Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Puppies Under My Childhood Christmas Tree...

Every Christmas I make a big stink about how I believe everyone should find a puppy under their tree. I've been much more vocal about it lately, since my own little guy, Madison Chandler, is my every day present, but it's something I've believed since I was young enough to still believe in Santa, too. All I wanted when I was a kid was a little puppy wearing a big red bow to pop up when I pulled the top of the box off. It was an image I had undoubtedly seen on some television show (or maybe even commercial) somewhere, and it stuck. But what stuck out further were all the cool things said puppy would be able to do. You know, all the tricks that I saw all the other TV dogs do.

I never got a puppy for Christmas. Instead, I tided myself over with these TV pups from TV families. In fact, it wasn't until the spring of my tenth year that I finally got a puppy at all, an age at which my mother probably thought I could finally share in all of the responsibilities. Whatever the reasoning, my alternating whining and sullenness had worn her down. My time had finally come! But that didn't mean I loved these little guys any less. In fact, I may have even loved them more because they were my inspiration, my surrogate puppies (like countless stuffed animals that came before my real live dog, too), and my guides for just what a perfect little bud this animal would be.

Comet from Full House was the quintessential family pet and every little girl's best friend. He could respond to the wacky antics and crazy behavior with a single bark or doggy eye-roll, but like any old curmudgeon on a sitcom, you knew his heart was actually amused by those around him. Even if Danny Tanner probably whisked him as often as he did the couch cushions themselves. Comet was actually played by a Golden Retriever named Buddy, a film star in his own right who proved he was a good sport in life, not just in character, when he allowed his naturally blond coat to be dyed a much darker amber for a little-known movie called Fluke. Comet was the inspiration behind my collection of Lisa Frank Golden puppy stickers and the not-so-subtle example used when showing my parents just how well-behaved a big dog could be.

Married with Children's Buck was one of those dogs that my mother pointed to when giving excuses for why I couldn't have one. With long hair like that, he would shed all over everything, making my eyes itch, and making the house impossible to keep clean. With a long tongue like that, he would slobber over everything, leaving stains on the couch, clothes, and little stinky droplets on smooth surfaces. But Buck the Sheepdog (who's real name was Mike until his Hollywood trainer just decided to rename him since he responded so well to the character anyway) was full of love, and sometimes love was a little messy. Or at least unorthodox. After all, wasn't that the message of his show??

Murray from Mad About You proved to my parents (at least I hoped) that a big dog could adapt just fine to a small New York City apartment. Murray, played by a Border Collie mutt named Maui, barely seemed to take up any room, even when he sat in between Paul and Jamie on the couch or kept their feet warm on the edge of their bed. He was sweet and gentle, docile and quiet...until that one time he jumped on the kitchen island to eat the Thanksgiving turkey still in its pan. But he was loved by the young couple as the child they never (at least until the finale) had.

Eddie from Frasier may have been a terrier, but he was far from a terror to those watching his statue-esque like performance. He always seemed to wear a big smile on his face, game for being dressed up in a little Santa suit or to simply stare at the action in the scene as he rested patiently on the old, scratchy-looking armchair. His breed is supposedly one of the more hyper ones out there, but he was so mellow you almost forgot he was a real live dog. And can you believe there were two of them? Eddie was originally played by a Jack Russell named Moose but when he got too old, he was replaced by one of Moose's litter. Acting really can be all in the genes!

And though Family Guy wasn't on during my childhood, their "just dog; no breed necessary" Brian still manages to sum up a key selling point of such trained companions: he is smarter and more in tune to his family's needs than they are. My mother used to like to tell me that a dog is no substitute for another human being. But I would disagree, as I knew that just because we didn't speak the same language, it didn't mean dogs were inherently inferior. Maybe they had the cure for cancer in their cute little skulls but just couldn't communicate it! Brian actually can communicate, though, and he proves the level of intelligence I always believed was there.

Dogs are those members of the family who will never grow too big or two old to move out and stop needing you, let alone decide they are "too cool" to show you they love you in public. And dogs on television families are the unsung heroes: always there, always loyal, always obedient. For working dogs in the world of television, they don't get the kind of praise and attention that the human actors do. The roar of a live audience doesn't mean much to them, when they aren't allowed to be trotted out in front of their adoring admirers for pets, scratches, kisses, and treats. In fact, they are treated more like walking, sometimes talking props: being kept in a small, sheltered kennel until they are needed to perform, paraded out to do their bit, and then ushered back into their crate. They are forcefully treated like divas, told to stay in their "trailer" when really all they want to do is play and mingle with their co-stars.

Many take for granted the endless entertainment and enjoyment they have provided through the years, but clearly not me! Clearly I overanalyzed a ton of things relating to television as a young'un (and, let's face it, still do!), but take a minute and consider this, as well: no one ever accused a television show of jumping the shark after adding a new dog to its family!

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