Why Waste English Setters on Dog Shows?

by Robert Scott Leyse

Steven to Angie & Ella
Sent: Sunday, August 28, 2005 7:47 PM

Miffed, my darlings? You ought to be. What girls worth their frilly underthings—that every man with a pulse wants to peel off—put up with being stood up? All the same, I ask for understanding.

OK, I bailed on our Four Seasons brunch after I'd made the reservations, but ask yourselves: how often do I fail to show up after setting a meeting up and talking it up? I can count the sum total for the year on one finger. Is it my fault Byron, one of my oldest friends who I—at most—see every other year, chose today to detour through town on a drive to New Jersey from North Carolina? I'd say that qualifies as extenuating circumstances.

As to why I didn't bring Byron along so you could meet him: he had his dog Zuke with him and Zuke couldn't be left unsupervised in my apartment: there's no telling what would've been chewed beyond recognition or torn to shreds.

Zuke's an English Setter—the wildest, most spirited, bouncing-off-the-walls-with-energy breed of dog on earth; and, at eleven months, is in the prime of exuberant disregardful-of-authority puppyhood. Full grown size-wise, still a puppy disposition-wise—the perfect combination for maximum riot. Turn your back on him for a second in my apartment, and he's mauling a pillow or chomping on electrical chords or overturning the trash. So that's why you didn't meet Byron, and we went to Central Park with Zuke instead.

Yes, an English Setter: slender, swift of movement, graceful of bearing, a breed not often seen outside of dog shows. As for dog shows, the contract Byron signed with the breeder stipulates that he show Zuke. Is he going to do so? Here's his take on the subject:

"I shell out $1,200 for Zuke, and the breeder has the gall to inform me I'm to hit the dog show circuit with him! Free advertising's what she's after, as when the dog's birthplace and pedigree's announced! But, having botched it with breeders in the past and been turned down, I was prepared this time—I assured her I was looking forward to showing Zuke, trotted out a barrage of false enthusiasm; said I was planning to hand him over to an obedience school—named the school, well-known, that I'd found on Google. Still, she was suspicious—subjected me to a full-out interrogation! So I dropped more names and locations of trainers, asked pointed questions concerning dog show applications and policies—was very well-informed indeed, because I'd printed some of the rubbish out and studied it. Finally, she swallowed it.

"Christ! Forcing a dog as lively as an English Setter, originally bred for hunting, to endure the endless transport cages of the dog show circuit is a high crime! Turning an English Setter over to spirit-breaking parasites at an obedience school is something I could never be paid to do! All I want is a lively pet! Anything wrong with that?

"All the training rigmarole, dog shows—it's a multi-million dollar industry! The silly woman thinks she's going to enlist me in publicizing her business, at the expense of Zuke's happiness! Screw her! And what's she, located in Vancouver, going to do about the fact I lied a blue streak and duped her? Zuke's going to remain free-spirited and out of control and race like a maniac through the fields of my farm to his heart's content, and she can drop dead!"

But enough of the preliminaries, Angie and Ella. By way of—partially—making amends for skipping out on our brunch-date, I'll entertain you with our Sunday-in-the-park adventure:

Once we cross Madison and the trees of Central Park come into view at the end of the block Zuke's excitedly whiffing the air—inhaling the heady scents of nature—and yanking at the leash as if possessed, such that it's real work to keep him from tearing it from my hand. I kid you not: my arm's sore by the time I release him behind the Met. Drunk with his sudden freedom after having been cooped up in the car for most of the day, he bolts towards Cleo's Needle, darting hither and thither.

An English Setter's a beautiful creature to see when he's racing free. Zuke's on permanent overdrive, faster than any other dog in the park; extremely playful, he buzzes other dogs, compels them to chase him; but none can catch him, or even come close.

Another quality of English Setter's is that they love people. Zuke's way of greeting people is to rear up on his hind legs and place his front paws on their chests, often rather abruptly. He's simply saying "Hello!" and is as harmless as a baby, but some people don't realize that and become quite discomfited, recoil with apprehension. It's amusing to watch Zuke jolt them from their thoughts, force interaction upon them: one moment they're in their private worlds, the next they're forced to deal with an exuberant—leaping, sniffing, licking—creature that still has one foot in the wild kingdom.

