Even though she looked so cute in her carrier!
If you ever want to know what it’s like to be a social pariah, strap a poodle to your chest.
I learned this the hard way.
My husband Bryan and I have two dogs who “aren’t exactly bookends,” as someone quipped recently. Rio is an 80-pound Labrador retriever mix and absolute head turner.
“I never knew what it would feel like to be a supermodel until we adopted Rio,” Bryan likes to say.
Our 9-pound poodle, Peach, also garners plenty of attention, but typically of the “Squee!” variety. She’s a tiny, floppy Muppet with a plucky spirit that makes older women swoon. I even had a burly, tattooed biker catch sight of her, light up, and exclaim, “Aren’t dogs the best? I have two Chiweenies and a wiener dog.”
We’d only had Peach for about a week when Bryan’s band had a gig at an arts festival in our funky Colorado mountain town. I knew the streets would be overflowing with people shopping for jewelry, sculptures and paintings while staring into booths instead of looking at the ground, and worried the tiny dog might get flattened by a foot Monty Python-style.
Instead of opting to leave the dogs at home like a sensible person, I bought a carrier from Outward Hound so that Peach could ride around on my chest, out of harm’s way.
“She’ll look cute in the aqua blue version, right?” I asked Bryan.
“You’re the one who has to wear it, so choose whichever you like,” he said, patting my arm with concern.
He was right to be worried — not for Peach, who immediately fell in love with her special new perch — but for me. There’s a study that showed walking a dog can facilitate making friends and developing a social support system.
The same is not true of wearing a dog.
The day of the festival, I walked out of my comfort zone and into the street party with a poodle on my chest. While my big dog strutted his stuff, excited by all the people and intoxicating smells, I scanned the crowd for dog lovers who would relieve my insecurity. Surely someone would ask to pet one of the dogs. But no one made eye contact.
We were suddenly invisible.
We walked right past people sipping wine on outdoor patios at sidewalk restaurants, but it was like everyone simultaneously averted their gazes. Ah, such engrossing conversations! I was sure there would be whispering about the “crazy dog lady” once we’d moved on.
Wait — were those kids riding past on bikes snickering about me?
I walked three blocks feeling like Cersei Lannister on her walk of shame in “Game of Thrones” — painfully vulnerable and exposed. Maybe it was all in my head and nobody could actually see Peach? She is very small…
No such luck. When I got near the stage, a Swiss friend I hadn’t seen in a while came over with a glint in his eyes. He hugged me without crushing Peach, barely containing his laughter.
“What’s up?” he asked, gesturing to the poodle.
“This is Peach, she’s eight, we just adopted her,” I babbled. “I know this probably looks nuts…I’ve crossed a line from which there’s no return…”
I could see he was preparing a zinger when one of my girlfriends made a beeline for us. She was already laughing.
“Jen! You look so cute!” she said.
“Nobody is looking at me — I’m a freak!” I admitted.
“They must think you’re trying to be like Paris Hilton, accessorizing with a dog.”
They both laughed. I stroked Peach nervously while Rio tugged on his leash.
“Can I take a picture?” she asked.
Panic shot through me. “Only if you don’t post it on Facebook…seriously, promise me you won’t…”
“No, it’s just for you,” she said, whipping out her phone.
After she snapped a few pics, I said we were going to try to find Bryan before he went onstage. “Good luck with everything,” the Swiss guy said. “You’re gonna need it. Who knows what that little dog’s already left in that bag for you?”
We wandered toward the backstage area. Bryan was nowhere in sight, but his band’s horn section was hanging out. The women were welcoming despite the fact there’s nothing rock ’n’ roll about miniature poodles — did I detect pity in their eyes? It wasn’t revulsion, was it?
“I know this is totally weird, it’s our first time trying out the carrier,” I stammered, feeling supremely uncool.
“You look like a marsupial with your baby in your pouch,” a sax player offered.
We wandered away and found a patch of grass where I could put Peach on the ground. Bryan stopped by for a kiss right before a bunch of friends showed up. Somebody bought me a beer. Earth was back on its axis.
However, after the show, a keyboardist saw Peach romping around and hollered, “So Peach can walk? I thought she didn’t have legs!”
I cringed, knowing I’ll be hearing about my “fashion don’t” for years. But as we walked the leashed dogs back to the car, strangers stopped to compliment our “handsome” big dog and “adorable” little one.
Confidence restored, I relaxed — and wondered if I should reconsider the Wonder Woman costume I’d ordered for Peach for Halloween. Would the sparkly tutu be too much?
Jen Reeder is Immediate Past President of the Dog Writers Association of America.