The Pointer, the Pizza, and Other Tales

“Short, smooth coat, liver-and-white. Special skills: pointing and retrieving. Subject to hip dysplasia . . . Devoted, enthusiastic, amiable. Too restless, though, to do as well in city as in country.”
—John Howe, Choosing the Right Dog: A Buyer’s Guide to all 121 Breeds (New York, 1976)

IMG_08831Anyone seeing Nancy Kramer with Gingko and Macaroon, her beautiful German Shorthaired Pointers walking on a morning on the Bridle Path of Central Park might well question the “too restless, though, to do as well in city as in country.” Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a happier, more tranquil urban snapshot than that of Nancy and her dogs enjoying the morning.

But the brief glimpse of the elegant Nancy, a well-respected interior designer, and her two dogs might just be a bit misleading. The witnessed relaxed morning romp does not tell the whole story.

Let’s consider a further description, this from the American Kennel Club: “A versatile hunter and all-purpose gun dog, the German Shorthaired Pointer possesses keen scenting power and high intelligence. The breed is proficient with many different types of game and sport, including trailing, retrieving, and pointing pheasant, quail, grouse, waterfowl, raccoons, possum, and even deer. A medium-sized breed, he has an aristocratic bearing and can be solid liver or liver and white in color.”

“Most everyone has their breed,” explains Nancy. “Mine is the German Shorthair Pointer. Call me a masochist, but I’ve had six. They’re smart, cheeky, gloriously athletic, Zen to watch point.”

And she proceeds to expand on her “masochist” comment:

“My first dog was an English Springer Spaniel named Penny Goldstein. Well, really, her official name was Lady Penny V, which we, as Jews from Quincy, Massachusetts, felt was pretentious.

“Penny Goldstein ran free in the neighborhood, and on trash days, she would rummage through the trash cans parked on the curb, and strew the bags on the neighbor’s lawn. It was my job, before I went to school, to clean up the wretched mess. I think Springers are darling, but whenever I see one, I smell that summer Quincy trash.”

So, to begin with, we understand that the lady has had some experience with certain perhaps lovably delinquent traits in some dog breeds. The little girl cleaning up after the dear departed Penny Goldstein evolved into a woman who is patient with the foibles of Penny’s successors in her affections.

In any case, Nancy proceeds to tell more of her story.

“Sometime around my tenth birthday, my father decided to indulge my passion for dogs with a gift of an encyclopedia of all the AKCs then-recognized breeds. As I began to memorize them, I came across the photo of a German Shorthaired Pointer.

“I was thunderstruck. This was truly love at first sight. I never got to the Harrier or the Ibizan Hound. This was it for me—although I didn’t come across my first sighting of an actual dog until several years later. When I did, eventually, meet my first Shorthair, I was thrilled and determined to have one.”

And that acquisition happened somewhat spontaneously.

“I was twenty-two and recently married, and with my new husband in tow, marched into a pet store in Hartford, Connecticut, and asked if they had a Shorthair—I knew nothing about breeders in those days. The salesman said that it would take about three weeks to get one. Three weeks!

“I said it was an emergency and I couldn’t wait that long.

“And so began an Easy Rider sort of drive in an aging VW to the North Carolina/Tennessee border to get my Pointer. A man in a big cowboy hat and boots, chewing and, literally, spitting tobacco, showed me to a pen. And that was that.

“I picked out my first dog in that pen and called her Ibo, after an African tribe I was studying at the time.”

Ibo was not a disappointment.

Image 41“I have had six Pointers up ’til now. After Ibo there has been Parsley, Cajun, Tomato, Gingko, and the newest, Macaroon. While they each had different charms and pointing styles, there is always an essential Shorthair nature. Perhaps Ibo was the most brilliant, and Cajun was the best song and dance man, Tomato carried my things, and the aging Gingko was the most beautiful, the best jumper, and an exquisite pointer. Once, I had thirty-five spectators gathered around watching her hold a point for a squirrel for ten minutes. Truck drivers would come to a screeching halt, and holler out the window ‘how much do you want for that dog?’”

Nancy was not interested in any monetary offer they might make.

“But what always is present in each of these dogs is their great physical beauty and their pointing. From the moment you open the front door and they are out of their home, they are transformed into intense hunters. They go from zero to sixty in a nanosecond. Every cell is alert and alive. They are thrilling to be with and thrilled to share a romp. The excitement is infectious, and no matter my mood or concerns, or even the weather, I am elevated to another realm being along.”

But getting back to the question of these dogs’ restlessness and their not being suited to city life, Nancy explains further.

“German Shorthairs are not to be denied their outings. One wouldn’t look at them and say, ‘Hmmm, not today Sparky.’

“They are very spirited and energetic and it is the owner’s responsibility to run them until they are defused. They would become frustrated, wild, and destructive if you didn’t provide this outlet for them. I have lived in the city with these dogs and they have happily run free in Central Park. In fact, I have been so committed to their freedom that I worked twenty-five years ago with a small team to get the rule changed in the park to let dogs off the leash until 9 a.m.”

richardjohns1She continues, “They also require a focused master. They must learn manners and rules. The owner has to be quite disciplined or else these strong, crazy dogs will run riot. I always think of it as a deal we make: you can run free, but you must obey.”

Apparently this deal mostly works, but nonetheless Nancy and her dogs have had some pretty interesting adventures.

