Ascribing to the philosophy that more is never enough, we have added to our menagerie of animals (currently 4 cats and a dog), a chow-chow puppy.
We have had a number of dogs over our 31 years as a family (we just celebrated our 31st anniversary, incidentally). Our first: a black standard poodle named Walter. Walter convinced me that Satan is not a myth, but manifests himself in various nefarious ways. An addictively-attractive curly ball of black fur, he grew into a living example of why humane societies run at full capacity. A hyper-dominent alpha male, honors graduate from the Naomi Wolfe school, he was everything dog owners dread: disobedient, vengeful, cunning, hyperactive. Poodles are one of the few dogs where the whites of the eyes can be easily seen, allowing you a glimpse at the depravity percolating in his small, rancid mind, as he shifted his eyes back and forth planning evil schemes and plotting revenge. We finally gave him away to another family– poodle-lovers, blind to the genetic wickedness of this dark breed–where he reportedly was trained with Twinkies while terrorizing an entire neighborhood, until Mephistopheles called his black soul home.
Despite several years of intense psychotherapy and counseling, we succumbed a few years later to our addiction, and acquired another dog–this time a German Shepherd. A series of them, actually. A fine breed, this: loyal, obedient, intelligent, handsome. Sheds like a blizzard in Minnesota, year-round, and rather prone to becoming crippled at a young age by hip dysplasia–had to put one dog down due to this disorder–as well as the occasional personality disorder prized by drug lords: their tendency to get vicious with unpredictable provocation (one Shepherd we obtained at nine months of age, without knowing her past history of abuse, liked to lunge at young children at the park–undesirable trait, to be sure. May she rest in peace). Shepards are highly disciplined, and can be trained to avoid even the most irresistible of temptations:
Our current dog is a red Chow-Chow female, Lucy, who has proven to be a wonderful dog in every respect–perfectly suited to the eccentricities and temperament of our family.
Chows are an ancient breed. They are a member of the Spitz family, thought to be one of the original canine breeds (along with mastiffs and sight hounds). They are generally considered to have originated in China, although they may have been brought there from Mongolia as early as 1000 B.C. Their images appear on Chinese pottery and porcelain from the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 22 AD), and there are references in Chinese literature, beginning from several hundred years B.C. Some paleontologists believe that Chows were an evolutionary accident, having a common ancestor in the bear: Chows and some species of bears are the only mammals with black tongues, and both are born with 44 teeth, unlike the 42 seen in canines. Anyone who has seen a red Chow puppy cannot but recognize their uncanny resemblence to bear cubs, with their black short muzzles and ears, stocky bodies and stilted gait.
Chows were prized by Chinese emporers of the T’ang Dynasty (7th Century A.D.), and it is said that one Chinese emperor kept 2,500 Chows to accompany his ten thousand hunters (Of course, there were no scoop laws in place back then). Admired also by Western royalty, used by Chinese peasants for food and clothing (“kicked-puppy stew” was a delicacy among the peasants), and a favorite of Hollywood movie stars in the 1920’s, the Chow-Chow has had a most interesting history. They came to America by way of England in the 1700’s, aboard merchant ships carrying diverse Far East cargo colloquially known to sailors as “chow chow.”
Chows have a distinct personality: aloof, cat-like, reserved in affection, especially for strangers, and somewhat strong-willed. If not carefully socialized early in life, they may become overly wary, protective and aggressive, reverting to their ancient temperament as guard dogs and hunters–a trait which sometimes finds them grouped with pit bulls, rottweilers, and other breeds known for unprovoked attacks. In fact, well-bred and properly-raised Chows never exhibit this behavior, which is an indicator rather of poorly-bred owners.
But Lucy is ageing, her sassy personality and spry humor sapped by arthritis and 13 years of life. A constant companion of my wife on her long walks, she increasingly has trouble making the journey. And so, enter Mimi.
We drove to Sandy, Oregon, a small town near the Columbia River about 30 miles east of Portland, where we had found a breeder who had been raising Chows for over 50 years, breeding them for health, temperament, and an open face, rather than the more-typical deeply-furroughed brow and large mane of the show Chows. Driving up the wooded, overgrown drive to a ramshackle abode over a century old, we fully expected to find Ted Kaczynski’s long-lost mentor, complete with brown-wrapped packages ready for mailing and a faint smell of C4. But the smell was anything but faint: home to over 10 dogs of all ages, the aroma of urine, dog sweat, mold, wet fur, and that indescribable odor of elderly humans rarely bathed bitch-slapped your senses into overdrive.
But the Chows: surprisingly friendly and good-natured for a breed known for its wariness. Mimi sat on my lap, perfectly calm as a 12-week puppy, and rested her soft head against my stomach. The deal was sealed, right then and there. For surprising little money, she set out on her journey North, sleeping and resting peacefully in the back seat of our car for hours.
She is a wonderful dog, very affectionate and social, although beset by the liabilities of her age: chewing, accidents, and a fondness for chasing cats which is teaching her cause and effect. Even Lucy–never enamored of strange dogs–is losing her coolness and playing with her new roomate.
I have heard that dogs–rather than religion–are the opiate of the masses. Far be it from me to dispute this, as the fix I get from a loving dog is about as good as it gets.