Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sharyn McCrumb: Shaggy Dog Story

Four Christmases ago, when our dog who-was-older-than-dirt finally died, I told my husband that what I wanted for Christmas was a little cat-sized dog to keep me company in my office while I write. We went to the dog pound in search of a dust bunny with teeth, and found nothing remotely resembling such a beast. What we did find was a hulking Golden Retriever/Hound of the Baskervilles crossbreed, who could probably pull your tractor out of the mud. So we came home with "Pippin," which is just as well, because we have a large farm, and dogs that large seldom find homes because they do need so much space.

Pippin is still alive and well, and enjoying country life, but when his best buddy-- our other rescued dog-- died of cancer last year, I decided to try again for a mini-pooch. This time I found an ad in the newspaper for Pompapoos-- half Pomeranian and half poodle, and that was exactly what I wanted.

We brought her home on Halloween. She has a curly black coat, and she's about the size of a fluffy bunny bedroom slipper, maybe 5 lbs. Currently she is going by the name of Madame Pompapoo, while we debate the name issue.

She is very good about staying and snoozing next to my desk or on the sofa in the evenings. Our other dog generally ignores her, and the cats all stare at her pensively, as if trying to decide whether she ranks above them or below them on the food chain, and, if the latter, then what sort of wine goes with "Tribble." But no one menaces her. I think she is generally acknowledged to be a infant, and therefore beneath their notice.

Now we are dithering about what to name her. How does one choose a dog's name?

I have decided that dogs' name are the new Rorschach test. I think you can tell a lot about people from their choice of pet names. The least well-read and most unimaginative people I know call their animals names like "Spot" and "Midnight." (Although, this could also be an indication that they allowed the young children to name the pet. But I still think it says "unimaginative.") When I was three years old, I was given a teddy bear with a music box inside, to lull me to sleep at night. I named the bear "Chamberlain." And this was long before Wilt was a basketball star. A chamberlain is a servant of the bed chamber, and I knew this from the fairy tale books which were read to me. I still think that is a clever name for a three-year old to have come up with on her own.

When someone names their pet "Sarah" or "Emily" or "Bailey," I figure the animal is the new baby in the family, tail or no tail. People who pride themselves on being clever generally come up with literary or historical names (we have had "Griffindor," "Pendragon," and "Hillerman.") A lot of pets are named after people in show business: Dylan, Springsteen, Celine, Shania. Someone named a cat after me once. I 'm sure they meant it as a compliment. Although I thought their medication needed adjusting, I smiled and thanked them prettily. It's not my idea of a compliment, although I admit to having done the same thing myself. We have a big rangy yellow tom cat with a nose that takes up most of his face. He is sweetness itself to humans and other non-competitors, but a deadly hunter, ruthless to his peers. We named the cat after the NASCAR driver Clint Boyer. (I would describe Clint Boyer, but I believe I just did.)

The most popular dog names in the country for male dogs are an unoriginal collection of jock names: Max, Buddy, Jake, Bailey, Rocky, and Charlie. The most popular female dog names sound to me like "We really wanted a baby" choices: Molly, Bella, Lucy, Maggie, Daisy, Chloe, Sophie...

So what to name the Pompapoo?

My college-age daughter Laura was all for naming the puppy something deeply pretentious like Banrigh, which is Gaelic for "queen." (Although she would not dream of actually naming a dog "Queenie.") And in this family usually we do plump for literary names--having had a Griffindor, and a Martin the Warrior, and a Pippin. Then there's dubh sidhe, which means "black fairy" in Gaelic, but which would be pronounced too much like the word "douche," so scratch that.

I toyed with exotic names like Kurokumako, which is "baby black bear" in Japanese, or "Chantage," which is French for blackmail, and had she, in fact, been male, I would have used that name like a shot. I like the play on words, although the French would never get the joke. But then I started thinking she looks very non-regal and silly. Cassidy (caside) means "curly" in Gaelic, but it sounds like a Yuppie baby name. Sasha is cute, but for a French poodle/Pomeranian (i.e. German) cross, why choose a Russian name? Oh, and wait, Sasha is the name of a current First Daughter, isn't it? Well that would get me in trouble. Darn.

Whatever we ultimately christen her, my husband will call her "Mutt" forever, probably. And my son Spencer, the evil genius of the family, weighs in with snappy suggestions: "Ma Barker." (Get it?) Or "Nora Bone-steal." (N.B. He made those suggestions to annoy me, becaase he knew it would.) -- I think what you name your dog says a great deal about who you are, and where your interests lie. So perhaps my indecision is indicative of an identity crisis. I don't know who I feel like anymore. I used to be all for high-flown names, but now it hardly seems worth it. You end up having to spell it six times at the vet's office, and people always get it wrong or shorten it, so that our romantically named Himalayan cat "Dalriada" is invariably called "Dolly."

I read somewhere that animal owners (elderly people, anyhow) have lower blood pressure, because of the calming effect, so I hope that proves true of Mme. Pompapoo's effect on me.

But it's going to be a long, isolated winter, and I think... what's-her-name... will be good company. I have two novels coming out in the spring: a new Ballad novel called "The Devil Amongst the Lawyers," and "Faster Pastor," a comic Southern novel co-authored with NASCAR-ARCA driver Adam Edwards. Until their publication sends me out on the road, I plan to enjoy the solitude here on the mountain with the animals.

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