Brock has no game. He’s my dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and he has no aspirations to be in the big time next week, Feb. 10-11, when the venerable Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden once more will be the center of the canine universe.
Those Westminster dogs have it all. Pedigree. Fancy, often regal names. Intelligence and poise and panache. They are truly performing artists, all primped and coddled, perfect in every way, from tip of nose to tail’s end.
Even the homeliest breeds, like those drooling, snorting boxers who can’t keep their tongue reeled in, clean up nicely for the big dog shows. I still wouldn’t want one, not even a champion, but they look OK in the show ring. Like the rest of the lot, they’ll do absolutely anything for treats. Anything but stop drooling.
That’s true for the St. Bernards, too. They drool. But their legacy as big, lumbering lifesavers makes it easier for me to accept the drool. They are the embodiment of man’s best friend. If I were dying in the deep, suffocating blanket of an avalanche and a St. Bernard came to my rescue, I’d let him slobber all over me like a 7-11 cherry slush cone melting on a steamy July beach day. A boxer? Just let it be over. Quickly. Without saliva.
Brock is an affection hound, an overweight (pushing 30 pounds), hug-addicted lap dog, a messy clump of soft black and brown curls that he sheds in tiny tumbleweeds all over the house. He wouldn’t shed so much if we were diligent about brushing him. He just doesn’t like to be brushed. He hates it. He prefers to molt, blissfully, unconcerned with his motley shagginess. I also think he relishes the perpetual ritual of the vacuum cleaner, providing him a fresh canvas to litter with his hair.
Unlike show dogs, Brock has no tricks, no form, virtually no ability to follow commands. I’ll give him credit for getting a firm, early grasp on the bowel and bladder business, but he doesn’t respond to any orders. He responds only to treats, preferably bits of meat and cheese or frozen blueberries. And doorbells. He goes hopping mad over doorbells. Not only the one at our front door, but equally bonkers over doorbells used in TV commercials.
I’ve come to detest the commercials that feature pizza delivery guys ringing the doorbell. It’s a cliche you really can’t hate until you have a dog like Brock. With every ding-dong, he is up, barking like a rabid chihuahua, feverishly running around, shedding hair, pressing his nose up against one of the tall glass panes that flank the front door, either ecstatic or irate (who knows?) that something wicked or wonderful (who knows?) has arrived at our doorstep.
Except it hasn’t. It’s only an imaginary doorbell. There is no one at our front door. I tell him that. Over and over and over again.
Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut. I hate you, all of you. I hate your pizza, your commercial, your doorbell. I hate every cheesy, tomatoey, ring-ding-dongy thingy about you and your delivery men.
“There. . .is. . .no. . .one. . .there. . .BROCK!’’ I shout again. I am shouting to a dog who can’t tell a real doorbell from a TV commercial doorbell, a dog I now think will understand me. I am dumber than my dog.
Would one of those Westminster dogs go crazy over a fake doorbell? Let’s be real. They couldn’t be bothered. A dog with a name like, say, Sir Charles from Devon on the Morrow wouldn’t be caught dead barking at a bell real or imagined. He’d have people for that, an owner, a handler, a nutritionist.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a show dog bark. Even Lassie barked, or sometimes emitted a sort of pleading, plaintive whimper. When things were really urgent, like someone was buried in an avalanche, Lassie used the whimper to get someone’s attention. Lassie never drooled. Not once.
Brock spends all day in the house and right now, as I write this, he’s curled up here atop a small table in my home office, snoring and twitching and shedding. He repositions now and then if the phone rings or I get up to stretch or curse my laptop’s finicky keyboard. He’s got it made. When I tell him that, I get a blank stare. But I’m used to that because I get the same blank stare from our 16-year-old when I tell him the same thing.
We give Brock baths. We cut his hair. That’s about all the primping he has in common with a show dog. The only professional attention he receives, beyond regular costly visits to the vet, is the occasional trip to the pet shop where they cut his nails. No one in our house wants to tackle that job.
“Wow, the softest paws I’ve ever felt,’’ said the young fellow at the pet shop who recently clipped Brock’s nails. ‘’Amazing. How old is he?’’
Brock is 7 years old. He rarely leaves the house. I explained, other than short walks, he rarely touches anything harder than the ceramic tiles on the kitchen floor.
“See, Brock,’’ I said. “You’ve got it made.’’ Blank stare.
The Westminster Dog Show is the Super Bowl for dogs. Brock doesn’t care. When it has been on TV, I’ve tried to engage him, curious to see how he’ll respond to the dogs as they are put through their paces. No interest. If there’s a tight shot on a dog’s face, he’ll sometimes offer a light growl, wag his tail slightly, but little more. Provided there isn’t a pizza commercial with a doorbell ringing, he’s unimpressed.
There are no performance rings in Brock’s world, no shows big or small. He eats, he sleeps, he sits with us, he sleeps with us, travels with us. If we’re out of town, he stays with relatives. He has never set a paw in a kennel. Dogs just aren’t his people.
If we vacation on this side of the Mississippi, he travels in the car with us. A stroll through downtown Savannah one steamy summer day came to end with Brock, near comatose, sitting in my lap with his nose fixed in the car’s air vent, the AC on full blast. He came around quickly, certainly faster than my wife, who had her nose jammed in the air vent on the passenger side. She’s from Buffalo. He gets his heat intolerance from her.
As a kid, I never had a dog. Now that I know the work and worry involved, I understand why my parents discouraged it. Truly caring for a dog isn’t maintenance, it’s lifestyle. If you’re in, if you care, you’re in on all fours.
But for all his bother, Brock has been my late-in-life constant companion, someone who both drives me nuts and preserves my sanity, with alternate switches of his tail. He loves his snacks, his bellyrubs, his walks in the park, and especially his road trips. If I’ve been gone a few days, he meets me at the door, so ecstatic that his whole little body contorts back and forth in the shape of boomerang until I toss my bag, drop to the floor and let him leap on my chest for a prolonged hug and groan. I know, it’s weird. And wonderful.
There are no fancy awards for dogs like Brock. They don’t appear in big shows, abide by orders, strut in trained cadence, play to a judge’s eye. They’re just dogs, our dogs, and every day they capture the ribbons of our hearts.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.