I'm His Valet — and My Dog Is Still My Hero

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Brent Staples, who writes for The New York Times, has published an article on the editorial page in which he denounces the dogs of New York City ("ill-behaved dogs.... a big, menacing boxer ... a frothing German shepherd... a pit bull mix named Ozzie").

I concealed this scurrilous attack, with its canine stereotypes, from Freddie, who at that moment was taking his ease under the kitchen table with an especially noisy bone.

But later, I put it to him directly, nose to nose: "Fred, are you a good dog?... Or a BAD DOG!!???"

Fred received the question with the contempt it deserved. I gave him a half-moon of English muffin.

No man is a hero to his valet. I consider myself to be more or less Fred's valet, his Jeeves — that's how he views me, at any rate — and I am under no illusion that he is perfect. Fred is untidy. He is, thank God, a shorthair, and therefore somewhat easier to launder when he returns from the woods, having rolled in something so sick and wrong, as Kris Kristofferson used to sing, that a sort of green aura comes off him in waves — depravity made smellable. He wears the scent triumphantly — he prances, Beau Fred enveloped in his cloud of wild cologne. Once, he found the week-old corpse of a skunk, marinating in the oils of its stink glands. That was Fred's proudest hour. It took several gallons of tomato juice to neutralize him. I threatened to run him through a car wash. His breath was unbearable for weeks.

As long as we are speaking of the dark side, Fred sometimes pees on the dining room floor. He does it not because he needs to, but to discipline us if we stay out too late at dinner. Now and then, to send a stronger signal, he lodges his protest in solid form. Then he considers he has gone too far and when we return, he circles the pile, barking indignantly, as if to say, "Look what some barbarian did! What an outrage! I'll get to the bottom of this!"

But these are cavils. I think of Fred normally in heroic terms. I am working on Fred's biography, which I mean to call "Fred, Hound of Destiny." Fred has the good grace to think this is over the top. He is, in any case, a beautiful dog, a vizsla (pronounced VEESH-la), honey-red in color, of loving and exuberant disposition, and a sensitivity to the nuances of human emotion that is as delicate as his hound's genius for smell. A remarkable character.

This evening at dusk we walked him up the road a mile or two, through a shadowy forest stretch where coyotes or bears had left their scent heavy, in layers, on the evening air. We could tell from Fred's body English: What assaults of danger, what alarms announced themselves to his brilliant nose, as the air congealed, in his imagination, into dark vicious fur and fangs. But he went bravely on.

Actually, Freddie pretty much agrees with Brent Staples about New York City dogs. Some months ago, we took Fred into New York with us. He hates being cooped up in an apartment, so we walked him over to a park by the East River where there is a squalid, fenced-in dog run — pebbles and poop, like the exercise yard of a county jail. My wife and I turned Fred loose and sat on a bench. Fred mingled gingerly for a moment with the other dogs. A poodle tried to bite his ear off. A big bulldog, with a certain New York City directness of approach, attempted an act of unusual intimacy.

Having sampled the hospitality of the city, Fred returned to me and my wife. He climbed up onto the bench and sat down between us, wearing an expression of bewilderment and distaste.