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Happiness Is A Dog Named Vinnie
By Jean Keating

    I don’t know about other women’s intuition, but mine was nonexistent on that long-ago morning. I had no hint, no tingle of a notion that the events of that day would bring such a change in my life.

    It certainly needed changing. The emotional severance of divorce was bad enough. The daunting task of splitting property and possessions acquired over 19 years of marriage had exceeded my abilities to cope. I was deep in my own private pity party, convinced that I was the only one who’d ever been hurt by such a tragedy. I finally consented to go with my friend to a dog show in Virginia Beach only because she just wouldn’t take no for an answer.

    Even while I vowed I would never depend on another human being for the rest of my life and never enter into the joint ownership of anything, some appreciation for the importance of a friend remained. So I dragged myself to the show, but stubbornly promised myself I wouldn’t enjoy it.

    Fate, with perhaps a helping hand from my guardian angel, decreed otherwise. ‘Across a crowded room’—in this case the floor of the indoor dog show in Norfolk—I spotted Him. Soft, expressive brown eyes which held a mixture of intelligence, compassion and bubbling mischief locked with mine. He didn’t seem to mind that I was frowning and stumbling along. He cocked his head and nodded in my direction, seeming to invite me to come closer. Captivated, I stepped on one woman’s toes and fell over a gentle mastiff headed for another ring in my haste to get closer. 
Happiness Is A Dog Named Vinnie    Large ears trailed black-and-brown fringes as they rotated like radar dishes at the sound of my greeting. A wide white nose band and blaze added dazzling brilliance to his flashing eyes as he lifted first one dainty front foot and then another from the lap of the man who held him, dancing his happiness at life. A long white plume of a tail fanned his human’s face and moved the entire rear end of his body with its energetic greeting. I had seen a lot of dogs wag their tails. That was a first for seeing one wag his ears also. And what large beautiful ears they were! I forgot I was mad at the world. All I could see, feel, think about at that moment was the deliriously happy and beautifully expressive bundle of silken fur that charged the space around him with positive energy.

    Such was my first meeting with a papillon. In French, the name means butterfly. That morning the large erect ears and trailing fringes of this little charmer fanned the air with all the grace, beauty and lightness of the delicate and colorful insects for which the breed was named. 

    I managed to learn his name was Vinnie before his amused human excused himself to take the little bundle of happiness into the ring. I grabbed the vacated chair at ringside to watch my newest interest show off.
The indoor dog show was noisy. It wasn’t the twelve hundred or so dogs that created the din, it was the more than twelve hundred people there. Vinnie didn’t seem to mind the noise in spite of his keen hearing. When his human put him on the floor, he circled and danced on dainty feet, following his human into the exhibition ring. His little white paws seemed to glide effortlessly across the black mat which formed a border and a diagonal pattern on the ring floor. When not moving he would stand with feet planted, tail constantly in motion, and head, ears, and eyes “talkin ” with his human or the judge. His entire body proclaimed his joy at doing what he was doing and in being alive.

    Even in the protected environment of a dog show ring, accidents can happen. And one did that day. As the group of dogs and human handlers paraded around the ring, the human behind Vinnie stumbled on the mat, falling forward and nearly stepping on Vinnie. With cat-quick reflexes and strong patellas, the little athlete leaped up and away from the danger. My most enduring and delightful memory of this beautiful dog was that of an airborne aerialist. All four feet and body were in the air, hair fluffed out by the wind currents around him as his trajectory carried him up, over and down again to the mat. He quickly recovered himself and continued the smooth forward gait of his performance.

    I was too ignorant of show procedures at that time to know whether he won or not. I know that I would have given him all the ribbons.

    By the time Vinnie and his human finished their performance and returned to their ringside chair, I had already decided that I wanted a papillon. I managed to overcome my fascination with that little bundle of energy long enough to obtain a business card that told me how to contact Vinnie’s breeders and to learn that his other, longer name was Debonair Calvin Klein.

    I didn’t give his owner/handler/breeder long enough to return home before I was talking to his wife on the phone about a papillon for my very own.

    I left the show with a far different frame of mind. One tiny bundle of flashing white and mahogany showed me the way. It was time to let go of an old life and reach for the stars. Suddenly the chore of property settlements was just a job to be assessed and completed. My focus was on a new life and love.

    In time Vinnie’s half sister , my beloved Maaca, would come to share my life and be my first show dog and champion. Vinnie’s daughter Fallon would follow a few years later. Together these two relatives of Vinnie would be the foundation of a clan which over the years would come to be known as the butterflies of Astra (French for star). For more than twenty years these two and their descendants have brought warmth, love, laughter and happiness into every moment of my life.

    There is a wise axiom that ‘happiness is a choice’. Vinnie obviously chose to enjoy life, the scene around him that day, and to warmly draw all about him into his web of excitement.

    I think dogs were sent by God to teach us to make the most of each day. I’m glad I took the hint. 

© 2002 Jean Keating All rights reserved.

Photo by Jean Keating


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