Beware of the Puppy I always wanted a lab. I could see myself with a lab – big, solid, square, reliable. A no-nonsense dog, the Labrador, a go-anywhere dog. Wendy’s father had a lab, a lovable hundred-pound brute who was famous for having once eaten an entire loaf of bread, wrapper and all. I could imagine loading that dog into the back of the Cherokee and heading off to the lake – a picture of health and vitality straight out of L.L. Bean. Naturally, when it came time for us to get a dog, I suggested a lab. I was open as far as color goes, although I liked the whites, or yellows as they are sometimes called. Wendy shrugged. “Labs are a good beginner dog,” she said. Wendy had once trained dogs for a living, so I trusted her judgment. She flipped to the classified section of Dog World and plopped her finger down. “That’s what I want,” she said. “I want a standard.” She was pointing at a picture of a poodle. I had never seen myself with a poodle. I couldn’t imagine myself with a poodle, and I was sure we would never get a poodle. Wendy had a hard time even finding any, which was fine with me, and once she did the breeder interviewed her twice on the phone before finally agreeing to let her see the pups. That, I thought, was a good sign. So cool was I to the whole plan, that after driving two-and-a-half hours to Escondido and playing with the puppies another two hours I still managed to tell myself we were just looking. They were cute, but not as cute as lab puppies. I was standing around waiting to leave when Wendy picked one up and said, “Let’s get him.” For some reason I said, “OK.” At eight weeks Morgan was a wild little ball of fur. But as he doubled in size, and tripled, his features began to take on the balance and symmetry of adulthood. He went in for a haircut one day at eight months and came back a prince, with a large, regal topknot and long, perfectly sculpted leggings and jacket. It was a difficult adjustment. People stared. He didn’t blend in the way a lab blends in, and I began to feel that jeans and T-shirt were not appropriate attire for walking the dog. We entered an age of struggle, of compromise. I bought a pair of tiny wire-frame eyeglasses and a French beret, but it wasn’t enough. Morgan was just too outlandish. We clipped away the work of the groomer, the leggings and the jacket, leaving only a small topknot and a single pompom at the tip of his tail. It made no difference. There was no hiding the fact that we had a big, high-stepping poodle. Gradually we got used to the idea. We let Morgan’s ears grow out long and foppish, and added bracelets at his ankles. Now Wendy is talking about all the wonderful things that can be done with a poodle’s hair. She’s talking diamond patterns and cornrows. So beware of the puppy. Dogs don’t understand compromise, they demand complete allegiance. Find one that fits your self-image because they will surely make you fit theirs. Any Saturday morning you’ll find me at the dog park, wearing a long, rakish coat and a pair of old rubber boots, my eyeglasses, my beret. I kiss my dog on the nose in front of anybody and give him pep talks, I’ve taught him to walk on his hind legs and take a tennis ball out of my mouth. I grow more eccentric by the day, but I’m at peace. I can no longer see myself with a lab; poodles are my people.
– Written for Microsoft in 1996 by Joe Wahman
- Morgan Wheatberry Modigliani. Also known as, Momo, Monkey Brown, Buttons