Byron and I toss a Frisbee for awhile under the canopies of the oaks near Cleo's Needle; Zuke races back and forth between us leaping and snapping at the air in vain attempts to seize the disk that soars just beyond his reach; at last, half out of his mind because we're playing with something he can't get ahold of, he begins barking in protest; so we toss the Frisbee to him and, after snatching it in his jaws, he outdoes himself in demonstrations of joy—capers about in such zigzag angles of abrupt switches of direction it's amazing he manages to remain on his feet. Then we're chasing him to get the Frisbee back, and he's teasing us in turn—often crouching on the ground and allowing us to approach, only to whisk yards away in about two seconds the instant our fingers are inches from his mouth.

"Zuke's really charged up now," Byron says with a grin. "Let's go over there." He gestures towards the Great Lawn, crowded with people.

So we stroll to the Great Lawn and, ignoring the signs that say dogs must be leashed therein, allow Zuke to enter unhindered. Lo and behold, I soon understand why Byron was grinning: a field crowded with people is Zuke's ideal playground. Within seconds he's madly dashing across picnic blankets, spilling bowls and scattering plates—thrusting himself upon people, nuzzling and licking them—relentlessly teasing the leashed dogs, until they erupt into furious barks. Softball games are being played and Zuke interrupts a couple—in the first instance bounds into the batter's box and, in a demonstration of affection, knocks the catcher on his rear; in the second instance fields a base hit and dashes in circles with the ball, the defensive players flinging their arms up in futility as the runner sprints all the way home.

It's then, my dears, that I'm rewarded with a bonafide transcendent moment—as when the truly improbable suddenly reveals itself to be a plausible and existing reality of which one's both the cause and beneficiary. Suddenly, I'm hovering outside of my body, gazing upon the scene as if from a distance: Zuke, the softball still in his mouth, is racing like a maniac with three players chasing him; Byron and I, making a show of actually trying to catch Zuke and leash him, are shrieking "Zuke! Zuke!" at the top of our lungs. We're the cause of a great deal of commotion on this previously peaceful Sunday and the majority of nearby heads on the Great Lawn are turned in our direction, and guess what? No one's openly cursing us.

It has to be experienced to be believed. Running and shouting and at the center of the commotion as I am, I'm suddenly enveloped in a feeling of overwhelming security and inviolability. Why? Because I understand that, as long as Byron and I pretend to try to catch Zuke while dispensing apologies here and there, no one's going to voice opposition. How do two grown men get away with sowing chaos in a public place? All they need is a spirited dog.

Yes, I'm relishing the situation: plenty of people are laughing on account of the unexpected entertainment; others are simply watching with no readily discernable expression; a small minority are allowing creases of annoyance to appear on their faces. Am I worried concerning the latter? Not a bit. They dare not give voice to their annoyance because then they'd be branded as dog haters and incur the dislike of the majority. (Is it too far-fetched to suggest that dog haters, especially in the eyes of people who frequent parks, are situated close to the bottom of the totem pole, barely a notch above snitches and child molesters?) Nor does it hurt that Zuke's a poster child for canine cuteness: wide trusting vaguely sad eyes, long floppy ears, a beautiful tri-colored coat, a grown puppy romping without a care in the world. As I overhear one woman say: "Such a pretty puppy-wuppy!"

Deeming it time to give the players their ball back, Byron tosses the Frisbee to Zuke: he drops the softball to seize the Frisbee. The players, jovial fellows who enjoy a laugh, shout things such as: "Hey Zuke, we could use you on our team!," "Gold Glove fielding, Zuke!," and "Now we have a spitball!"

Alright, we've created a disturbance on the densely populated Great Lawn for almost fifteen minutes—great fun, but unwise to push it. Tolerance for a madly romping dog, no matter how cute, won't last forever. So Byron and I exit the Great Lawn and head towards Belvedere Castle and Zuke follows: simple.

And that, my dears, was our secret all along: as long as Byron and I were chasing Zuke, he was going to dash from our grasp—it was all a game of tag to him. I like to think of it as our covert canine and human agreement: Zuke romps and disrupts everything and we count on him to avoid us while pretending to try to catch him.

