He kisses her and looks back to see if I’m there. He talks baby talk to her. He goes on and on about how adorable she is, how soft she is, even how great her breath smells. She lies on her back at his feet when he arrives home from work, waiting for him to massage her — the slut. She canoodles with my man on our matrimonial bed, all the while mocking me with her big brown eyes.
My husband is having an affair with a real b****. Well, she’s mine, too — our dog, Curley. Curley the bichon frise. An embarrassing little white dog for my big manly-man husband. He insists that a bichon is not a feminine dog; more like a sturdy poodle. Whatever. My big hairy man becomes jelly at the sight of this living, breathing stuffed animal.
I wouldn’t mind so much except that he used to do all that cooing and snuggling with me. As our love grew more “mature,” we lost some of the cute repartee and physicality that defined our early relationship. Now the baby talk, hand holding and nose rubbing is reserved for Curley. I can’t keep up with his crazy nicknames for her: Shoosy, Pookie, Wookie. He used to snuggle with me to fall asleep. Now he can’t fall asleep without nuzzling with the dog for at least an hour before bedtime.
To add insult to injury, the dog thinks she’s in charge. Apparently bichons were first bred to run with princesses at Versailles. This one actually thinks she is a princess at Versailles. We have been told that Curley has some possessive-aggressive issues. Tell me about it. When I try to pull her from my husband’s embraces to put her in her crate at the end of the day, she tries to bite me. Growls and bears her teeth.
I guess she’s my husband’s trophy wife — except I’m still alive, taking up room in the bed. My husband tells me that Curley’s love is pure love, while my love for him comes with a to-do list attached. For me, the dog is just another thing to do on my to-do list.
I should have known my husband had doggie co-dependency issues when we got our first dog, Harpo, also a bichon. Harpo was our starter child — the dog we bought to prove that we could care for another living being before conceiving a child. We treated this animal like a baby. We took Harpo to the vet with every sniffle, cut and scrape. When we had our actual baby, we worried about how our first “baby” would react. We brought home used blankets from the hospital so Harpo could get used to the scent of the interloper, who just happened to be our son.
We worried for nothing. They got along famously, Harpo and our boy (though we did find it odd that, when we took family walks, people would stop us to say how cute our dog was but would say nothing about our beautiful baby).
My husband even brought the dog to work with him, and everyone in the office said he was a lot nicer when Harpo was around. He was convinced the dog was good for business.
While my husband continued to equate Harpo to our children, I became acutely aware that this was, after all, a dog. Just one more responsibility in between breast-feeding and diaper-changing.
Then Harpo got sick. When the vet told us that we could do nothing for him except make him comfortable, I took to feeding him by the bottle and spoon-feeding him his medicine. I remember asking my Dad how were we going to tell the kids about Harpo’s impending death. My father advised me gently, “You’ll think of something.”
Dad thought of something. He died suddenly, two weeks before Harpo had to be put to sleep. I actually wondered if it was providence softening the blow: My kids didn’t know who to cry about, Harpo or their Pop Pop?
I decided that our dog days were over and we could move on with our lives. But everyone was moping around the house. My husband complained the house felt empty — as if two kids, a nanny and the two of us weren’t enough.
So I sought out the names of breeders of bichons. I kept saying this dog wouldn’t be a replacement for the beloved Harpo but another bundle of furry joy to fulfill our lives as only man’s best friend can.
Little did I know that this new bundle of joy would replace not Harpo but me.
We sent her to doggie boot camp when she was old enough. The trainer told us, “Wow, your dog is really a little diva.” I should have known; we got her from New Jersey, and she was definitely a Jersey Girl. No one told her there was room for only one diva in our house.
The trainer explained that dog training is based on the concept of the pack and that Curley needed to learn that we were the top dogs in the house. To achieve this, we needed to train her for about an hour a day. Yeah right.
The trainer also told us that we should never let her sit on the furniture and definitely not on top of us, which would only cement her ascendancy as top dog. So what does my husband do? He lets her sit on top of his big bald head. Now, her favorite spot is on top of the couch cushions so she can tease me at eye level. To counteract this and teach her who’s boss, I’m supposed to straddle my legs on top of this dog and stand there for three minutes. Somehow I don’t find the time.
While I believe I maintain myself with the various necessary beauty treatments for a woman my age, I’m certain this princess dog gets more spa treatments than I do. I get my toenails painted and immediately my husband glares at my feet. “Oh, I see what you did today,” he complains. The dog gets groomed and he lights up: “Doesn’t she look cute, my little Baby Cakes?!”
Apparently my husband is not the only doggie co-dependent around. A friend actually purchased a second dog so that her first dog wouldn’t be lonely. Did she not remember how children react to being told they now have a sibling in the house? My friend’s dog is so distraught about the new puppy that he had to be put on doggie Prozac to deal with the depression. (If only I could have taken Prozac because of how I felt about my siblings; the years of therapy I could have saved.) Medicated now, my friend’s dog pants from dry mouth and has put on weight. But he is no longer “depressed.”
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law got their dog the year their eldest son, Robert, went to college. They named the dog Robert Jr. (“RJ”) and openly said he was a replacement for Robert. Robert “Sr.” is going to need Prozac when he figures out his new sibling is a dog.
Another friend actually kisses his dog on the mouth. He claims it’s cleaner than human mouths. And then there’s my friend whose husband insists on sleeping with their dogs in their already too-small bed. The horses — I mean dogs — are a 150-pound Newfoundland and an 80-pound Golden Retriever. By themselves they take up more than half the bed. My friend, who is 98 pounds soaking wet, has to scrunch up on one-quarter of the mattress to make room for her 6-foot, 200-pound husband and his 230 pounds of living pillows. I asked her why she doesn’t kick the dogs out of bed. She said if it came down to the dogs or her, she’s pretty sure she’d have to sleep elsewhere.
Now I am not immune to the charms of our little dog Curley. She does drive me crazy jumping and barking relentlessly whenever a leaf falls outside the house or the phone rings. But she can be adorable, and she’s good with our kids. She loves to lie by my side while I’m reading. And I love taking her for walks.
But she thinks everyone who comes to the house is there to see her. We have to stop whatever we’re doing while Curley lies down on the ground and is cooed at by every guest or delivery person at the door.
Enough is enough. I‘ve set some ground rules on how she and my husband conduct their very public affair. Curley cannot stay in our bed all night; she goes in the crate when I go to sleep. (Of course I know my husband cheats when I’m away from home). He is only allowed to use one extra nickname beyond her actual name. Baby talk is not allowed in my presence. Same with French kissing. And she doesn’t get to wear my diamonds if I die before her. The little gold digger.
— Pam Sherman
Pam Sherman, the wit behind Gannett’s “The Suburban Outlaw” column, is an actress, playwright and recovering lawyer living in Pittsford with her husband, two children and, of course, Curley. She will star in the one-woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, Jan. 25-Feb. 11, 2018, at the Geva Theatre in Rochester.