“My Kind of Dog,” by Vivian Witkind Davis

May 4th, 2011 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I love dogs, and I dote on my children.  But when our daughter started to beg for a dog for her sixteenth birthday, I was determined to resist.

“All I want is a dog.  Nothing else.  Nothing,” said Charlotte, used to getting her way with her parents.  What Charlotte really wanted was a cat, but her father, Jack, claims to be allergic to them.   Being resourceful, Charlotte went on the American Kennel Club website to find a breed that was as much like a cat as possible.   She found what she was looking for and began to ply me with offhand remarks like “Pomeranians are exceptionally trainable” and “Sixteen is one of the most important birthdays of all.” 

“No. Forget it. No way,” I told her.  “You’ll be going away to college in two years, and we do not want the responsibility of another animal. We already have a dog.”  It was simple.  Hobbes, the aging golden retriever, full name Hobbes Descartes, was enough trouble for the aging parents.  

Jack and I stuck with our decision with no regrets and not the slightest softening of resolve through the winter and into spring.  

Early on an April Tuesday morning in 2002, four days before our darling’s birthday, Jack took Hobbes to the vet for the monthly grooming.  They settled themselves in the waiting room. Someone started to struggle through the double doors to the office, and a woman emerged with a baby carrier in one hand and a pet carrier in the other.  She set down her loads and asked the receptionist and the room at large, “Does anyone know the number of Pomeranian rescue?” 

The words were a gauntlet cast at Jack’s feet.  He called me at work.  

“Now I’m not making any judgment,” he said, “Just let me tell you what happened.” 

The coward was leaving it up to me, and there was something in his meeting that felt like fate. I was impelled to take down the phone number of the woman with the pet carrier.  I punched in the numbers.  I made an appointment and visited Wednesday. 

A tall woman greeted me at the door. “Don’t you jump on Mrs. Davis, Scooby,” she said to the dog in heel position at her side, “You’ll ruin her hose.”  

The dog showed no sign of jumping.  He sat calmly and bounced his front paws a couple of times.  As clearly as if he spoke it out loud, he was saying, “I’m glad to see you.  Play with me.”   Scooby had a face that could be used by Norman Rockwell.  The caramel colored eyes were bright and prominent, making him look pleasantly surprised and sharply alert.  His good-sized ears stood up in attentive triangles, and his pink tongue was delicately extended a tad in eagerness to welcome me.  He had to make the cutest canine portrait in Columbus, Ohio.  In the whole county.  The whole state. 

“May I pick him up?” I asked. 

Cradled in my arms he was a nice load with thick fur and smelled of talcum powder.  I felt his heart beating under my supporting hand.  

“Scooby Doo?” I asked. 

“Just Scooby.”

I said I would get back to her. 

“Kismet,” I told Jack, and he agreed. It was meant to be. 

When I went to pick up Scooby on Friday the owner gave me the carrier, food bowls, a four-foot leash, a collar, plenty of food, his graduation certificate from obedience school and his AKC registration. 

“Be sure when he’s groomed that they trim the fur around his foot pads,” she said, “Because he is a Pomeranian.” 

Charlotte, lounging on the family room couch, didn’t move at first when I brought in the carrier and put it down next to her, but the golden retriever was immediately all nose.  Scooby nervously stepped out into his new family, wide-eyed and alone.  Charlotte sat up.  She began to stroke him and make him hers.   We felt the pride of providing our daughter her dream gift, her dream dog.  

“What do you mean you got an eleven-and-a half-pound Pomeranian?” said my father when I gave him the news. 

I remarked to the vet that Scooby’s hind legs didn’t seem to be aligned.  “He’s cow hocked,” she said.  “Don’t worry.  It won’t do him any harm.” 

I dropped him off to be groomed, and the groomer called to say, “We’ll make him look as much like a Pomeranian as we can.” 

“He has papers,” I told a friend. 

“Like the people who climb over the wall from Mexico,” she said.  

I began to realize that it is possible to have the cutest canine face in Ohio and not be perfect. Norman Rockwell didn’t paint purebreds, did he? 

I went to the AKC website to review the “Pomeranian breed standard,” which goes on for two pages of small type.  Bad news. The Pomeranian is compact and short-backed, says the standard.  Scooby cannot be described as “compact.”  He is leggy, his back and neck are proportionately long for his trunk, and his back is slightly arched, a bit like a Bedlington terrier.  The AKC Pomeranian has a soft, dense undercoat with a profuse, harsh-textured outer coat.  Scooby’s coat is deliciously soft, apparently all bottom coat.  It’s not silky soft or cotton soft, but soft like a stuffed animal that would encourage a baby to suck its thumb.  Dakin and Gund could not do any better. The AKC specifies a heavily plumed tail set high and lying flat on the back. Scooby’s tail is a thick, spunky plume set high over his behind, but it does not lie flat on his back.  Rather it is a cheerful curl that almost makes an “O.”  The weight of a Pom is supposed to be four to eight pounds.  “Any dog over or under the limits is objectionable,” intones the AKC.  Objectionable?  That hurt. 

The only positive was that blonde is a typical color for a Pom. Scooby is several shades of yellow, amber, cream and eggshell.  

Charlotte went to college, Hobbes died, and we were an empty nest, one-dog family. When Jack and I packed up to go to a posh California resort for vacation, we took Scooby with us.  I walked him early in the morning from our rented house to the La Quinta Hotel gift shop to buy newspapers and late in the afternoon by the golf course with its mountain view.   The ladies and gents in their casual Ralph Lauren and Cutter and Buck outfits whom I met along the routes asked me what he was.  Sometimes they would point to him quizzically and say “Pomeranian,” and other times they were stumped.  

