by Betty Zubritsky
There is no cast in granite way to pick a Kennel Boyfriend. Everywhere I’ve been, farms and race kennels one and all, I’ve always had at least one. Or two. Sometimes three or four. But never more than a dozen. Almost never. Because I’m all about the boys. I can and I do love every dog in my care, but I have favorites. Truthfully, if anybody ever tells you they DON’T have a favorite, run hide and save yourself. That person is either lying or just plain doesn’t care about the dogs. I wouldn’t want anybody in my kennel who couldn’t declare at least one that was special.
I started (and abruptly stopped) picking boyfriends on Marys farm. Zoni didn’t like anybody very much, but I have always loved a Roman nose, and he had the most dramatic one I’d ever seen. To this day, I’ve never encountered one like it.
So I loved Zoni the moment I saw him, and he didn’t care a whit. He must have raced around people who found him unattractive, because with just a little wooing and cuddling, he became my own. I watched with wonder when he took a little prance to be near me. “I’ve never felt so pretty!” Honey, you’re flat gorgeous. “You love me?” I do, and I always will. “Tickle me!” and my fingers went to his magic place and I tickled him to the very limit of his ability to stand upright. “HEEHEEHEE!!! Now tickle the other side!” I’m a sucker for a ticklish dog. Particularly one with a gangster face who adores me. I tickled him everywhere, and my heart broke when he left me.
Not broken as in irreparable. The greatest thing about a heart is that it can hold them all, and although Mary wouldn’t permit me to love HER dogs the way I do, there wasn’t anybody else who objected.
Picking a Boyfriend is a very serious thing. Piffle, who am I kidding? It’s really just silliness. It’s me being all about the boys and having one (or two or five) …. (or twelve, who‘s counting?) that simply delight me. Except for Romans, it’s not about appearance. Well, unless he has an enormous butt. I do love a big squishable butt. And it’s never about racing ability. However much my life depends on them, picking a Boyfriend has absolutely nothing to do with his stats. It’s about personalities. Dogalities, actually. And even THEN it makes no sense because what I love in one can be thoroughly annoying in another. Doesn’t make me love him less, but it knocks him out of Boyfriend status. The one and only unbreakable rule for a Kennel Boyfriend is that he cannot eat poop. My dogs learn early on that they are not allowed to touch me with a poopy-face, and the Boyfriend must be cuddled at every opportunity. His face, therefore, can never be poopy.
Clear as pudding? Good. You’re ready.
This little blog (destined to become a Big Blog) will carry us through my many many romances. From past loves to present ones, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep a little “diary” of our daily or weekly adventures.
Starting with this guy because, well, I have to start somewhere, and his is a peculiar Boyfriend-ness. One of our biggest boys when I worked with Craig at The Woodlands, he was officially named I Feel The Love. The Plum Creekies come up with some very strange names sometimes, and then they send them with equally strange kennel names. For some reason, they called him Barley. Craig called him Barley too. So did I because it was easier than trying to pull a kennel name out of I Feel The Love. I toyed with Barleycorn, but it was cumbersome and it just wasn‘t fun enough. So he was Barley until I could come up with something more amusing.
Barley was a gentleman. As big as he was, he could have been a heathen and there would have been little anybody could have done about it. But a more kindly lad I’m not sure I’ve ever known. Truthfully, he was even a little boring. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, but when you have 65 other dogs, and most of them ARE heathens, the boring one doesn’t really shine. And more truth, he wasn’t my favorite color. I’m not sure what my favorite color is, but he wasn’t it.
Barley was (and still is) a black and white spotty, with lots of ticking. Spotties can be stunningly beautiful, but if they’re heavily ticked they tend to look ….. what’s the word…. Untidy? Not quite it, but it’s close. Barley kind of had too many dots for my particular liking. I loved every dot on him, but he wasn’t the Boyfriend. I was wooing other boys.
I had an occasion to talk with our friendly bartenderess one day, and she said she’d love to adopt one of my dogs because I loved them so much. Didn’t matter which one, she simply wanted one of mine. I was delighted! I asked her about her family and their activities and what she was looking for. “Oh, I think I want a female. I have little children and we like to play outside. Color isn’t important. Whoever you think will fit in will be wonderful.” With a smattering of experience in adoption, I did a mental scan through my adoptable girlies. One was already spoken for, and the rest were nut bags. Wonderful adorable nut bags, but not really the right fit for a home with little kids. Would she consider a male? “Oh sure! Whatever you think is best!” I homed in on Barley. This was the guy for her. Pretty much a great big pillow on legs. So I told her all about him, and she thought yes, this was her boy. We set up a date for her to come meet him, exchanged phone numbers, the whole works.
