07/14/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

My Ugly Dog

"That dog is ugly," a girl from the high school across the street spat at me as she walked by with her friends. I've heard it before - sometimes it still hurts my feelings, especially when I think about how much better Brenda is than when we* first found her. Granted, she's never been a looker. At best, she resembles a junkyard dog, but she's my dog.

Brenda spent the first five years of her life in a basement in the Chelsea projects, either in a rapestand or cage as a "breeding bitch." The vet said she's birthed about 80 pups that were likely used to fight or as bait. The cage was so small that her badly developed bones and atrophied muscles make her walk with a wobbly gait like a puppy, though she is about six now and often damn cantankerous. When Brenda was thrown out, literally tied to a railing on West 19th street and left to die, she was covered in mange, infected from head to toe, and had never seen a car, a bus, a bike, or a blade of grass. Dog toys and balls baffled her. She reminded me of those sad stories of children kept in closets who suffer grave developmental and psychological delays as a result.

Some people say we should have put her down; she was so sick and needed so much rehabilitation. Some days I almost agree. Love doesn't conquer all when you have, understandably, long-term, deep-seated trust issues with human beings and all other animals, and continue to be terrified of loud noises, sudden movements, heat, cold, bright light, no light, and the list goes on...

We walk by couples eating at sidewalk cafes along Seventh Avenue - sometimes they both stare, wait until I've passed, and comment on what might possess me to have picked such a mutt, or maybe in kinder way, wonder what happened that she looks so "scrappy." Meanwhile, there are moments I look at them and wonder how much "looking good together" factors into their choice. Certainly in tabloids it seems having a beautiful date (either on the red carpet or in a "Just Like Us" shot in the parking lot) is something carefully considered. Is there pressure to keep trading up? Does a narcissistic celeb (or anyone, for that matter) more often choose a good-looking mate since they consider that person an "extension" of themselves? **

How my boyfriends react to Brenda certainly matters to me. Do they try to find something endearing about her ("Listen to that bark, ...quite a set of lungs on that 'ole girl") or are they visibly annoyed when she darts out in front of us full force because a plastic bag rustled and startled her ("Great, she's embarrassing too").

"Sex and the City" wannabees with little dogs in shoulder bags eye us warily. Why would anyone get such a homely, panting, grumbling, stumbling-like-she's-drunk, dog? No one wants to pet her; no one makes kissing or cooing noises at her when we pass. Often the same kids from the high school will bark at her without provocation. Like the fit guy with the fat girlfriend or the baby with the undeniably froggy eyes, are they puzzled at the odd coupling or do they feel awkward pity? Or do they assume she possesses redeemable qualities that aren't skin deep? Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. For me, the looks my ugly dog receives are more telling of the looker.

*My friend Sara and I take turns caring for Brenda. To read more about Sara's experience with Brenda check out

**Obviously, not all celebrities are narcissistic, though research shows there are more personality disorders like narcissism in entertainers.