By Mims Cushing
May 3 through May 9 is National Pet Week — that time of the year when you should honor your pet whatever it may be. Here, I will honor my first dog, my dear, long-ago little Sebastian. Thank you, Sebastian. You were my first love.
When I was eight I hounded my parents for a dog. I envisioned a pooch so fully loaded with fur that I could nestle my face in the scruff of its neck. Fur so thick I could whisper my darkest secrets into its soufflé of fluff, which would make any of my secrets inaudible — except to him. Fur so downy it would dissolve my childhood and teenage tears.
I was thinking sled dog, hair of fleece, and white. Mother was fixated on something else. She was bent on a hairless dog. A miniature dachshund. Guess who won. (Being allergic to dogs, she thought it wouldn’t shed. They do and it did.)
One Sunday in 1954 we set out for Darien, Ct. from Larchmont, N.Y., to go to a miniature dachshund breeder. The litter of four teeny chocolate puppies, whose names all began with the letter “S,” was beguiling, angelic. Samantha and Sebastian were the top contenders. I favored the female. Mom, who had not given birth in three tries to a boy, was partial to the male.
“An aristocrat,” Mother called him, which will give you an idea of the type of treatment he received. She loved the name Sebastian and we nicknamed him “Sebas,” pronounced “Si bas,” (the s is silent) which means “so low” in French. What he lacked in fur he made up for in tail, a perpetually wagging metronome that could only mean joy.
Even though the dog was not what I’d envisioned, I was elated and came up with various maladies so I could stay home from school and play with the pup. Mother allowed this, but if she hadn’t I might not be so pathetic about knowing state capitals and so much more.
Dad didn’t believe in feeding our king of dogs store-bought dog food. He spoon-fed him his famous moussaka, and let him lick cherry pie off his fingers. Si Bas adored cheese and learned to balance Brie on the end of his nose. He’d “Sit!” for a long time until Dad would holler, “Ok!” Si Bas would growl and throw his snout left and right to loosen the melting cheese, stuck like Scotch tape, and gobble it down. I was thrilled to have a dog who would eat my dinner serving of trout that dad cooked. I loved dropping the happy dog forkfuls of the nasty fish from my plate.
The mini Dachsy, as you can imagine, soon blossomed into a robust 20 lb. hoglet, in dire need of a gym for dogs. Dad’s cooking continued. In winter he loved to settle in on snowy, arctic weekends and cook up pies and cakes and casseroles all day. Sebastian, his most ardent consumer and family gourmand, scarfed all he was given with nary an Alka Seltzer in his bowl for dessert. He did have to — to be polite about it — be taken for many a walk on days when Dad played chef.
One year when I was in college, alas, he was ailing from something — perhaps dyspepsia. Mother slept in a sleeping bag near him on the kitchen floor many nights until he died at the age of 14.
When my son Jay was two years old, I gave in to his pleas for a dog. We chose a Samoyed whom I named Vodka. She was the softest, whitest dog I could find. I adored him as did Jay. I never did ask him if he would have preferred a hairless dog.