As I’ve said before, my memory goes way back, and there were always dogs. First Afghan Hounds.
We had a kennel on one side of our house in Sands Point. Three big runs. Indoor grooming, feeding and whelping areas. Two trainers: Mr. Dewy and Mrs. Strickland, both of whom were mythic characters in my life — Mr. Dewy because of his name, which I liked to roll off my tongue, and because he was the heaviest person I’d met up to that point; and Mrs. Strickland because she was so beautiful and commanding, kind of like her name.
The dog runs were concrete with chain link fences, formidable-looking to a child like me. We would have as many as six to eight dogs at a time. There was Hannah, who jumped off an eight foot balcony to the lawn below when she was pregnant; Peter, a champion show dog who got sick with distemper; and Ari, an obedience dog who saved Vivi by getting help when she was stuck way up in a tree. And there was our wire-hair dachshund, Trolley, imported from Germany, who was hostile to everyone except at mealtimes when he shamelessly sat up on his hindquarters and begged. He also ran yipping all over the neighborhood, chasing rabbits, never fast enough to get any. (The joke, which I didn’t quite understand at the time, was he had a constant hard-on because he was so low to the ground.)
I’m not sure when my father got his dog show judge license, perhaps after we moved into the city and he no longer had a kennel. He was much-loved by everyone in the dog world. At Christmas he’d get cards from all over the country: ‘Dear Gus and Mrs. Gus,” which my mother found appalling but which must have really tickled my father’s ego.
To me it’s funny that my father, who became so well-known as a collector and authority on African and Oceanic art, had this odd show judge sub-specialty. Years later, when I met my husband George Jeffords, it was dogs that connected our two families. Seriously. His mother was quite apprehensive about the match until she laid eyes on my distinguished father and realized that, among other things, they had dogs in common. But that’s another story.