a Dog Lover's Mystery , by Suzanne Constant* , © 1994



a Dog Lover's Mystery
by Suzanne Constant* , © 1994

My name is Holly Winter, and , until recently, I've been certain that it was about as ill chosen a name as had ever been registered to any whelp of human born.

Now I know better : it could have been worse, much worse. For instance, if my sire and dam had been kennel named "Wood" instead of "Winter", I would have been registered as "Holly Wood". The very thought makes me cringe ! Or if I were to marry some man named Wood, why then I'd become "Holly Wood - Winter." Now that thought makes me absolutely throw back my head and howl, not the joyful melodious howl of a wolf assembling the pack for the hunt, but the anguished soul-stricken howl of an Alaskan Malamute puppy with its foot caught in a leg-hold trap.

You see I seem to have caught my own neck in a trap, metaphorically speaking. I was foolish enough to leave my shabby but secure home in Cambridge to come out to that most bizarre of human dog shows, Los Angeles , or more specifically, to Hollywood to negotiate a contract for the filming of my novel "A Bite of Death." Perhaps you've read it ? (If not, buy a copy immediately ! I need the royalties.) If you've read it, you can understand why those creative geniuses of the film industry, who love nothing better than to imitate the most recent blockbuster success, want to film it. Of course they want to re-title it "The Howling Game" and to cast St Bernards instead of the One True and Perfect Breed, the Alaskan Malamute. Anyway , what was intended to be a short springtime visit has turned into a summer in the inferno and threatens to drag on into and through the next winter. Hence the horror inspired by the mere thought of "Holly Wood - Winter."

It's my own fault of course. I didn't have to come here. But the option money was irresistible : more than I earn in a year of writing for Dog' s Life magazine, more than enough to pay all of Rowdy's and Kimi's Obedience Trial entry fees for the rest of their lives or until both earn their Utility Dog titles, with plenty left over to buy a really good computer and laser printer to replace the ancient wrecks on which I've been limping along for the past five years and to buy some badly needed additions to my wardrobe from L.L.Bean and to make a really generous contribution to the Alaskan Malamute Protective League. Hence temptation and the trip to LA.

The trip itself was delightful. To spare Rowdy and Kimi the dangers and discomforts of airline travel, I decided to drive us all out in my Bronco and mapped a route to include many interviews with trainers of unusual accomplishments, as well of course as a visit to the AKC Dog Museum in St Louis and other canine shrines. Unfortunately there was no way to include the Iditarod on the route; I hear Susan Blucher has an especially good team this year. But out of the interviews and visits I could include, I got enough material for the next year's columns ; and I hope for more on the way home, when and if I'm ever free to go home.

What, you don't know about the dangers for dogs in airline travel ? Then read my article in the January issue of Dog's Life. Put simply, the airlines treat your dog with the same tender consideration that they give to a suitcase full of dirty underwear, probably because their legal liability for loss or destruction of either "cargo" is limited to about a dollar per pound. Yeah, go ahead and let your best friend fly the not-so-friendly skies. My editor would not allow me to detail the worst horror stories. What I also could not mention in the article is that there is one way to fly a dog safely : my research discovered more than a few gifted dog trainers who had successfully disguised their dogs as Guide Dogs. Well, you can get away with that if your dog is a member of the Other Perfect Breed, the Golden Retriever. My last Golden, Vinnie, would have performed the impostiture perfectly. (I still miss Vinnie, though she's been dead now more years than she was alive.) Most of my mother, Marissa's, Goldens could have done it in style. (I still miss Marissa, though she's been dead even longer than Vinnie, her final gift to me.) You could get away with it if she's a Labrador or German Shepherd or possibly one of a few other breeds (I was able to verify one report of a Bouvier bitch with more Frequent Flyer miles than Amelia Earhart). But an Alaskan Malamute Guide Dog would be beyond the bounds of credibility. Malamutes are wonderful beyond belief, but what they are not , and which a Guide Dog must be, is sober and responsible. Anyway, there is no way to take two dogs as Guides : no airline is going to believe that you need a spare. What, leave one home? My cousin Leah did offer to keep Kimi for me while she attends her freshman year at that famous obedience school for humans that is practically next door to my home, but I declined. Los Angeles is reputed to be a rough dangerous town, so much so that I want both my lupine lookalikes at my side.

Ladies, do you really want to feel safe on the mean streets of the city? Do you want to sleep safe in your own home at night? Get a large formidable looking dog, train him (or her) well in basic obedience, and keep him (her) constantly at your side. It doesn't have to be a dog who will bite to defend you, just one who looks as if he might and could do so. Malamutes love everyone and are more apt to ask a rapist for a belly rub than they are to bite him, but their wolf-like appearance is enough to deter attack. Or you might prefer "the real thing", a German Shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler, Bouvier, or an Akita. Yeah, with an Akita at your side you could walk through Hell. I intend to have an Akita someday if I can ever figure out how to prevent him and Rowdy from killing each other.

An Akita : that's how my real troubles in Los Angeles began. That's how I got involved in the most sensational murder case of recent years, a case that only a dog could solve.

Mid-way through my third week in Los Angeles, I was peacefully driving down the street, going out to pick up a bag of Eukanuba, when I spotted an Akita bitch, leashless and unaccompanied, running down the sidewalk with an anxious air and with blood streaks staining her otherwise well groomed and probably Eukanuba nourished coat. I couldn't leave her to be hit by a car or picked up by Animal Control, could I ?. And if she was injured , she'd badly need a veterinarian's attention. (For that matter , I too badly needed a veterinarian's attention; but that veterinarian, my lover Dr Steve Delaney, was over 3000 miles away, and I wasn't looking for a replacement.) So I had to stop and help her. What else could I do ?


{to be continued}

* if you cannot discern this as a pastiche, either you are unfamiliar with the works of Susan Conant or your IQ is less than half of a qualifying AKC Obedience score

site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1994 revised 8/3/03
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