More adventures are had, of course. In Bethesda tunnel, Zuke treats us to a demonstration of his hunting skills: suddenly he freezes and stares, apparently mesmerized; then there's a swift dash, and—presto—he wraps his jaws around a bag dangling from a man's hand and gives it a sharp tug: out tumbles a whole chicken onto the ground. Zuke wastes no time in seizing it, racing towards The Mall: quite breathtaking to behold.

"Jesus Christ!" the man yells, glancing about to see who's responsible for the nefarious chicken-snatching beast.

"Zuke!" we're screaming at the top of our lungs—our yelling's magnified and echoed very nicely by the tunnel.

The man's looking at us now, then glancing towards the end of the tunnel, where Zuke's devouring his prize at the base of the exit stairs—a mixture of being none too pleased and amused despite himself is on his face. Before he can say anything, we're apologizing profusely and offering him twenty dollars for the inconvenience.

"Aw hell, I can get another bird for a lot cheaper than that," he answers, refusing the money. He makes it obvious the offer of recompense is recompense enough. "What kind of dog is that, anyway?" he asks, gesturing in Zuke's direction.

"An English Setter."

"Hunting dog, right?"

"Too much of one for the city, I think," says Byron.

"He sure as hell knows what he's doing! That bird was out of this bag and over there in five seconds! It's worth a bird to see that, and blessings on him! I'm glad he's enjoying it! And he's still got his balls! Good for you! Don't neuter him!"

"Dead horses will fly to Mars before my dog gets neutered," responds Byron. "Break his spirit? Steal his manhood? Disgusting!"

"Nothing worse!" the man fairly shouts. "I had a dog awhile back—Black Lab, feisty and smart, bundle of energy. I went off on business for a week, convention in Atlanta. The first wife... She hauls him to the vet and gets his balls cut off while I'm gone! Dog wasn't the same after! The sparkle was gone from his eyes—he turned lazy, wasn't quick and bright anymore! I sometimes fancied he was asking 'Why?' when he looked at me—it was like a trace of his old spirit was still there, wondering how I could've let him be savaged! And I sure asked the wife why! Guess why? Because someone on TV said it was beneficial! She was always glued to the tube, mistaking blather for gospel truth! No one easier to hoodwink than the first wife! Once a head-turner, but with low mileage! As scatterbrained as she was unable to keep her looks, and with her bedroom skills flagging as fast! She's been replaced by one who ruts like a rabbit and has a head on her shoulders!"

"One of the breeder's conditions of the sale was that I neuter Zuke," says Byron. "It's in the contract! Do I care? About as much as I care if the breeze blows! Sure, she's worried I might make use of Zuke's pedigree and breed him and compete with her, but it's more than that! These people are programmed into thinking neutering's in a dog's best interest, as if being deprived of the sex-drive will make him happier! What they really mean is that it makes dogs more submissive—easier to train to do stupid tricks that reflect more on the vanity of humans than anything that's good for dogs! They get a dog because they want a creature to control! They want obedient fawning animals that are exclusively dependent on them! They want to show off in front of others of their ilk, say 'Watch Rover roll over! Watch Rover heel and sit!' They're controlling despotic creeps who victimize animals because they need to feel superior; and then they turn around and pass it off as being concerned for the animals' welfare! I don't see them cutting their own balls off, or getting themselves spayed!"

"Damn right!" says the man heatedly, delighted to have found a comrade in arms. "The world needs more dog owners like you! Not those scaredy-cats who want them to be stupid and lazy, like my stupid first wife! Dogs ought to steal chickens and raise a ruckus! To hell with those that disagree!"

As if on cue, chicken-thief Zuke trots up to us; not only is he unapprehensive of the man from whom he filched the chicken, he enthusiastically greets him in his customary manner, placing his front paws on his chest.

"You're a good boy, aren't you?" says the man, caressing Zuke's head and patting his back. "A good dog!"

Zuke, Byron, and I part from the man the best of friends and continue on our merry roving tour through the Mall and to Sheep Meadow and The Pond, leaving disruption and flusteredness and laughter in our wake. Towards the end I'm quite giddy with the license to carry on that Zuke's antics are making possible; I'm screaming his name absolutely as loud as I can while dashing about like a ten-year-old; being associated with Zuke has transferred a portion of his freedom to make a spectacle of himself to me and I'm savoring it to the hilt. Thanks to our constant yelling of Zuke's name, I'm sure it's engraved upon the memories of hundreds of people.

