Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is That a Lamb?

As we drove through Phoenix from the airport to the hotel Jan and Ron had booked for the night, I felt a responsibility to take in a little of a city I’d never seen before.  But all I really wanted to do was stare at Cleo.  She was so tiny that she could stretch out width-wise on the back car seat and still have room for a chew-toy.  While I don’t want to judge a whole city on two car rides, one from the airport to the hotel, the other from the hotel to the airport, I have to wonder why anyone would want to go there.  By the time I get to Phoenix, indeed.  Then again, I do know the way to San Jose and I don’t much want to go there, either.

Gracee, Cleo's mom
As we chatted, Jan told me about Cleo’s ancestry.  Though I keep saying that the only thing that really matters to me is that Cleo is happy and healthy, and this is true, I couldn’t help being impressed by her lineage.  To breed Cleo’s litter, Jan partnered with a long-time friend, Lucy Heyman who owns Carillon Bedlingtons.  Carillon has bred an astonishing number of champions, including multiple time champions like Lover Boy, Cleo’s dad.  Together, Jan and Lucy own Sterling, Cleo’s half brother who was Lucy’s 134th champion!  Jan Balladarsch also owns multiple champions, including Cleo’s mother Gracee, whose whole first litter were champions.  It actually gets a little mind-boggling.  Following the lineages is a little like memorizing the connections among all of the crowned heads of Europe.  The danger, of course, was that I would start to think I had to treat my little girl like a piece of fine porcelain.  I got over that the first time she had a dig fest in the backyard dirt.  She is one tough little puppy dog.

Lover Boy, Cleo's dad
On the way back to the airport, Jan coached me a bit on being an ambassador for Bedlingtons.  “I’m always asked what kind of dog Gracee is,” she said in her smooth Texarkana drawl.  “Or people will think she’s a lamb at first.”  In a gentle way, she was telling me that I would be answering a lot of questions and that it was important that I be always upbeat and thorough in my answers.  Bedlington owners love their dogs and are passionate about the breed; there is nothing snooty or standoffish about us.

As I walked through the airport, Jan was proven right.  My first stop was the ticket counter.  When you fly with an animal, most airlines require you to make a pet reservation ahead of time, then pay a fee once you’re at the airport.  For US Airways, the fee is $100, which, when you think about it, is something of a ripoff.  For one thing, they are very clear that you absolutely may not, on pain of defenestration, take the pet out of its airline approved travel crate once you’re on the plane.  Cleo had to ride underneath the seat in front of me.  So the traveler pays $100 for the privilege of putting her pet where she might normally have put her laptop for free. 

Anyway, as soon as we stepped up to the ticket counter, the agent exclaimed, “That is the cutest dog I’ve ever seen!  What kind is she?”  I looked at Jan whose return gaze clearly communicated, “This is your maiden voyage, trainee.  Answer her.”  By this time, two or three other agents had come over to our counter to get a look and several travelers in line were craning their necks.  “Ooo,” cooed one, “she looks like a little lamb.”  Holy smokes, I thought, the clich├ęs are all true!

So I said goodbye and thank you to Jan, Ron and Jan’s son, they each gave Cleo a final hug and I was going it solo.  Negotiating through the security line was the first challenge.  Over my shoulder I had a large handbag sort of thing that now contained a banana, an apple, two books, my cell phone, my wallet, a puppy toy, puppy treats, a leash and a twenty pound box of Bedlington Terrier books and magazines that Jan lent me.  In one hand I carried the puppy crate, and wedged between my arm and ribcage was Cleo.  The line was interminable.  We finally made it up to the identity check officer and I dropped the crate and began scrabbling through my purse for my license and boarding pass.  Despite the fact that I must have been squishing her vital organs to jelly as I fought not to drop her, Cleo didn’t utter a word of complaint.  She simply gazed around at all of the other passengers, took a rapt interest in what was going on in my bag, and placed a nonchalant paw on the officer’s podium.  “Oh, she’s darling,” the officer chirruped.  “What kind of dog is she?”

I wasn’t really sure about protocol as we went through the metal detector.  All I knew was that I was not going to put my tinky puppy in a plastic bin to ride along a conveyor belt and be x-rayed.  Although I did think it would be pretty cool to have a chance to see her little bones and everything.  But no, I carried her through the metal detector, showed the security guard my boarding pass ("Cute.  What kind?"), then redressed and gathered up my paraphernalia, all without dropping the puppy on her head.  I considered that a major accomplishment.  

It was an enormous relief to finally make it to the gate and have a chance to sit for a bit.  Cleo was so beat that she sacked out half in, half out of her crate and snoozed.  As I watched her breathe (something that was endlessly entertaining at that moment), I heard the woman across from me murmur to her husband, “Is that a poodle?”  He had the good sense to say no.  At one point, Cleo woke up, looked at me and yawned, and the family at the end of the bank of seats exclaimed, “Oh, my gosh!  It’s real!  I thought it was a stuffed dog.  It’s so cute!”

Cleo naps as we wait for our plane.
People can be so lovely, can’t they?  There was the man who came over to me to offer to throw away my banana peel and slimy apple core so that I didn’t have to leave my sleeping puppy.  There was the woman who praised both Cleo and me when Cleo toddled over to the pee pad I’d hastily laid out for her when I realized she was looking for a place to go, squatted and let rip with perfect aim.  There was my seat neighbor once we were on the plane who offered me half of her under seat space for my bag and who, once we landed in Monterey, turned to me and said, “Do you think I can have a little peak at your puppy now?”  Honestly, I think there’s nothing like the promise of a brand new being to allow people to expose their vulnerabilities and to bridge the distance between human beings with kindness.

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