She didn’t show up, and she didn’t call. I was annoyed, but things happen when there are little kids, so I hugged my Good Barley and told him not to worry. I’d get him home. When I saw the bartenderess again, I asked what had happened and she said they wouldn’t let her on the compound. Ok, I can fix that. Jim Gartland gave me permission to get her into my kennel and we set it up again. “Tell me more about him. Is he beautiful?” Of course he is. In fact, he’s racing today. I’ll point him out for you.
When she saw him in the post parade, she declared herself in love. He didn’t win his race but he didn’t do badly and she seemed enchanted with him from a distance. I was sure of this match. It was going to be perfect.
And she didn’t show up again. And didn’t call. No matter what her excuse might be this time, I wasn’t putting my dog in her house. It wasn’t being angry with her, it was feeling that my dog wasn’t important to her, and he had to be.
But I saw him again in my own words, the ones I’d told her. And I recalled things I’d never said to her at all. And when I consoled him that second time, I made him my own. It’s ok darlin’. She doesn’t know what she’s missing. You’ll just stay here with me and be my Good Barley. And that was fine with him.
It was even finer with me. The more I pondered him, the more I found that I loved him. In his quiet and boring way, he was shnoogling his enormous self into Boyfriend status. “What a darling you are!” I told him one day. He agreed. He certainly was a darling and it was high time I figured it out.
When I was in Kansas City, The Kennel Boyfriend would get a special playtime whenever I did a turnout. He was the one I would take out with me while I picked up the yards. All the rest of the dogs were in their beds, and my one (but not necessarily only) went out on a little “date”. Fun for me, fun for the Boyfriend. It got complicated when I had several Boyfriends, since I only took out one per turnout, but my boys were not jealous and they shared the time very well. So I knocked some letters off his Barley and turned him into Bar, left the Good intact (because he’s a VERY good Bar) and there he was. My Goodbar. And out we went to pick up the poops.
Oh my, what had gotten into my boring dog? He romped, he played, he spun circles around me and wiggled with delight. I leaned my tools against the fence and studied every ripple of his body. In an instant, this boring dog who wasn’t my favorite color had become the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen. It’s what I tell people all the time and I’d finally seen it happen. When you love the dog, it doesn’t matter what he looks like. He’s the prettiest dog there is.
The next morning, I told Craig I wanted to adopt him. He promised to tell the Creekies the next time they called. He’d already told me I could have pretty much any dog I wanted (as if having 66 of them in the kennel, where we practically live anyway, might not be enough for me). Goodbar was languishing in the lower grades, and would be sent out to another track if they had no reason to keep him there. An adoption is reason enough, and they agreed to let him stay for me while I tried to get a fence put up, and I cuddled my suddenly beautiful boy every time I had the chance. How could I have thought he was boring? How did I not see how gorgeous he was? I even started to love his registered name.
“I Feel The Lurve!” I declared him at weigh-in, and there were chuckles all around because all the officials knew I was taking him home. Happy for me, happy for him.
Finances were tight and I was really struggling to get a fence done. Damn things cost a bundle no matter how you do ‘em, and I was sure the Creekies were getting impatient with me. Nobody had ever said so, but they couldn‘t be thrilled with my dragging feet. I knew that we needed to make room for some youngsters to come in. Craig scanned the kennel and made his list of the dogs that we‘d be sending out to other racing venues. He didn’t say a word about my Goodbar, just left him off the “send” list and went on. My boy was still safe with me, but I was being unfair to my employers. The Creekies had treated me very very well. “Put him on the list. It’s ok. Just please ask them to make sure he gets into a good adoption group when he retires.” Craig saw the tears in my eyes and said “well, let me see if we’ll have room. We may be able to keep him.” Craig wasn’t nearly as mushy about the dogs as I am, but he had his favorites too, and he understood my wanting to adopt. I had a decision to make. “No, he can shine at another track. It’s too tough for him here. And I’m not anywhere close to getting my fence up. If he grades off here, I won’t be able to take him home. Please, send him.”
Nod. Scribble. Goodbar was on the list.
In the days that followed, I lavished cuddles on my darling boy. He didn’t know why I was crying and my words wouldn’t tell him. I traced his face with my fingers, to remember it forever. Every crease, every ridge, a sculpture in my hands. I love you. We almost got there, but somebody will love you even better than I do, I promise. I promise. And I don’t even have to tell you to be a good boy because you’re perfect.
And then he was gone, with my tears on his sweet head.