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November 20, 2004

I washed a dog today.

Well, Tony and I did. You see, there's this thing that happens to dogs, even if they're not outside dogs. Their heads begin to smell like a cache of mildewed gym socks you didn't realize you'd left in your waterproof sport bag for six months. Or else, like stinky-foot cheese.

And Max is definitely no exception to this occurrence. Since the weather's unseasonably warm yet again this year all the way up to Thanksgiving (or the entire ecology's going over the edge into global warming, take your pick), Max has required additional baths to make him presentable to ... well, anybody, really. Because he'll install that stinky-foot-cheese smellin' head right under my nose several times a day, and eventually it gets to be way too much for me.

Max is a small dog, and he's well-behaved, but he does hate to have to get a bath.

As is clear from his expression in the photo above, having a bath is tantamount to having burning bamboo rammed up under his claws. Not sure why, since it makes him the center of attention, gets him treats (both when he's done in the tub and afterward, a few hours later, when he gets brushed out), we both get involved, I sit in the tub with him, and the whole procedure (if he doesn't have too many dingleberries) takes about fifteen minutes, tops.

Doesn't he look like there's a guillotine off frame, though?

Yeah, it's a real trial for him. Fifteen minutes standing in the tub. At least he's small enough we can keep him in there without a major fight.

It's all part of having a dog, of course, and we don't mind it nearly as much as he does -- especially since it makes him much more pleasant to be around when he smells like some bizarre tropical schnapps coconut-banana-mango drink than liquefied old sweat socks. I'll take 'sex on the beach' over 'stinky foot cheese' any day, whether he likes it or not.

Clearly, once it's all over he's gunning for the door. Of course, it's partly because he knows he'll get cookies (dog biscuits, of course), and partly because once he gets out of the bathroom he can go roll around on everything and 'get his stink back on.' In a limited sense, of course -- it's not really his stink, and it takes several days before he's stopped sniffing himself suspiciously and trying to lick the smell of 'sex on the beach' off his feet.

But he looks so damn good once he's dry, and we've brushed him out again, we put up with the abbatoir look, the licking, the 'sex on the beach' and the stinkeye. The moment you know it's all been worth it is the first time he goes out, after all the tribulations, and you watch the skirting under the ass fountain sway back and forth in the breeze like a beaded curtain. I know Max doesn't get to enjoy that -- he can't see his own ass -- and it wouldn't matter to him anyway, but it's always nice to have tangible reminders of why we put both him and ourselves through all that.

He actually has quite the enormous pad of undercoat and fruff on his butt, between the fountainous tail, the skirting underneath, and the butt-pads. Half that dog's fur is on his butt, I swear it is -- and that's saying something, as fruffy as he is everywhere else.

I've read that Pomeranians* were bred as watchdogs. They were sent to the corners of the property to sit on the midden heap (trash pile) to keep an eye on intruders. Hence the pealing, earsplitting bark most Poms have, including Max. They were bred as lookouts, though clearly the breed -- especially here in America, where they're practically crippled from being bred down for size -- has devolved far from that noble career. The U.S. breed standard for a male Pomeranian is 7-10 pounds; people will pay through the ass to get one smaller at full growth.

I could rant about this for a long time, about genetic patellar luxation that's become incredibly common, and the fact that they've bred the same misfit skull genetic trait to the point some purebred Poms' eyeballs actually pop out if they suffer minor head traumas ... but what's the point, really? I never wanted a purebred dog anyway, and I don't know if Max is. Even if he is a genetic-standard Pomeranian, he's big enough and out of physical standard enough to be healthy, which is all that really matters around here.

Yeah, they do it to cats, too. I've seen at least three dumped Persians at the shelter whose faces were so malformed they could only drink water out of a guinea-pig sized bottle with a ball bearing tube; if they leaned down into a bowl to drink water, they aspirated it through their sunken, misshapen noses.

Because people breed for appearance and public demand, not for the health of the breed, that's why. Not all, mind you -- there are serious breeders out there who make an effort to improve the dog or cat itself; to make it healthier, more congenial and attractive all at the same time. They don't, however, live in double-wide trailers in southern Missouri (or on Amish farms in central Pennsylvania, or on decrepit former farms in southwestern Ohio) and sell their 'product' at flea markets and shopping mall pet stores. You wait in line for years to buy their dogs or cats, and you pay what I paid for my last vehicle.

In other words, I'm not strictly against the deliberate breeding of animals, it's just that the whole breed animal economy seems to reward backyard breeders and puppy/kitten mills to the point most affordably available, papered purebred animals -- and these people can actually get these genetic failures registered through the American Kennel Club -- are little, furry cauldrons of genetic mishaps just waiting for the right time in the dog or cat's life cycle to unfurl into an expensive, painful dilemma for both pet and owner. Who wants a dog or cat that's puny all its life, and decrepit at seven years old when most other non-purebred dogs or cats of otherwise similar characteristics live to be fifteen or twenty? People for whom appearances matter more than anything else, of course, and as much money as puppy mills and backyard breeders seem to make, they must be legion.

But that's America -- profit trumps good sense, and consumer demand trumps the good of the public and the integrity of the product. Has for decades, I guess. It's bad enough when it's cars or computers -- it's really cruel and sickening when it's companion animals.

No, really.

And we like the way Max looks better than a 'breed standard' Pom anyway. Hell, we have more fun with him that we would a seven-pound dog -- you can't pretend to do a 'pile driver' with a seven-pound dog, and make it squeal like a wolverine, like we do with Max.

Its eyes would probably fall out.


* Just FYI, Pomeranians -- named after the geographic area in Germany -- originally were about Max's size. One was presented to Queen Victoria that was about his size, ages back, and for a long time the breed was called the Victorian Pomeranian. But as with all things, people couldn't leave a perfectly good dog breed alone and began breeding them down in size. In Europe, however, the Victorian Pomeranian still exists. It's called a German Mittelspitz (middle-sized Spitz) in Europe, Australia and Canada, and is considered a separate breed from the smaller Pomeranian (called a Kleinspitz in Germany), though the middle-sized Spitz breed isn't recognized here in the States yet. If Max is any indication of what the whole breed is like -- robust, good tempered, loving and healthy -- American dog breeders are missing the boat, and should embrace the Mittelspitz. Well, except for the fact that public demand would probably ultimately require some bizarre trait -- shorter nose, longer tail -- that would result in the American version of the Mittelspitz being yet another cauldron of bizarre genetic mishaps like the Pomeranian is now. On second thought, America, ignore the Mittelspitz!

Posted by Melinda at November 20, 2004 01:44 PM


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