The Year of the Dog
Photo & Text by Cat Simril Ishikawa
To me, the most beautiful part of the already overwhelmingly beautiful Bellagio Hotel in Vegas is the conservatory. Every February, they have displays based on Chinese New Year and its attendant zodiacal animal. As this is the year of the dog, life-like dog dolls cavorted about the conservatory. I found it very moving. Although there have only been four dogs in my life, the first two only briefly, I cherish the species (in spite of my name) and seeing those dog dolls in mid-leap at the conservatory felt as if each of the dogs I’d known had come back to life and were jumping up to meet me again.
My first dog was a brown-spotted dalmatian with the ponderous name of Poco Cayenne Pepper. Obviously, we just called him Poco. His long name was from his parents (his father was Cayenne, his mother Pepper). He was a big dog, at least to me as I was 7 years old at the time. I remember not being nearly strong enough to hold his leash when he went for a walk. Even my vastly stronger father and my large, powerful uncle Al had great difficulty restraining Poco on the leash. As we lived in a small house with a small yard in Van Nuys, California, it wasn’t a yard for an active young dog. My father’s great love was gardening and he valued his plants more than any other life forms. When Poco repeatedly dug up his garden, my father had had enough. Poco went to live with a family that had a ranch for him to get his necessary exercise, and we were dog-less for another seven years.
I don’t know how or why we got another dog, a much small cross-breed we called Peanuts. She looked somewhat like a peanut. The same color and shape. But she was a dog and needed to dig. My father did not tolerate competition in the garden, so Peanuts was soon gone too. During these years we had cats, a parakeet for a decade and even briefly, a rabbit. None of these animals threatened my father’s garden.
Although there have been many cats in my life, it wasn’t until the 80s until we had another dog. Our daughter Monique found an abandoned dog in a park near our house and named her Mami. She joined our cat Ernie, who lived with us for the rest of their lives, first in Japan and then when we moved to Vancouver, 1988.
My wife had a friend who had a large, white dog whom he could not take care of. We were living in a condo, which was no place for a large dog. He was so big, we called him Iceberg, then shortened to Icy. Not long after getting Icy, we moved into a large house, a good match for the big dog. Not long after, we acquired two kittens, neither as big as Icy’s head. Even after 14 years, they are not large cats. Icy was always large and active, for the rest of his life.
At the close of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus returns home after many years of adventures and discovers that only his dog Argos still recognizes him. Writing of this long-awaited reunion, Anthropologist Loren Eiseley writes, “the magic that gleams between Argos and Odysseus is both the recognition of diversity and the need for affection across the illusions of form. It is nature’s cry for homeless, insatiable man. Do not forget your brethren or the green wood from which you sprang.”
The need for affection across the illusions of form is one way of looking at why we have pets, and why they have us. As dogs are pack animals, we become part of their pack. I have read that pet cats think of their humans as their mothers. Do dogs and cats consider us just funny looking other dogs and cats?