Dog Party (Entry 1)
I've come to divide my life into dog chapters. It's as good a way of looking back as any. I could use other markers, of course: Like mailing addresses (DC, a few months in Wisconsin; NY; Maryland; and Virginia) or musical tastes (starting with carefully placing the phonograph needle onto the groove for Baby Love, fast forwarding to get to Crosby, Stills and Nash on mix tapes, and pressing repeat on Alicia Keys belting out Fallin' on iTunes.)
But music doesn't quite work. It bleeds over. My foot still wakes up and taps on the pedal when Aretha comes on in the car.
Dogs, on the other hand, frame whole periods of time, providing natural breaks in one's biography. My first was Luvi, a white poodle puppy I got after a vigorous campaign I waged right after my father was indicted along with Dr. Spock and three other peace activists, for protesting the war in Vietnam. Though the Boston Five were looking at serious jail time, I recognized an opportunity when I saw one. In fact, I may have coined the term emotional support dog as a third grader in 1968.
It worked. I got a puppy.
While our parents shuttled between Washington and the federal courthouse in Boston trying to keep my dad out of jail, I got to work staking ownership claims with regards to the new pet and my two younger brothers.
Joke was on me. Luvi had a personality disorder. And everyone knew it.
If she wasn’t the most hated canine in the country it was only because she didn't get out much. She was unquestionably the most detested pet on the Left. We’d have a Who’s Who of peace activists staying with us (Pulitzer Prize winning poets, scientists, Hollywood actors) and Luvi would pee on their beds, attack occupied shoes and trot out embarrassing items from their suitcases during large-group breakfasts.
I remember Jane Fonda's husband, Tom Hayden, holding up the remnants of a chewed book in confusion (as if he'd never seen masticated hardbacks before!) and a bemused Gore Vidal watching Luvi carry a pair of someone's underpants into the living room for a picnic.
I tried to train her to sit, stay and come. Her lip would curl. Six days a week she shredded the mail as the postman hurriedly shoved it into the door slot while she tried to take off his fingers.
Luvi went from bed to bed at night biting our feet in succession. (More than a half century later I still sleep in the fetal position.) She utterly refused to be housebroken. It was said that my dad, whose tiptoeing gait was known from coast to coast (and, I believe, noted in FBI reports) had no choice but to walk with his heels raised to minimize the possibility of stepping in anything.
A Senator from out West habitually proposed euthanasia. “Just say the word and I’ll shoot her myself,” he’d offer.
Though the Boston Five were acquitted (eventually getting an apology from the U.S. Attorney who'd tried the case) my parents’ marriage was rocked. They sat us down on wide seamed brown corduroy couches in the first floor living room of our Adams Morgan row house and told us that Dad was going to move out to work on a book. (As one does.)
In 1969 (or '70) he moved a few blocks away and got Sheila, a serious Haight-Ashbury four-legged hippie. If Luvi was an uptight Republican (think one of Trump's seething spokeswomen), Sheila was the Janis Joplin of terriers, freewheeling and wild, throwing her shaggy head back and laughing before entering neighbors’ houses and liberating food from their countertops. She would have used opposable thumbs (like a character in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) to hitch hike and roll joints. She ran the streets with abandon.
Which is how we got Haggie.
(Next time on Dog Party.)