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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Central Park Dogs

Why Waste English Setters on Dog Shows?
Robert Scott Leyse


Steven to Angie & Ella
Sent: Sunday, August 28, 2005 7:47 PM
Miffed, my darlings? Indeed, you ought to be! What girls worth their frilly underthings – that every man with a pulse wants to peel off – put up with being stood up? All the same, I ask for understanding!

OK, I bailed on our Four Seasons brunch after I'd made the reservations, but ask yourselves: how often do I fail to show up after setting something up and talking it up? I can count the all-time total for the year on one finger! Is it my fault my pal Byron, one of my oldest friends who I – at most – see every other year, chose today to detour through town on a drive to Pennsylvania from North Carolina? I think that qualifies as extenuating circumstances!

As to why I didn't bring Byron along so you could meet him: he had his dog Zuke with him and Zuke couldn't be left unsupervised in my apartment: there's no telling what would've been chewed beyond recognition or torn to shreds!
Zuke's an English Setter – the wildest, most spirited, bouncing-off-the-walls-with-energy breed of dog on earth; and, at eleven months, is in the prime of exuberant disregardful-of-authority puppydom! Full grown size-wise, still a puppy disposition-wise – the perfect combination for maximum riot! Turn your back on him for a second in my apartment, and he's mauling a pillow or chomping on electrical chords or overturning the trash! So that's why you didn't meet Byron, and we went to Central Park with Zuke instead!

Yes, an English Setter: slender, swift of movement, graceful of bearing, cute, a breed seldom seen outside of dog shows. As for dog shows, the contract Byron signed with the breeder stipulates that he show the dog. Is he going to do so?

Here's his take on the subject:
"I shell out $1,200 for Zuke, and of course the breeder has the gall to inform me I'm to hit the dog show circuit with him! Free advertising's what she's after, as when the dog's birthplace and pedigree's announced! But, having botched it with breeders in the past and been turned down, I was ready for her – assured her I wished for nothing else, trotted out a barrage of false enthusiasm; said I was planning to hand him over to an obedience school – named the school, well-known, that I'd found on Google! Still, she was suspicious – subjected me to a full-out interrogation! So I dropped more names and locations of trainers, asked questions concerning dog show applications – was very well-informed and interested indeed, because I'd printed some out and could read the nonsense aloud! Finally, she bought it!
"Christ! Forcing a dog as lively as an English Setter, originally bred for hunting, to endure the endless transport cages of the dog show circuit is a high crime! Turning an English Setter over to some spirit-breaking parasites at an obedience school is something I could never be paid to do! All I want is a lively pet! Anything wrong with that?

"All the training rigmarole, dog shows – it's a multi-million dollar industry! The silly woman thinks she's going to enlist me in publicizing her business, at the expense of Zuke's happiness! Screw her! And what's she, located in Vancouver, going to do about the fact I lied a blue streak and duped her? Zuke's going to remain free-spirited and out of control and race like a maniac through the fields of my farm to his heart's content, and she can drop dead!"

But enough of the preliminaries, Angie and Ella; by way of – partially – making amends for skipping on our brunch-date, I'll entertain you with our Sunday-in-the-park adventure:

Once we cross Madison and the trees of the park come into view Zuke's whiffing at the air – inhaling the heady scents of nature – and yanking at the leash as if possessed, such that it's real work to keep him from tearing it from my hand. I kid you not: my arm's sore by the time I release him behind the Met. Drunk with his sudden freedom, he bolts towards Cleo's Needle, darting hither and thither along the way.

A full grown English Setter puppy's a beautiful creature to see when he's racing free! Zuke's on permanent overdrive, is faster than any other dog in the park; extremely playful, he buzzes other dogs, jumps on them, compels them to chase him; but none can catch him, or even come close.

Another quality of English Setter's is that they love people: Zuke's way of greeting people is to rear up on his hind legs and place his front paws on their chests, often rather abruptly. He's simply saying "Hello!" and is as harmless as a baby, but some people don't realize that and become quite discomfited, recoil with apprehension. It's amusing to watch Zuke jolt them from their thoughts, force interaction upon them: one moment they're in their private worlds, the next they're forced to deal with an exuberant – leaping, sniffing, licking – creature that still has one foot in the wild kingdom!

Byron and I toss a frisbee for awhile under the canopies of the large oaks near Cleo's needle; Zuke races back and forth between us leaping and snapping at the air in vain attempts to seize the object that continuously soars just out of his reach; at last, half out of his mind at the fact we're playing with something he can't get ahold of, he begins barking in protest; so we toss the frisbee to him and, after snatching it in his jaws, outdoes himself in demonstrations of joy – capers about in such zigzag angles of abrupt switches of direction it's amazing he manages to remain on his feet. Then we're chasing him to get it back, and he's teasing us in turn – often crouching on the ground and allowing us to approach, only to whisk yards away in about two seconds the instant our fingers are inches from his mouth.
"Zuke's really charged up now," Byron says with a grin. "Let's go over there." He gestures towards the Great Lawn, crowded with people.

