I've often said that I love good friends and I love sweet dogs -- which makes it doubly fun for me to present this piece to you, written by the legendary TV writer Bill Persky. Billy and I have been the best of pals since we worked together on "That Girl," and when he sent me this piece (which is perfectly timed for the annual Westmintser Kennel Club dog show), I remembered all over again why I adore him so. Enjoy! --M.T.
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Who Has the Best Dog in the World?
By Bill Persky
This year, the Westminster Kennel Club will add three new breeds to its annual dog show competition (which begins tonight): rat terriers, Chinooks and Portuguese podengos. And in an even greater nod toward inclusiveness, it has created an "agility" category for mixed breeds, in which the mutts will execute obstacle-course tricks that rise above the typical shaking hands, playing dead and rolling over.
Of course, the mongrel newcomers won't be eligible for "Best in Show" -- that honor is still reserved for nobility with names like Haymarket Faultless, Strathtay Prince Albert and Warland Protector of Shelter Rock, none of whom have probably ever chased a car to bite the tires.
That's okay, though. Despite their exclusion from the top event, the Spots, Trixies and Rexes of the world will continue to compete (as they do on a daily basis) for the title, "The Best Dog in the World." And the winner is -- yours!
It doesn't matter the shape, the size, the breed (or lack thereof); it doesn't matter
that he doesn't obey, or she sheds, or he's incontinent, or she's flatulent -- your dog is the very definition of canine perfection.
And, as of my 82nd birthday, September 9, 2013, so is mine.
Sassy came as a surprise, not a gift, the result of a random comment I made to my wife when I saw a dog in a passing car, its head out the window, loving life, the world and the wind. This pup was the personification of innocence and joy, I said to Joanna, and began musing aloud that maybe we should get a dog.
Within hours, Joanna had me at a rescue shelter meeting prospects. Whereas my comment had been casual, Joanna's yearning was clearly visceral -- and after waiting 18 years for the slightest opening, she wasn't going to let this one slip away.
Since my commitment was fragile, I needed some sign that I would be loved and revered, but the dogs didn't seem to get that, cowering from me and showering Joanna with kisses. As much as I adore dogs, there were many reasons not to have one: At 82, you aren't looking for new responsibilities. I already have trouble walking without being tugged at the end of a leash; and then there's picking up the results of those walks. As Loudon Wainwright immortalized in his song, "Man & Dog":
If a man has a dog in the city
Then a man has to walk in the park
Take a little stroll by the riverside
Smoke a cigarette there in the dark
Livin' in the city,
Man livin' with a dog.
And a man has to carry him a plastic bag
On his person at all times
'Cause when a dog dumps on the sidewalk
Walkin' away is a crime.
Livin' in the city,
Livin' with a dog.
I had no desire to be that man. So when Joanna failed to fall in love at first sight, and we left the shelter dogless, I felt I was the one who had been rescued. That lasted for about an hour. Within moments of arriving back home, Joanna was at the computer, browsing through the Gimme Shelter website. And then I heard those three words: "There she is!"
Forced to take a look, I couldn't deny it: there she was -- Sassy. It wasn't so much that she was beautiful, but, rather, the goofy way she was sitting: like an exhausted pole dancer after a hard night. We arranged a meeting for the next day -- my birthday -- and she was ours the minute she jumped up and started licking me. (I suspect Joanna had secretly sprayed me with essence of Alpo.)
After a couple of nights waking with anxiety over what I had done, Sassy quickly made me realize how lucky I was to find the world's best dog.
There has probably been as much written about dogs as any subject on earth, and yet no one has really managed to capture it -- and neither will I. It's beyond words. The magic of dogs is more than just the loyalty, the unquestioned love, the companionship, devotion, innocence, purity of spirit, and boundless joy they express when you come through the door. It's more than making you feel special when you don't; curling up next to you when you need to be curled up next to; their complete lack of ego, so they can cater totally to yours.
No, what makes dogs truly remarkable is their lack of expectation from you or the world, beyond a bowl of food, some water, a chew toy and a belly rub. That's what makes you start thinking more about their needs than your own. And that's what Sassy -- and Theo, Errol, Wacha, Baa, Daisy, Lucy, Jeter, Harry, Sarah, Henry and countless Spots and Rustys -- deserve. Because they're all the Best Dog in the World.
Bill Persky, 82, is a producer-writer-director whose credits include The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl and Kate and Allie; and the author of the memoir, My Life Is a Situation Comedy.