic, if I remember correctly, but very cute and feisty.

    Love to all

    1. admin says:

      That is hilarious! I should gather you all up for a doggy symposium. So many memories. Love to you too, and thanks for reading. xoxo

  2. kate vivian says:

    Great writing and a wonderful story, Lizzie. I remember going to a party at your parents house and Cosmo and his mother had been closeted in the upstairs bathroom so they would out of the way of the guests. I found them there, enveloped in toilet paper — winding themselves in it and eating it, etc. etc. And once Molly was the baby sitter for the dogs while your folks were away and they left a plastic turd on the sofa for her to find first thing!

    1. admin says:

      Thank you so much! Yes, the dachshunds touched many people’s lives, didn’t they?

  3. Elizabeth says:

    A dog’s life indeed. My first dog was named Jiggs…………I believe after the comic strip Bringing up Father. Being the third and youngest child, I was often left behind by my older brother and sister. Jiggs became my first and best friend and spared me from future psychosis by always choosing me over my thoughtless siblings.

    Great story as always. Peeing on the floor was my favorite bit

    1. admin says:

      Ha ha the framing of the dog was news to my sister who just read the post. Thanks for reading and for the kind words. I really love hearing from readers!

  4. susan says:

    really fun, ‘Lizzy’! love learning some family history!

    1. admin says:

      Did my parents still have them when you lived down the hill?

  5. Jack McDonald says:

    Who’s funnier than mistress pixel? There’s no better way to start the day than with a good laugh! ( and since it’s all true, a great walk down memory lane).

    1. admin says:

      Thank you, and may they all cavort in doggie heaven!

  6. Al Fermeglia says:

    Exquisitely written. Hopefully, you will publish a book of you memories. I am sure it would be a hit.

    1. admin says:

      I really want 2013 to be the year that I get some traction somewhere, and maybe a little $$ for my efforts? As usual, I have chosen the most difficult and least remunerative path! Thanks so much for continuing to read each week!

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