So we stroll to the Great Lawn and, ignoring the signs that say dogs must be leased therein, allow Zuke to enter unhindered. Lo and behold, I fully understand why Byron was grinning! A field crowded with people is Zuke's ideal playground! He madly dashes across picnic blankets, spilling bowls and scattering plates; he jumps onto people's laps, nuzzles and licks them; he teases the leashed dogs nearly to madness, until they erupt into furious barks. Softball games are being played and Zuke brings a couple of them to a standstill – in one case enters the batter's box and, in a demonstration of affection, knocks the catcher on his rear; in another case fields a base hit and dashes in circles with the ball, the defensive players flinging their arms up in futility as the runner sprints all the way home.

And it's then, my dears, that I'm rewarded with a bonafide transcendent moment – as when the truly improbable suddenly reveals itself to be a plausible and existing reality of which one's both the cause and beneficiary. Suddenly, I'm hovering outside of my body, gazing upon the scene as if from a distance: Zuke, the softball still in his mouth, is racing like a maniac with four players chasing him; Byron and I, making a show of actually trying to catch Zuke and leash him, are shrieking "Zuke! Zuke!" at the top of our lungs. Yes, we're the cause of a great deal of commotion on this previously peaceful Sunday and the majority of heads on the Great Lawn are turned in our direction, and guess what? No one's openly cursing us!

It has to be experienced to be believed! Running and shouting and at the center of the commotion as I am, I'm suddenly enveloped in a feeling of overwhelming security and inviolability! Why? Because I understand that, as long as Byron and I pretend to try to catch Zuke while dispensing apologies here and there, no one's going to voice opposition! How do two grown men get away with sowing utter chaos in a public place? All they need is a spirited dog!
Yes, I'm relishing the situation: plenty of people are laughing on account of the unexpected entertainment; others are simply watching with interest; a minority are exhibiting creases of annoyance on their faces. Am I worried about the latter? Not in the least! They dare not openly express their annoyance because then they'd be branded as "dog haters" and incur the dislike of the majority! (Is it too far-fetched to suggest that dog haters, especially in the eyes of people who frequent parks, are situated close to the bottom of the totem pole, along with informants and child molesters?) Nor does it hurt that Zuke's a poster child for canine cuteness: wide trusting vaguely sad eyes, a beautiful tri-colored coat, grace and swiftness personified, a grown puppy romping without a care in the world! As I overhear one woman say: "Such a pretty puppy-wuppy!"

Deeming it time to give the players their ball back, Byron tosses the frisbee to Zuke: he drops the softball to seize the frisbee. The players, jovial fellows who enjoy a laugh, shout things such as: "Hey Zuke, we could use you on our team!," "Great fielding, Zuke!," and "Now we have a spitball!"

Alright, we've caused a disturbance on the densely populated Great Lawn for almost fifteen minutes – great fun, but unwise to push it! Tolerance for a madly romping dog, no matter how cute, won't last forever! So Byron and I exit the Great Lawn on the southwest side and head towards Belvedere Castle and Zuke follows: simple as that!
And that, my dears, was our secret all along: as long as Byron and I were chasing him, Zuke was going to dash from our grasp; it was all a game of tag to him, regardless of whether we were screaming his name! I like to think it's our canine and human agreement: Zuke romps and disrupts everything and we count on him to pay us no mind while pretending to try to catch him!

More adventures are had, of course. In Bethesda tunnel, Zuke treats us to a demonstration of his hunting skills: suddenly, he freezes and stares, apparently mesmerized – it's a hint of the pointing hunting dogs do at birds hidden in the brush; then a swift dash, and – presto! – he wraps his jaws around a bag dangling from a man's hand and yanks at it: out tumbles a whole chicken onto the ground. Zuke wastes no time in seizing it, racing towards The Mall: quite breathtaking to behold!
"Jesus Christ!" the man yells, glancing about to see who's responsible for the nefarious chicken-snatching beast.
"Zuke!" we're screaming at the top of our lungs – our yelling's magnified and echoed very nicely by the tunnel.

