Saturday, April 7, 2007

Dogged Pursuit

My son Abe, when asked at age 7 what constitutes a happy family, replied without hesitation, "Having a dog." (search "Chenwald" on YouTube) He averred, naturally, that an unhappy family was one without their own canine. I had been the holdout when the kids were little, imagining that inviting a dog to share our home would create yet one more onerous responsibility for me and I was already having a bit of a problem balancing motherhood and vocation. It wasn't that I disliked the species; it was just that I had no real experience with dog ownership except for the disastrous brief interlude in my early twenties when David and I were called upon to foster his family collie/shepherd mix named Bertrand Russell. I developed a pretty bad allergy which may or may not have been psychosomatic and that tabled the dog issue for at least a decade.
So one night early in the '80's we were at a party and while under the influence, I made a brash announcement in reaction to one of David's many pleas that we get a dog already. I specified that if there were a full-blooded basset hound at the SPCA the next day then that would be our dog; otherwise, I didn't want to be "hounded" about this issue anymore! I had been enchanted by the breed ever since I was introduced to Cleo on the sitcom "The People's Choice". I was pretty little then, and significantly, this talented canine had a voice narrating her every adorable thought, and anyway you can't smell eau de Basset through a television screen.
Lady Dahlia Prenderby, as our first basset came to be known, was adopted into our little family that very next day and the history of the Forman-Greenwald bassetmania was duly chronicled ;my first cyber piece can be found if you Google "Basset Notes by Wendy Forman". (Not unlike the odor of hound in a house, it seems that nothing ever disappears from internet.)
We were dogless (and unhappy) for a while, but when we moved into our fancy condo in Center City we knew it was time to adopt a canine... anything but a basset!
Magically we acquired Nelly Greenwald P.H.D.(Poodle Helper Dog); she was pre-trained, doesn't shed, doesn't smell, and can open the door and let us in if we get locked out! She did have a bad experience with her first family which has left her with a distrust of men of a certain stature and hairline, but other than that she's just about perfect.
It was just a matter of time, then, before the newly-married Zack and Anna felt the need to become a truly happy family themselves, so about a month ago we started a series of visits to area animal shelters to find their new best friend. You may wonder how I got to be part of this mission; no, I am not the most interfering mother-in-law in the world. I was brought along to stand in for Anna whose kind social worker heart would cause her to weep and then probably take the very first critter who looked at her from inside a cage, no matter how unsuitable for their living situation. After weeks of shelter visits and hours on, the third time at the SPCA in North Philly was the charm. We brought along our niece Maya Greenwald, who seems to have a gift with animals. Anna sat patiently in the waiting area, falling in love with every dog who walked by. The mutt formerly known as "Chucky", listed spuriously as a collie/terrier mix, was still in his cell since our last visit, looking out at Zack with a slightly goofy smile, begging for his "forever family", as they say on the shelter websites. The volunteer (are all the shelter workers the nicest people in the universe?) clipped a collar and leash on "Chucky" and we all strode out, picked up Anna, and were shown into the "family room". We sat on a some furry couches to see if the dog would bond with his potential new parents. He seemed sweet enough, but I could see Zack and Anna struggling a bit with such a big decision. They were definitely leaning towards adoption, but we really didn't know too much about this guy. As soon as we exited from the "family room" (we were actually kicked out because another family needed to use it ), a tall volunteer was passing by, noticed "Chucky", and said enthusiastically," You're getting a great dog there. I've been training him and he's a real winner". We all fell on him ("Call me B.J.") and peppered him with questions about the dog and were so relieved to hear all kinds of good things. Zack was already appearing paternal and I was kvelling, imagining introducing this adorable and gifted mutt as my granddog. Meanwhile, it transpired that B.J., while currently an SPCA volunteer, had been in the music business back in the day. He pulled out his faded news clippings and told us all about the famous people he'd worked with. He then showed us a fancy framed photo of his late dog and his current dog, both SPCA specials and gave us a card with his phone number to call with any questions about the new addition to the family. We kinda wanted to adopt B.J. along with "Chucky", but he disappeared as soon as the final papers were signed.
On the drive home, "Chucky" became "Leo" for a while and a few other names as well. At the Petsmart on Aramingo Ave. we ran into the dad with two little boys who had adopted the Scottie pup right before we liberated "Chucky". We all gushed over each other's recycled dogs and then bought out the store with necessities and toys for my new granddog. That night, while Anna and Zack were home alone with their new addition, they decided to name him Howard Heller. No hyphens, nothing fancy.
It's been several weeks now and Howard is so much part of the Center City scene that it's hard to remember life before his being here. The cat hates him, Nelly tolerates him, but he loves absolutely everybody. We've spent hours speculating on his heritage. Jakita (Jack Russell/Akita) was discarded as barely possible; Samoyed/Something gained popularity for a while. Someone said Dingo or Husky or Shiba Inu. Now he's just plain Howard. He's wearing the "Obama in '08" doggie T-shirt I gave him. I've sent out adoption e-nouncements to all my friends. So, as my son once said, a happy family is indeed a family with a dog; therefore, empty- nesters pushing 60 with a superb poodle and two granddogs must be downright ecstatic. Shoutouts to Julius Chenwald and Howard Heller; continuing kudos to Nelly Greenwald,P.H.D. and with sincere gratitude to the folks up at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Things Are Looking Up!
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