Alas, the waking dream's over far too soon: we exit the park at 59th and 5th and must reintroduce Zuke to the leash; no longer surrounded by open fields, he instantly settles down. We hop a cab back to my place, chat for a couple more hours over a meal, then say our good-byes. Byron resumes his journey to New Jersey, to his usually-but-not-at-the-moment ex-girlfriend's place.

So there, my dears, you have my excuse for bailing on our date and offending your pride, and why I ask for special consideration. And, though Zuke was the one primarily responsible, I think you ought to think sweet thoughts of him nevertheless. I, for one, owe Zuke my heartfelt thanks for placing my city boy self in touch with the animal world—an experience I'm still reverberating with. Sowing chaos in half of Central Park in open view and getting away with it lifts fun to a whole new level. Being in on the romping of a cheerful and mischievous dog is rejuvenating, therapeutic, and healthy.



P.S. Why are we so fond of dogs? Alright, they're blind to our many shortcomings and unselfishly give us their affection, no questions asked: this, the vanity factor, has to be the primary reason why we love them. But another source of their appeal is that they exist in our civilization without being fully of it and therefore serve to remind us of our ancestral origins, when we lived as one with nature and were unhindered in our expressions of feeling. Thousands of generations preceded us and our present sorry state of being emasculated by civilization is an aberration that comprises a small percentage of human history: how can we not want dogs among us, when they occasionally afford us a glimpse of what we once were?

© 2006 by Robert Scott Leyse


About the Author

Robert Scott Leyse was born in San Francisco, grew up in various locales about America, lived in Paris for a spell, and now resides on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Upon arrival in Manhattan he lived in several East Village dumps and worked as a New York cab driver on the night shift, with the aim of atoning for a sheltered upbringing and having adventures the likes of which he'd never had before and he wasn't disappointed; subsequently he acquired over a dozen years of experience in the legal field, where he was pleasantly surprised to find that additional adventures, of the office politics and shenanigans variety, were to be had; presently he works in the advertising field, where he's not looking for any special adventures, having decided to keep work separate from fun and games and have secrets that are easier to keep. He skis in Sun Valley, Idaho, surfs with board and body in southern California and Puerto Rico, once took a belly dance class in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the most incandescent yoga class he’s ever had was on a stand-up paddle board in Condado Lagoon during a furious rainstorm. He eats fish heads and insects and drinks blood, but can’t be paid to eat potato chips or cake.

His three novels are: Liaisons for Laughs: Angie & Ella’s Summer of Delirium (July, 2009), Self-Murder (April, 2010), and Attraction and Repulsion (June, 2011). His two novellas are Penelope Prim and Tallulah Tempest (both February, 2015). The latter was originally intended to be a send-up of volatile relationships but turned out to be an appreciation and celebration of them instead: sometimes a tale decides where it wishes to go, the author be damned. Forthcoming are collections of short stories, epigrams, and more novellas.

More information may be found at his website, Robert Scott Leyse Online.

“Love can't fully bloom while obstacles stand in its way. Attraction and Repulsion tells the story of a pair of lovers in Paris, as they pursue love and the forces that keep them apart try even harder. A story of love in spite of all those who would end it, Robert Scott Leyse constructs a gripping story that will be hard to put down.”

Midwest Book Review (in "Small Press Bookwatch, April 2011")

“Here in the span of a few tumultuous days, in the heart of Paris, being the only theater that could stage this resplendent play on sudden love, we find a dreamed love that becomes real with quick edges, a purported ménage à trois that is not a threesome, a plotted death that is not murder, where death’s sanctuary becomes a playground, and where actors become characters and characters become actors.”

Tom Sheehan, author of Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans

“Ah, to be a young man in Paris with two lovely, liberated ladies in a very contemporary ménage à trois and with a colorful crew of international misfits for friendspicnicking gourmet-style in Montsouris Park, sneaking into Père Lachaise cemetery after dark to cavort amid a thunder storm, partying all night in the City of Light, delighting under the playful spell of Erosall of it good fun until true love and jealousy intrude, and their lives take a serious turn. Robert Scott Leyse gives us a Parisian romantic comedy with a well-earned happy ending and repartee as sparkling as the champagne. À votre santé!”

