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“Doris Day Is My Boss”

There comes a time in every dog’s life when he finds it hard to hurdle a six-foot fence, when he has gained a few extra pounds around the waist, and when he is content to lie quietly in the sun and think.

I lie now upon a high chaise lounge in Doris Day’s yard, my-eyes half-closed against the morning sun. On the thick grass Marty and Terry are playing catch, while my mistress sleeps in the sun, as lazy for once as I am.

As I reflect upon the seven years of my life, remembered incidents take fire in the sun—the evening I big Bill Holden’s police dog, the time I brought my mistress a brick as a present and broke the toe of the friend who was with her, the night she took my paws between her hands and told me she was going to be married.

But all those things happened in my adulthood, not at the beginning. In the beginning, I was born. I was born of two noble parents—the Marquis and Marquise Roi Noir du Lac—who saw to it that the first months of my life were spent in acquiring that knowledge of manners, genealogy, and formal etiquette without which no well-born French poodle is allowed to enter into society.

Alas, for such pride and education. Before I was six months old, I had been sold, chained, flogged, fondled by sniveling children, and forced to endure night after night of dull conversation. Suddenly I knew I had to get away.

I ran like I had never run before in all my life—ran until my paws were bloody. The world was before me—wild and inviting. I would search it through until found a master to follow, to walk behind.

I intelligently decided that the obvious place to look for one would be Beverly Hills, so noon found me stretched out on the sidewalk of Beverly Drive. I was approached by many people. None of the men I saw suited me. I was about to give up when a man with wavy black hair and deep black eyes parked his car. I gave him my paw. He gave me his hand. From his voice I knew he was English. One of my ancestors had died at the battle of Waterloo, but we French poodles are quick to forgive, so I drove home with him. I walked happily into his house and I was met by thirteen cats. I walked right out again. My benefactor seemed to understand, so he boarded me in the pound while he advertised for my owners.

At the end of a month my benefactor paid my board bill. He had an appointment with a photographer, Jack Freeman, and he took me along. Jack and I liked each other and so my benefactor presented me to Jack.

For a week I lay peevishly in the middle of his studio floor, tripping my share of clients. On the seventh day someone stumbled over me and said, “Jack, what’s that old smudgepot doing in the middle of the floor?”

I liked the voice immediately and stood up, since I was taught never to greet a lady while lying down.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the voice said. A blonde head with bright blue eyes came down to my level. “Did I insult you? Please forgive me.”

I gave her my paw. I wanted to assure her that Chevalier Noir du Lac would not mind at all being called a smudgepot by her.

“I’m Doris Day,” she said, and I must admit that I forgot my dignity just enough to wag my tail. In fact, in that one moment I knew I had acquired a mistress and no master would ever do for me. I gathered all of Jack’s discarded flash bulbs and brought them to her.

he must have felt the same way, because she took me home. When we walked into the kitchen, my mistress’ mother screamed and dropped a plate of spaghetti sauce on my head. My mistress’ mother, unfortunately, had not had the pleasure of seeing a French poodle before. I licked the spaghetti sauce, discovered that she was a wonderful cook, and we were friends.

It was a nice life. That first year I considered myself the man of the house and I patroled the grounds every morning and evening, picking up anything my mistress might have left in the yard and making sure that no stranger was around.

At six o’clock each night I stood at the front gate, with a present for my mistress wrapped between my teeth. I liked to surprise her so sometimes I brought a bone, sometimes a pretty rock, sometimes an attractive geometric shape from the rubbish pile. She was always properly grateful and surprised. We would walk together into the living-room; then she would kick off her shoes and relax. It was my job to take them upstairs for her.

After supper we would rehearse. She would go over her script for me while I listened with a critical ear. Later, when I had curled up on the foot of her bed for the night, she told me any problems she had had during the day. Naturally, I was always on her side. It is a dog’s privilege, you know, not to consider right and wrong, and my sympathy always seemed to help.

It was a good life, and only one thing worried me. I could not be sure that she loved me as much as I loved her. I found out quite dramatically.

I was sunning myself on the porch when my mistress’ mother decided to back the car into the driveway. I assisted. When we had backed the car to my satisfaction, the telephone rang. My mistress’ mother ran to the house, leaving me in the car.

I prepared to wait (she sometimes talked for an hour or more). But this time, three hours passed and she still hadn’t returned. (I learned later that she had forgotten about me.) Then another hour went by, and I heard her whistling and calling me. It seemed undignified to bark back at her, so I waited.

Less than fifteen minutes later, my mistress came home and ran to the front porch. “Smudgy,” she shouted. “Smudgy.”

I felt so choked up I couldn’t even bark.

Then she and her mother disappeared down the street. I barked, but they didn’t hear me. I watched them stop at each house and ask for me. I jumped into the front seat and barked louder. My mistress started running towards me. She opened the door and held me so tightly I could hardly breathe and I didn’t even care, because I could feel her tears against my fur.

It was only a few weeks after this that we were about to go to sleep when she took both my paws between her hands and said, “Smudgy, I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone. I’m going to be married.”

She looked at me and I felt obliged to smile and wag my tail, although I was really wondering how this would affect us.

She seemed to know what I was thinking. “Don’t worry, Smudgy,” she said. “Marty and I couldn’t do without you.”

It made me feel a great deal better to know that it was Marty she was going to marry, since he already knew the right way to scratch my ears and the correct height to bounce tennis balls. He wouldn’t have to be trained. And yet it did give me a funny feeling to realize that my life was going to change.

I didn’t have to worry. Marty and my mistress got married and went on a honeymoon while I stayed home to guard the house.

The big change came a few months later. We moved. The new house had a volleyball court and a swimming pool and lots more ground to protect so I grew quite ferocious towards dangerous people like the milkman. Someone had left a pile of bricks in the yard so I had a new gift to bring my mistress each night. I learned to do a very good swan dive off the high board by watching Marty, and the people next door had a tennis court so I was properly supplied with balls and could show off whenever anyone came to swim.

There are uncomfortable things about the best of lives. A dog learns, for instance, to take cottage cheese philosophically. I mention cottage cheese because my mistress is keeping me on a diet of it and horsemeat.

Once I managed to get into the kitchen alone. My mistress had made a dozen cherry tarts for dinner, and I was all alone with them. I climbed up to the table and tried one. It was delicious. I tried another. I took a third so I could propose a proper French toast to my mistress for her wonderful cooking. And I remembered enough old French toasts to finish the dozen tarts. Then I lay down on the table and got ready to die.

As I said before, there are uncomfortable things about any life, like my mistress’ anger when I put my paws on the good furniture; and enduring the long silence when my mistress wants to watch TV instead of having a good, long talk. But these things are not really important at all; the important things are times like last night.

I found my mistress alone in the garden and curled myself against her feet.

“Oh, Smudgy,” she said. “I’ve had an awful time today. I had an argument with . . . oh . . .”

I licked her hand, sympathetically.

“. . . well, you know how these things start. But it wasn’t my fault.”

I stood up and growled, batting the air with my paws as I tore whoever it had been into little pieces.

“Thank you,” she said, bending down to me. “But it was a silly argument. And maybe I was wrong.”

“Never,” I barked. “You are perfect,” I barked. “You are perfect,” I barked again.

“I’m not, but thank you for saying it,” she whispered and she scratched my ears. She stood up. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Smudgy,” she said. “You always make me feel fine.” I bowed.

“Come on, I’ll race you to dinner.” She started towards the house.

I bolted fiercely after her, making sure I didn’t hurt her feelings by winning. I followed her in and walked happily towards my cottage cheese.




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