2005-12-01 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

High fashion, puppy love and holiday doggy attire
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Years ago, I lived with my bulldog Virgil Buick in a notalways so-quiet, family-oriented neighborhood. Kids and pets were everywhere, and bicycles and tricycles of every shape and size lay in driveways and curbsides waiting to be run over. And there was always a ballgame of some kind, either in the street, or in somebody’s driveway. I think you get the picture.

Everybody knew Virgil; he was a local celebrity. Whenever we went for a walk, kids would follow, sometimes taking turns holding his leather leash. And Virgil — he basked in the attention. He loved those kids as much as they loved him. He was the consummate English bulldog, sporting a Budweiser kerchief in the summer and a thick spiked collar in the winter.

Once in a while, when we were on our daily walk, we’d meet my friend Jack, who lived a few blocks away with his wife and their English bulldog, Cuddles. The first few times Virgil and Cuddles met, she was a little standoffish and tried to hide behind Jack. She didn’t know what to make of Virgil. But it was obvious that Virgil was taken by Cuddles. As soon as he saw her, his little tail wagged at a mile a minute, and he’d strut back and forth trying to get her attention.

It wasn’t long before she gave in, and they were sniffin’, nuzzlin’, snortin’ and slobbering all over each other as bulldogs are prone to do. Although Cuddles was a little broad along the beam, even by bulldog standards, Virgil liked her, and I guess that’s what is important.

Jack and I would often take the dogs for a walk after the kids went to school and we’d have the street to ourselves. Virgil and Cuddles were getting along so well that he even let her play with his Frisbee. And you can rest assured that Virgil let no other dog touch his Frisbee. I don’t know why he coveted that Frisbee so much, because he’d willingly share any of his other toys, but not his Frisbee. That was his and his alone. Anyway, we’d walk to the park with the two bullies, as we called them, and they’d chase that Frisbee for hours. They were quite a pair.

All who knew Virgil and Cuddles thought they were an item. Jack and I had talked about that, but at that point, nuptials didn’t seem to be on the horizon. Nevertheless, Virgil and Cuddles were obviously very close friends and playmates.

One of Virgil’s most fervent fans lived next door in the form of a little 5-year-old girl named Melissa. She had the biggest brown eyes you ever saw, and the sweetest smile that could melt your heart in less than a second. Like most little girls, Melissa liked to play with dolls. Her favorite pastime was to dress them up. So much so, I am sure that when Melissa grew up, she went into the fashion business.

From the time that she was big enough to hold a doll, she dressed everything in sight. Melissa even dressed her cat, as well as every doll she owned, and I found her on the verge of tears when her mother wouldn’t let her dress the bird.

A few days before Christmas, Melissa decided to make Virgil her next victim. She convinced her mother that Virgil needed a Santa Claus hat and a large, red velvet bow to tie around his neck so that he could get into the holiday spirit.

Melissa was in the back yard playing with Virgil as she often did, and I didn’t think anything about it until he came into the house. He stopped in the doorway and looked at me with the most bewildered expression on his wrinkled face. There he was, my cartoon-tough English bulldog, all decked out in a Santa hat and red velvet bow. He took one look at himself in the floor length mirror and was dumbstruck at what he saw.

I wasn’t about to disappoint Melissa and make her cry by removing her handiwork. She thought it would be a great idea to take Virgil for a walk so she could show him off. I thought it might be amusing, so we attached his leash and off we went. The neighborhood kids had mixed emotions. The boys asked, “What’d ya do to him?” They never thought I’d dress him in a red velvet bow. The girls, of course, thought he was cute.

We hadn’t walked a block before we saw none other than Jack and Cuddles coming toward us. By the time we met, Cuddles almost tripped Jack by wrapping the leash around his ankles in her efforts to hide behind his legs. She wanted nothing to do with Virgil. I looked at her, and I swear, she was laughing. I looked at Virgil and he just stared at me with his head hung low, and the saddest expression on his face that I had ever seen. He knew he looked ridiculous.

Now his girlfriend shunned him. He was heartbroken and humiliated, all because I didn’t take into consideration that he might not like being turned into a holiday attraction for my amusement. It was days before Cuddles warmed up to him again. I guess even dogs have an image to uphold.

Every time I see animals dressed up for the season, my heart goes out to them. There is no reason to make them suffer the humiliation of being turned into a humanized spectacle. They have their standards, and we should be sensitive to the way they feel. Our penchant for making our pets look ridiculous is part of that system that they just can’t understand.

That said, we’ll see you at the Dog Parade in the village on Saturday, Dec. 17.

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