Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bassets Make People Smile

Growing up my family never had dogs - or any other furry pets for that matter. Mom was allergic, so the issue never really came up. Yet I loved pets, and doted on other peoples' whenever allowed to. I eventually developed an allergy of my own to cats, but dogs remained safe, and I generally loved nothing so much as snuggling up to someone's pet.

Rob's family was the opposite. Not only did they always have a dog when he was growing up, they pretty much always had two dogs. When I started dating him, they had a beagle and a Doberman. The Doberman was a sweetheart, friendly and protective (of me) from the get go, while the beagle never forgave me for stealing her boy.

So it's not exactly surprising that Rob and I started looking for a dog to love nearly as soon as we moved to a place that would allow dogs. Our first dog found us, more or less by accident. He was older (8), a pre-rescue placement, as his original owner was getting ready to dump him in favor of his new dog-hating bride. Cosby was as sweet as they come. A poppy-red Golden Retriever with the kind of manners that make you understand why dog training is said to make other dogs behave like Goldens. Cosby lived another eight years, to the ripe old age of sixteen. Yet in all that time, he was never really our dog. He was always looking for his person to come back; always waiting for the boy he grew up with to come take him home again. We were just the nice caretaker people.

So the next time we were dogless and feeling it, I wanted a puppy. A dog to be our dog, not always looking past us. At this point the boys were very young (2 & 4) and we wanted something we could rely on to be tolerant. Rob had fond memories of the dog he first remembers - his parents' first dog, Sam, a tri-color basset. I liked the idea, so we looked around and ended up with Nicky.

Nicky is anything but a show basset. Sometimes for fun I'll list all his faults that would get him thrown out of an AKC showring (assuming we hadn't had him neutered). I can get over a dozen without even trying hard. He's about 4" too long, 2" too tall, swaybacked, crooked forelimbs (ricketts as a puppy), and double-coated, just to hit the highlights. But as a family dog, he's perfect - endlessly tolerant, good-natured, adores children (all children, not just ours), not at all territorial or food protective. He's also undeniably my dog. Not even the family dog - my dog. He sleeps beside my side of the bed at night (in fact he's curled up on my feet right now and won't go to bed until I do).

But there's one side of owning a basset I hadn't expected at all - how much people like them.

Since Cosby was both friendly and strikingly beautiful, I was pretty used to getting commentary when out for walks. I had, without thinking about it much, expected that this wouldn't happen as much when we had Nicky. He's a handsome boy, but bassets just don't hit many people's lists of gorgeous.

So I was a little surprised the first time somebody pulled over to the curb and leapt out to come exclaim over my dog. And even more surprised when it happened again a few weeks later. In all the time I'd had Cosby, no one ever pulled over to tell me how beautiful my dog was. The people who commented were the people who were already out walking or in their yards. But with Nicky, people would get out of their cars, come out of their houses, or cross the street to come see him. And nearly all of them would be grinning ear to ear as they patted Nicky and told me about their neighbor's basset when they were little, or their own bassets at home.

I finally decided that bassets just make people happy. Something about that goofy amiability is so endearing that people will go well out of their way to experience it. Not everybody of course - we hardly have traffic jams when I take Nicky to school to pick up the boys. On the other hand, it's a rare month when somebody doesn't pull over to ask about him. Nicky with his easy-going temperament and open face (white blaze with freckles) seems to attract this more than most, but even my father-in-law's current basset, Toby who is nervous and distrustful, comes in for some of the generalized basset love that seems to be floating around.

Even the pizza delivery guys, who have every reason to not like having dogs crash the door, don't seem to mind when it's Nicky. Instead they reach down and ruffle his ears (after turning over the pizzas). Nobody seems to believe for even a second that a basset could possibly be hostile to them. Which, in Nicky's case at least, seems justified. The first Christmas after we got him, we came down in the morning to find that my Dad had come over and let himself in. He was reading on the couch with Nicky, who had never met Dad before in his life, happily curled up beside him, having never made a noise.

Nicky's getting older now himself. He's six now, and just starting to slow down and realize he's not a puppy. He's not likely to make Cosby's sixteen, but we can probably hope for 12+, and he's in good health thus far, despite the ricketts. And as long as he's up for it, I'll keep taking him around the neighborhood, even though we have a fenced back yard, because it's so delightful to see people smile just because they've seen a basset.


Becky said...

Nice story, Cindy. I remember you telling me about Nicky when you were here.

Martial Arts Mom said...

That's a great post! We have a Siberian Husky and he is gorgeous - two blue eyes which is not the norm for huskies - usually one brown and one blue. But he is geting up there in age, too. He's about 13 and big dogs usually live to about that age or just a little older. He's also a sweetie.

polarchip said...

Hi! Bassets are indeed adorable! I love dogs too and I am so happy to hear about how they make people's lives better.

Perpetual Beginner said...

I've had this post in the back of my brain for a while now. As much as I think Nicky is a sweetheart, it's always been a bit bemusing just how much people love bassets.