The man's looking at us now, then glancing towards the end of the tunnel, where Zuke's devouring his prize at the base of the exit stairs – a mixture of being none too pleased and amused despite himself is on his face. Before he can say anything, we're apologizing profusely and offering him twenty dollars for the inconvenience.
"Aw hell, I can get another bird for a lot cheaper than that!" he answers, refusing the money. He makes it obvious the offer of recompense is recompense enough. "What kind of dog is that, anyway?" he asks, gesturing in Zuke's direction.
"An English Setter."
"Hunting dog, right?"
"Too much of one for the city, I think," says Byron.
"He sure as hell knows what he's doing! That bird was out of this bag and over there in five seconds flat! It's worth a bird to see that, and blessings on him! I'm glad he's enjoying it! And he's still got his balls too! Good for you! Don't neuter him!"
"Dead horses will fly to Mars before my dog gets neutered!" exclaims Byron. "Break his spirit? Steal his manhood? Disgusting!"
"Nothing worse!" the man fairly shouts. "I had a dog awhile back – Black Lab, feisty and smart, bundle of energy. I went off on business for a week, convention in Atlanta. The first wife... She goes and gets his balls cut off while I'm gone! Dog wasn't the same after! The sparkle was gone from his eyes – he became sluggish, wasn't quick and bright anymore! I sometimes fancied he was asking 'Why?' when he looked at me – it was like a trace of his old spirit was sputtering in them, baffled at being cut off from its source! And I sure asked the wife why! Guess why? Because someone on TV said it was 'beneficial'! She was always glued to the tube, mistaking blather for gospel truth! No one easier to hoodwink than the first wife! Once a head-turner, but with low mileage! As braindead as she was unable to keep her looks, and with her bedroom skills flagging as fast! She's been replaced by one who ruts like a rabbit and has a head on her shoulders!"

"One of the breeder's conditions was that I neuter the dog," says Byron. "It's in the contract! Do I care? About as much as I care if the breeze blows! Sure, she's worried I might make use of Zuke's pedigree to breed him and compete with her, but it's more than that! These people are programmed into thinking neutering's in a dog's best interest, as if being deprived of the sex-drive will make him happier! What they really mean is that it makes dogs more submissive – easier to manage, train to do stupid tricks that reflect far more on the vanity of humans than anything that's good for dogs! They get a dog because they want a creature to control! They want obedient fawning animals that are exclusively dependent on them! They want to show off in front of others of their ilk, say 'Watch Rover roll over! See how Rover heels and sits at my command!' They're a bunch of controlling despotic creeps who victimize animals because they need to feel superior; and then they turn around and pass it off as being concerned for the animals' welfare! I don't see them cutting their own balls off, or getting themselves spayed!"
"Damn right!" says the man heatedly, delighted to have found a comrade in arms. "The world needs more dog owners like you! Not those sacredy-cats who want them to be stupid and lazy, like my stupid first wife! Dogs ought to steal chickens and raise a ruckus! To hell with those that disagree!"

As if on cue, chicken-thief Zuke trots up to us; not only is he unapprehensive of the man from whom he filched the chicken, he enthusiastically greets him in his customary manner, placing his front paws on his chest.
"Oh, you're good boy, aren't you?" says the man, bending to caress Zuke's head and pat his back. "A good dog!"

Zuke, Byron, and I part from the man the best of friends and continue on our merry roving tour through the Mall and to Sheep Meadow and The Pond, never failing to leave disruption and flusteredness and laughter in our wake. Towards the end I'm quite giddy with the license to carry on that Zuke's antics are making possible; I'm screaming his name absolutely as loud as I can while dashing about like a ten-year-old; being associated with Zuke has transferred a portion of his freedom to make a spectacle of himself to me, and I'm going to savor it while it lasts! Thanks to our constant yelling of Zuke's name, I'm sure it's engraved upon the memories of hundreds of people!

Too soon, alas, the waking dream's over: we exit the park at 59th and 5th and must reintroduce Zuke to the leash; no longer surrounded by open fields, he instantly settles down. We hop a cab back to my place, chat for a couple more hours over lunch, then say our good-byes. Byron resumes his journey to Pennsylvania, to his usually-but-not-at-the-moment ex-girlfriend's place.

So there, my dears, you have my excuse for bailing on our date and offending your vanity, and why I ask for special consideration! And, though Zuke was the one primarily responsible, I think you ought to think sweet thoughts of him nevertheless! I, for one, owe Zuke my heartfelt thanks for placing my city boy self in touch with the animal world! Sowing chaos in half of Central Park in open view of everyone and getting away with it lifts fun to a whole new level! Being in on the romping of a cheerful and mischievous dog is rejuvenating, therapeutic, and healthy!
Love,
Steven
P.S. Why are we so fond of dogs? Alright, they're blind to our many shortcomings and unselfishly give us their affection, no questions asked: this, the human vanity factor, has to be the main reason why we love them. But another source of their appeal is that they exist in our civilization without being fully of it and therefore serve to remind us of our ancestral origins, when we lived as one with nature and were unhindered in our expressions of feeling. Thousands of generations preceded us and our present sorry state of being emasculated by civilization is an aberration that makes up a small percentage of human history: how can we not want dogs among us, when they occasionally afford us a glimpse of what we once were?

BIO: Robert Scott Leyse is the founder and editor of the ShatterColors Literary Review. His first novel, Liaisons for Laughs: Angie & Ella's Summer of Delirium (hailed by LA Weekly as "fun, steamy, and intelligent"), appeared in May, 2009. His second novel, Self-Murder, will appear in December, 2009. A native of San Francisco, he resides in Manhattan. More information may be found at his website, www.robertscottleyse.com.

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