Dec. 19, 2013
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.
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.
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.