“I’d like to focus on just one of my dogs for now, Gingko,” she begins.

“We’ve been together for over thirteen years now. During most of this time she has ignored me, flinched at the prospect of my petting her, outsmarted me (I can admit this in the anonymity of the Internet), and stolen.

“It is this stealing that I would like to first address.

“I have gone to pay for taxis and found that my wallet was not in my bag, only later to find in on Gingko’s bed. I have gone to catch a sneeze, only to discover she had shredded my Kleenex packs, leaving me humiliated. Then there was the long-awaited appointment at Special Surgery Hospital. I was well prepared, I had my X-rays, and my sneakers. Or so I thought. When the doctor asked me to put my sneakers on, I discovered that I only had one, the other—of course—was on Gingko’s bed. She had gone through my bag and removed it on the sly. I had to make another appointment after making my excuses.”

While Nancy is telling this story, Gingko looks up at her adoringly, perhaps wondering, “How can she be telling all these old and embarrassing stories about me?”

Or maybe it’s just an “I’d like a treat” look.

Patting Gingko’s noble head but ignoring the plaintive expression in her eyes, Nancy continues.

Image 31“But it is the stealing of food that has caused me the gravest embarrassment.

“It started with homeless people in the park. She would just take whatever morsel they had beside them while they napped. (I have learned to carry replacement money with me at all times.)

“Emboldened, she moved on to investment bankers.

“These unsuspecting people in suits would be sitting on park benches in the morning, reading The Wall Street Journal, with croissant and coffee unguarded on the bench beside them. Gingko’s strategy was to race up behind their bench (going about fifteen miles an hour), poke her head through the opening between the seat and back, and grab the pastry—all while on the run. It was a very smooth operation with no recriminations.

“One afternoon, Gingko trotted past me with a pizza box held perfectly horizontally—like a diligent delivery person, so the topping wouldn’t slide off. Weeks later, I was walking down Madison Avenue with the pooch, and I was surrounded by a beautiful foreign family who was laughing. They said that they were having a picnic in the park, and that they recognized Ginky as the pizza thief.

“They were charmed, fortunately.”

Alas, this penchant for thievery has not always had such an amused reception.

“The most poignant episode, and one which taught me so much, was the picnic Gingko crashed one summer afternoon in the park.

“I was repeatedly calling her and she didn’t respond. Then, in a clearing in the pinetum, I saw the brilliant white body of my Pointer glowing in the late afternoon sun, standing on a laid out picnic table. She was completely immersed up to her shoulders in a cauldron. Two little boys came running, and stopped short in horror. The father explained that he had cooked arroz con pollo for their picnic supper together, and now he would have to take them home to find them something else to eat. There was no amount of money I could offer. He didn’t yell, he wouldn’t accept payment. I had crushed their summer evening plans.

“Clearly, my devotion for my Pointer’s freedom had gone too far.”

Alas, it was not only in matters of food that Gingko has misbehaved. Nancy recalls another story.

“Every year around Christmas, New York churches open their doors to the city’s pets for the Blessing of the Animals. It’s a motley affair. Creatures from ferrets and boas to Poodles show up accompanied by their humans. It’s a spectacle not to be missed to see these animals sitting in the pews. So, I took Gingko. We were in a ragged line waiting to receive the blessing. (The minister was clearly an animal lover.) He had a large brass bowl filled with doggie treats sitting on the floor. After the blessing, each pet got a treat. He took one look at Gingko studying the bowl and knew to raise the bowl up off the floor. I guess she was the only bad dog there. We received our blessing and our treat, a doggie communion of sorts, and headed off for Central Park.

“As we were romping through the park, I noticed a rather large gathering of people staring at something. In short order, I realized that my blessed dog was pointing a huge wild turkey. She was just a few feet from the bird, but I knew if I approached she’d break her point and lunge. After an interminable time passed, the bird, clearly underestimating the danger, decided to fly over a fence to a patch of safe ground. With that, Gingko also flew over the fence and grabbed the turkey by the tail. (Imagine, to my horror, the gathering crowd.)

“Finally, the turkey got serious about fleeing, and flew up into a tree minus a few tail feathers.”

Perhaps German Shorthair Pointers are not suited for city life after all. Or, as Nancy puts it, “they are definitely not for the weak-kneed.”

And she recounts another similar tale.

“It was a moonlit winter night, cold and snow covered. I was deep in the park with Gingko, and my friend with her dog Luna. Gingko began a very focused point, very still. We didn’t see what was engaging her and honestly, we were involved in our talk. And suddenly, there it was: the goose. It was huge and silly—completely unconcerned about being stalked. Then it happened. Ginky grabbed the goose. I began, in vain, to holler for her to drop it. She carried it about in the moonlight—proudly prancing. In the dark, it was like a vision of a Viking ship with a sculpture on the bow arching its long neck forward. I begged, screamed, commanded. Finally I yelled: ‘SIT!’ And she did. And she put the goose carefully down, who then looked at us, and flew away unharmed.”

Definitely not for the weak-kneed.

But certainly for someone who enjoys a bit of a challenge and a little adventure in their daily lives. In his book Bashan and I, Thomas Mann chronicled his own relationship with the breed and in doing so produced a beautiful treatise on exactly how a dog evolves into a priceless companion who immeasurably enriches the human lives around him. Nobody needs to convince Nancy of this fact.

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Issue Twenty Two