—William T. Hathaway, Rinehart Award winning author of Summer Snow and Radical Peace

“Add a love triangle and a love-hate triangle together in Paris, mix in some festive adventures and crackling dialogue, and Attraction and Repulsion is the entertaining result. Page-turning fun, love, duress, and triumph: true happiness doesn't come cheap in life, or in this novel.”

—George Fosty, ESPN featured author of Black Ice and Splendid is the Sun

“No sleep, no rest for the mind just makes the descent all the more quick. Self-Murder is the tale of a man who falls deeper and deeper into a haze of confusion, as his insomnia deprives him of sleep and he finds his only comfort in the excesses of life. As he pursues love, the strength of that emotion only spins his life out even more, and as he loses control of reality, he may do things he regrets. Self-Murder is a fascinating and excellent psychological thriller readers won't be able to put down.”

Midwest Book Review (in "Small Press Bookwatch, February 2010")

“A phantasmagoria of unbridled lust, sexual obsession, and stealth madness, Robert Scott Leyse’s Self-Murder is a dazzling indictment of desire that brims with sensory imagery and moments of exquisite verbal beauty delivered by a narrative voice that is baroque but disturbing and more than a little reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe.”

—Gary Earl Ross, author of Blackbird Rising: A Novel of the American Spirit and the Edgar Award-winning drama Matter of Intent

“Robert Scott Leyse channels Baudelaire's Queen of Spades and Jack of Hearts, speaking darkly of dead loves, in this new book. He also reminds me of James Purdy's notorious eccentricity. There's plenty of middlebrow stuff if you want it. Self-Murder isn't that.”

Kris Saknussemm, author of Zanesville and Private Midnight

“After his first novel, Liaisons For Laughs, which took Sex and the City to new heights and depths, Robert Scott Leyse's second one, Self-Murder, explores broader, deeper, and darker territories. Leyse achieves a striking stylistic gallimaufry: Proustian memories underpinning thoughts, words, and deeds; obsession treated in a way which evokes Lolita without those irritating Nabokovian curlicues; romps that Henry Miller would have enjoyed; a finale that delivers a blow to the solar plexus.”

—Barry Baldwin, Emeritus Professor of Classics, U. of Calgary, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

Self-Murder is lush sensuality of language injected with menace. A vivid portrait of mental disintegration and an explosive picture-show. Hallucinations without substance-abuse. Overwrought nerves and insomnia are Self-Murders drugs of choice.”

—George Fosty, ESPN featured author of Black Ice and Splendid is the Sun

“Here is a psychological struggle and sensual breakout where you best get a comfortable seat, grab the joy stick, and hang on. This is a delicious look at the mystery of self-psychoanalysis, sensual release, acceptance of gifts of the tallest order, or the lowest. For those with wander-lust, and all the taste, touch and aroma imaginable in-between, Self-Murder is a journey to gorge the senses where the reader gets relished time and time again, as the protagonist chases himself through discovery of the basics that make the world go round.”

—Tom Sheehan, author of Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans

"This is a good/fun read I can highly recommend to readers searching for something different and don't mind entering the mind of the insane."

Allbooks Reviews

"Some friendships are bonds that can't be broken. 'Liaisons for Laughs: Angie & Ella's Summer of Delirium' tells the story of two best friends in a frank and entertaining method. A hilarious and endlessly entertaining collection of stories about the little things of life, 'Liaisons for Laughs' never stops its assault on the funny bone. A fine and entertaining novel, 'Liaisons for Laughs' is a choice pick for fiction readers."

Midwest Book Review (in "Small Press Bookwatch")

"...we absolutely love Robert Scott Leyse’s Liaisons for Laughs: Angie & Ella's Summer of Delirium. His first book release is fun, steamy, and intelligent."

Ian and Alicia Denchasy, LA Weekly

“Fun and eroticism don’t go together nearly often enough. They do in Leyse tit for tat. This is clever, humane, word-sensual writing.”

Kris Saknussemm, author of Zanesville and Private Midnight

“You can feel the humidity in your own backyard as Angie and Ella soak up the summer in New York with various paramours with their super sexy, sex-positive attitudes..”

Susan DiPlacido, author of 24/7 and House Money

“The erotic e-mails of these two libidinous heroines recount their escapades with wicked charm and droll humor..”

William T. Hathaway, author of A World Of Hurt and Summer Snow


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