Photo by Sam Russo
I won’t go into how our two-year old standard poodle got Lyme disease and died horribly, triggering a deep depression in my then 14 year old son, Jake. Lulu was smart and devilish and silly. She chewed a carved leg of our 120 year old Steinway, the molding on the walls, and anything she could find. She adored Jake, and roughhoused with him as though he was her younger brother.
Desperate to cure my son’s, and all of our sadness, I went online that fall to search for a puppy. I showed all prospects to Jake, to no avail. I was ready to give up, and I was secretly loving not having to walk a dog in Central Park, late at night in sleet. Then, one day, I saw photos of a litter of poodles in western Illinois. The shy and mischievous expression of one of them got to me. When I showed her picture to Jake, I saw a spark of happiness in his eyes, unmistakable, though brief.
Though we could ill afford it, Jake and I flew out to Chicago, rented a car, and drove 200 miles west to Gaylesburg, near the Iowa border. The journey felt mythic. I was searching for the golden fleece, the magic that would cure my son’s terrible sadness. We arrived at the breeders’ suburban home on a warm afternoon in early June. They were a husband and wife in their 40’s. Steve was a locomotive engineer on a freight train line; Carol raised the dogs. The town was amazed, she told us, to hear that people were coming all the way from New York City for a puppy.
Carol wanted to know what kind of exercise a big dog could get in New York City. I explained to her that our backyard was the magnificent Central Park, where a dog could run off the leash every day before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.
Carol invited us to her backyard, brought us iced tea, and let nine puppies loose. Trixie ran up to Jake and stood sheltered beneath the V of his legs, claiming him as her own. Then the mother came out, and the other puppies, who had been recently weaned, surrounded her, latching on to her teats. She ran away from them, and the pups fell off her–she was so done with nursing.
I paid Carol for the dog, and signed an agreement not to breed her. Breeders strongly discourage the efforts of amateurs. We drove the puppy back to Chicago and flew her home in a carrier, which she climbed out of, preferring Jake‘s lap. The steward kindly pretended not to notice.
Back in the city, Trixie grew. Surprisingly, she never chewed anything. She had a few stuffed animal toys that she carried around gently. She’d fall asleep with her chin resting on them. I formed the idea that Trixie would make a wonderful mother, and decided to breed her once before having her spayed, although no one in my family and none of my friends approved, except for Lida, my Central Park dog owning pal. Perhaps she saw that puppies might be an antidote for the sadness our home had come to contain. Jake’s grandfather had recently died, and my husband, Jake’s father, was ill. My aged mother was living with us and she was not cheerful. I forged recklessly ahead with my plan.
At about a year, Trixie went into her first heat. I took some of my mother’s diapers and cut a hole for Trixie’s tail, and she wore them in the house, which required some explaining to visitors.
I am shy, and so it was a challenge to approach the owners of male poodles in the park and ask them if their dogs still had their balls, and if they’d be willing to breed them. Trixie was now two years old. Frank had a seven-year-old un-neutered white poodle, Max, a handsome fellow. He was interested in breeding him, and would take a puppy in return. So I brought Trixie up to his lovely Central Park West apartment with Lida as chaperone.
We watched the dogs indulge in foreplay, rearing up on their hind legs. Max was interested, but when he tried to mount her, Trixie tried to hide under my legs as I sat on a couch, which she was much too big to do. Frank said we should hold Trixie down for Max, but Lida and I felt uncomfortable about this. It seemed like assisted date rape. Trixie was unwilling. Whenever Max mounted her, she’d collapse her hind quarters. Eventually, Max was resting, and Trixie went off and discovered Max’s food dish in the kitchen, and started eating, exposing her flank. Max came looking for her, and couldn’t believe his luck. He mounted her again, and she didn’t stop eating, but in his excitement, he couldn’t go through with it. Seven is considered too old for an inexperienced male, I found out later.
Horrifyingly, at that moment Frank’s wife walked in, and we looked at each other, and I realized she had been a patient of mine years before (I’m a psychoanalyst). Then an argument broke out between husband and wife, as I stood frozen behind the kitchen island. Frank wanted to help Max complete the act. His wife said Max clearly couldn’t do it, for God’s sake, and Frank should stand down. We left, and it was then that I realized that I was pimping Trixie.
Another heat ended without a pregnancy. But I still couldn’t give up. By now I was talking recklessly in public. Once, on a path near the tennis courts, I was telling a friend, loudly and excitedly, that I’d found a beautiful black male in the park! A woman walking ahead of us turned to stare at me. That dog’s owner, I’ll call her Annie, told me that her dog was too young to breed. I felt like telling her that if he could do it, that would mean he was old enough. Perhaps his owner saw Trixie as a promiscuous hussy that might injure her dog, or give him an STD.
A couple more of Trixie’s heats passed unfruitfully. It isn’t good for dogs to go through many heats without conceiving. A vet explained to me that if all females, human and otherwise, were neutered before they got their first periods, virtually all reproductive cancers would be prevented. This shocked me. Apparently, all of us are supposed to be either pregnant or nursing every minute of our reproductive years. Trixie’d better conceive soon, I thought.
Annie’s dog, Bouvier, was black, athletic, spirited. But Annie continued to withhold him. If I had an un-neutered male, I’d give him every opportunity to have sex. Something was strange. Did Annie want to keep Bouvier for herself? I began avoiding them, feeling hurt and angry on Trixie’s behalf.
But the years were passing, and Trixie was now four. “It’s now or never,” I told myself one cloudless summer morning, as I brazened out yet another encounter with a man walking his two male poodles in the dusty hollow just above the 86th Street transverse, near the park’s western edge. I thought I’d spied balls on both his dogs.
“Excuse me,” I said politely, “but are your dogs un-neutered by any chance?” “Yes,” the man answered pleasantly. One was too old, but Barkus was willin’, a springy, affectionate black poodle. He was very interested in Trixie. The next day, Doug dropped off Barkus at our place on his way to work, across Central Park to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was a physician. He harbored no qualms about breeding, although we had only just met. Perhaps being a doctor made him more at ease with reproduction. At my house, the dogs played a bit, and then slept together. I mean slept, lying on the floor a few feet apart. Barkus, I found out, was also on the elderly side (8) and had never made it with a female. After several long dates, one at Doug’s place to see if Barkus would be more relaxed in his own home, nothing happened.
I’d thought it would be easy! You’re always hearing about dogs getting knocked up. Why not Trixie? My husband thought she might be a lesbian. She follows me around, and adores Lida, and her female poodle, Henree. That could be, but I wasn’t willing to try artificial insemination.
I wanted Trixie to conceive naturally. I wanted to be there when she delivered her pups. I wanted to handle them, gentle them; to give them over to loving owners at 12 weeks. But, I give up. Another guy, a Russian, has spurned me, near the 93rd Street entrance, where dogs and owners congregate in the early mornings and after dark. He is the owner of Ulysses, a graceful young gray. The wife told me her husband had signed a no breeding contract, as I had; but he was not a sociopath who’d break a contract on a whim, as I was. So now I’ve been rejected by all the owners of intact male poodles on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Trixie is unfazed. She’s content to romp with her platonic dog friends. It’s time I accepted what everybody already knows: my children are grown now, and I’m the one who wants puppies. Everyone else, including Trixie, is fine without.