I varied my answers.  

“He’s a Pomeranian,” I said with bold certainty to a woman in a broad, straw sunhat with a Yorkie as big as a quart of milk, hoping the conviction sounded heart-felt. 

“They come in a toy size, too,” she answered. 

I saw a Pom at the gift shop about as big as the resort logo coffee mugs they were selling and said, “A Pom puppy.  How cute.” 

“He’s three years old,” said the owner, eying my animal down her nose. 

“You’re the best dog here,” I muttered to Scooby when we left.  

I tried telling people Scooby was a rescue, or a pet-shop or a puppy mill Pom, but those were excuses, not explanations.  I tried being cute with “ersatz Pom,” “Pom wannabe” or “whopper Pom,” but those were unkind to my beautiful, long-muzzled dog with the vivacious attitude.  I tried the ambiguous route, with “mostly,” “largely” or “pretty much” Pom, or “Pom mix.” But how could he be a mix if his AKC registration said his ancestors were Poms? 

It’s easy to see that part of my problem is vanity.  I drive a sporty little BMW.  At the dowager stage of my life, I should have a sporty little companion dog.  

The AKC breed standard only tells you what the ideal, Platonic individual looks and acts like.  To give an accurate label to an individual animal takes an Aristotelian or biologist’s approach.  Is Scooby three deviations from the mean for Pomeranians or something in a different category?  The official definition doesn’t tell me where the partition goes.  

Some AKC-approved breeds are differentiated by the length of their coat, like the dachshund; some by size, like the poodle. Schnauzers are called miniature, standard and giant, but these are three distinct breeds. The United Kingdom’s premier dog show, Crufts, puts on display an American cocker spaniel and the native cocker spaniel.  Come show time at the Westminster Kennel Club across the pond and there are four different cocker groups, largely because they were America’s favorite dog in the 1930s. 

Systematically bred smaller since the nineteenth century from a Spitz ancestor, Pomeranians at one time must have been the same size as Scooby.  Pomerania?  I’m sorry to report it has been defunct as a stand-alone political entity since the seventeenth century.  If you look closely at a map of northern Germany and Poland, you may still find it dimly stenciled along the southern side of the Baltic Sea.  

The conclusion was clear. The truth about Scooby was as fuzzy as he. Generating dog breeds is an elaborate, idiosyncratic exercise in functional Darwinist engineering, perfectionist aspiration and local flag-waving. 

Did I care that Scooby resembles a Pomeranian the way an asteroid resembles a star? Why should I?     

I decided to take him to be groomed before we went home to Ohio; and not to just any groomer, but to Ritzi Rover, on El Paseo, the Palm Springs area equivalent of Fifth, Worth or Michigan Avenue.  

“What’s the baby’s name?” asked the receptionist when I called for an appointment.  I had to take a breath before I could answer. 

 “Shouldn’t you rent a limousine to take him there?” asked Jack. 

Despite the location, the establishment was unimposing from the outside.  I pulled open the rickety screen door.  The waiting area was tiny.  I met Scooby’s eyes to tell him that this was no big deal.  As I looked up, however, it became apparent that Ritzi Rover was a salon rather than a barbershop.  Beyond the counter and a few dogs standing on grooming tables I saw a wall of toy dogs in cubicles, each lined in deep purple plush.  Pekes, poodles and bichons sat calmly on display.  It was an exhibit, like Ming vases or Royal Copenhagen figurines, except these were live creatures, pampered and powdered.  Or maybe they were still waiting their turn and looked gorgeous before they got on the grooming tables.  Perhaps their last bath was only a week ago, and they never went outside anyway but stayed at home on pouffy floral sofas sitting on cashmere blankies, dining on liver bonbons and having the servants bring them a Ferragamo to chew on when they felt mouthy.   

“Make him look as much like a Pomeranian as you can,” I told the tall, middle-aged woman, who exuded the competence and hauteur of the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school.  

When I came to pick up Scooby a few hours later I scanned the wall of dogs, but he was nowhere in sight. 

“I’m here for Scooby Davis,” I said, wishing I could ask for Champion Spinoza III.    

They brought my pooch out from a back room.  

He looked like a million dollars.    His delicious coat was burnished and brushed to perfection, his fur fluffed out about six inches and his curly “O” tail a triumphal statement of natural beauty.  

At the Palm Springs airport, which has an open area for dogs and kids to play in before flights, I let Scooby out of his carrier before we were called to board.  He was an instant star.  Old and young gravitated towards him with a desire to touch. A guy in a pink polo shirt with an alligator on the pocket gazed at Scooby with admiration and asked, “Is he a show dog?” 

“Nowhere near,” I said.  “But thanks.” 

My Westminster Scooberanian.  My Crufts Pomeroid.  


Vivian Witkind Davis lives pleasantly retired in the great overfly somewhere between Washington, D.C., and L.A. with husband Jack and with Scooby and Russell.  The latter two are AKC registered. Reading and dogs are two of her favorite things, but not simultaneously. She holds a Ph.D. in public policy but doesn’t hold Scooby or Russell much because they are too weighty. Vivian began her career long ago as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, but for most of her working life was in academia. It’s no doubt from covering Congressional hearings that she developed her sense of humor.

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