Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Holden’s Sweater

Do clothes make the man? In many cases, it seems they do. Police uniforms, priests' vestments, prisoners' orange jumpsuits, all instantly define their wearer. It's further been my observation that clothes can make the dog, or, I should say, that clothes can make the dog sick. I'm referring to Holden's sweater.

Holden was my first dog, and I've written about him at some length in the past. He was ostensibly a beagle-mix, a fat, dim-witted, coarse-coated fellow, foul smelling and ill humored. To make him even less appealing, he was something of a sickly puppy.

In his first year, the harsh Illinois winter made Holden sick, giving him a cough. Since his hair was fairly short, we bought him a red argyle sweater to keep his chest warm. Because he was big-boned (I'm joking; he was fat), the only sweaters that fit Holden were, in all respects aside from his neck and chest, far too big for him, so they would hang in the back, half-way down his tail.

That first year, Holden loved his sweater. It did minimize his coughing, and he managed to be a badly behaved, though generally healthy, puppy because of it. In those olden days, dogs would just be "let out." Of course, Holden was especially terrible about coming back when it was time. He preferred to roam the neighborhood, looking for garbage to eat or doing god knows what. Most of our neighbors didn't know my name, or Karen's, but everyone knew Holden, because we were screaming for him so often.

Once we left the house to go look for him, because he'd been gone for too long, and we were walking down the street calling for him. We came across some strangers. I asked them if they'd seen a little yellow dog.

"Oh, Holden?" they asked. "No, we haven't seen him tonight." These people might have been strangers to us, but they definitely knew Holden.

We walked a little farther looking for him, and ran into another stranger. We asked him if he'd seen a little, yellow, dog.

"Was he wearing a cape?" the guy asked.

"No," I said, "It's a sweater. It just hangs long in the back."

For that first year, whenever Holden started to cough, we'd put the sweater on him. In his second year, when he was no longer a puppy, we continued to do the same. By this time, though, when Holden was coughing and feeling poorly, he didn't have even his characteristic minimal energy. By the second year, if Holden was sick, and was wearing his sweater, he was feeling essentially incapacitated.

Though Holden was a low-energy dog, who liked to conserve his calories, he was still capable of being a bad boy, especially in new situations. We were renters, and it's always more difficult to rent with dogs, and we had either two (Holden and Lyric) or three (add Chelsea). So when we met potential landlords, it was imperative that we present as a well-behaved pack. Lyric, the Seeing Eye dog, was, of course, a perfect charmer, and Chelsea was always a good girl, but Holden was unpredictable and could be decidedly squirrelly.

Then we made the discovery that controlled Holden from then on, in situations where he needed to be controlled. I don't remember how we discovered this, but we found out that if Holden was acting up, and being a little wild, if we put the sweater on him he instantly became placid. Since he associated the sweater with not feeling well, a quasi-Pavlovian syndrome had developed. When the sweater was put on him, Holden instantly believed he was sick, and acted accordingly sedate. We were able to present him to landlords and pass him off as an elderly, sedate, harmless fellow, instead of the little tub of trouble he actually was.

I wish I had some pictures of Holden, particularly in his sweater, but you'll just have to use your imagination. He looked a lot like the second dog shown in this article, except a dirty yellow color. Aesthetically unappealing as he might have been, though, Holden will always be remembered, by at least one anonymous guy in Bloomington, as that dog wearing a cape, and that's an epitaph I think Holden would be pleased with.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands


Sharkbytes said...

I enjoyed this. Some dogs just never figure out the definition of good and bad in the human mind.

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