Obedience. It is
a nice word and sort of touching these days, like other old-fashioned words
that have become obsolete through disuse. Take a hypothetical father, for
instance, speaking to his hypothetical son. "When I give you an order,"
he says (hypothetically), "I expect instant obedience." The son has to
sneak off to his room and look it up in the dictionary.
Or take the
housewife who tells a carpenter she's hired that she will expect him to show up
for work at 9 a.m. the following morning, as promised. Two weeks later he
marches in, tears up the floor and disappears (he's gone on strike) for a
month, leaving her to play hopscotch over the missing planks.
Or consider the
basketball coach who tells his teen-age team that they must not smoke, drink or
go out with girls during the season. He'll be lucky if they don't hollow out
his head and use it for a basket.
Now I always
thought that the consolation in having to grow up under the authority of
parents, teachers and other bossy types was that once I got grown it would be
my turn. I could give a few orders myself and expect to be obeyed. What a
laugh! I can't even get my cleaning lady to show up on schedule if her day
happens to coincide with the Met opener at Shea Stadium. She even had the nerve
to tell me what a good time she had. ("Major Lindsay threw out the ball and
some famous singer sang the national emblem.") So give up on the cleaning
lady. She's past training. So are the kids but, never mind, they'll get theirs
someday. Merchants and tradesmen are a total loss. What's left? One brisk day
the answer came to me. Dogs.
Dogs can still be
trained to obey. I've heard it said they like to obey. Could there be a more
natural ego builder than to take a dog through obedience school? I could see
myself now, barking out orders to a dog and getting instant obedience, right
here in the heart of disobedient li'l old New York.
I did not own a
dog, but I did have access to an Afghan hound named Shah, the pet of friends of
mine, and observation had led me to conclude that obedience was not Shah's long
suit. Could Shah become the vehicle for satisfying my frustrated desire to
command somebody—or something?
Up to this point
I had held no great brief for dogs. On the beleaguered island of Manhattan, a
community where plaster has become obsolete as insulation between apartments,
they can be a noisy nuisance. In my own setup, there was a Pekingese down the
hall that frequently escaped from his apartment into mine and made off with my
slippers. A beagle upstairs yelped dismally in his master's absence, which was
most of the day. But I was mildly fond of Shah. His owners, Louise and Richard
Calamari, wanted to send him to obedience school, with the eventual hope of
showing him. With a Ch. before his name, should he win a ribbon, the pups he
would someday sire would be worth more than if he just noodled around with the
11 cats that also lived in the Calamari apartment. Louise couldn't take him to
school. She was, as the phrase goes, expecting. Richard worked all day and
spent two evenings a week with his National Guard unit. So I contracted to take
Shah to school every Monday night for eight weeks, even though it meant missing
Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. That's how keen I was on this obedience thing.
Wazir's Shah, to
give him his full title, comes from a long line of champions, all of them with
names out of The Arabian Nights. His sire, Ch. Sahadi Sinbad, had been whelped
by Ch. Crown Crest Khalifah, who had enjoyed a brief nuptial arrangement with
Ch. Shirkhan of Grandeur, the first Afghan ever to win the coveted best-in-show
award at Westminster. Indrani, Shah's dam, was impressive, too. Though not a
show dog, she had earned her C.D.X. (Champion Dog Excellent) which is a sort of
master's degree in obedience. Indrani was popular with breeders because of her
unusually friendly disposition. The Afghan generally tends to be haughty and
aloof with strangers, but in this respect Shah took after his dam. He was as
purebred as Queen Victoria and twice as approachable. In coloring, he resembled
his sire, Sahadi Sinbad, black with a white chest. His hair, from topknot to
toes, was long and silky, except for the bareness of the traditional Afghan
tail. Shah's tail was a frayed rope that looped at the tip. In the coarse deep
grasses of Afghanistan, hunters followed the high-held tail, frequently all
that was visible as the dog chased its prey. A pretty legend has it that the
Afghan was one of the dogs that Noah took into the Ark. Dog lovers, I said to
Richard, who had told me this to impress me, will create any fiction to up the
My first move
with respect to Shah was to call one Richard D'Ambrisi, the executive secretary
of the Association of Obedience Clubs & Judges, Inc., who suggested I take
Shah to the POTC, the Poodle Obedience Training Club.
"Poodles?" I said. "Listen. Shah is an Afghan hound. He stands 28
inches high and weighs more than 70 pounds. Even if I shaved him down to the
last hair, he wouldn't pass for a poodle."