Lucy’s Head Cone

I think my dog, Lucy, is allergic to Massachusetts.

She developed a skin problem not long after we moved here last June. On three separate occasions since then she has had rashes—twice on her belly and once on her business.

In case you are unfamiliar with the medical definition of “business” in this context, allow me to clarify by using the term in the sort of sentence I might have heard back in Arkansas during the early 1990s: “No, you are definitely not allowed to see Basic Instinct because Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family says that Sharon Stone shows her business.”

Before we moved to the Boston area, Lucy’s undercarriage was entirely rash-free, save for one episode during her young adulthood when she had an “inflamed vulva.”

I have a feeling Dr. James Dobson would not have approved of that, either.

All that I recall about that earlier outbreak is that the vet couldn’t stop saying “vulva.”

“So to treat the inflamed vulva,” the doctor explained, “you’ll need to apply this vulva cream to the vulva region until the inflamed vulva is a becalmed vulva and, in conclusion, vulva, vulva, vulva.”

And my husband and I had to sit there and nod like, “Yes, sure, the vulva, of course,” as though we weren’t a pair of wholly vulva-ignorant homosexuals who never even got around to seeing Basic Instinct.

Even so, Lucy quickly recovered and her business went about its business without incident for many years, until we relocated to New England and she started breaking out all the time.

So far, Lucy’s current vet has treated each flare-up by putting the dog on a course of antibiotics that clears things up in about a week. Lucy has to wear one of those sad cones around her neck as well to keep her from licking her business because doing so could further irritate her skin.

In fact, we know that the rash has returned when we notice Lucy continually licking the area. I don’t have to tell you how much that behavior would disappoint Dr. James Dobson.

I think we can all agree it’s a good thing there’s no canine equivalent to the evangelical sex police. But I think we can also agree that if there were a Focus on the Family for pooches, it would need to be led by a judgy-looking wiener dog named Dr. James Dachshund.

The cone issued by the vet is one of those bulky plastic numbers. The animal clinic’s staffers refer to the item as an “E-collar,” short for “Elizabethan collar” due to its resemblance to the large ruffs Europeans wore in the 16th century. I guess people back then needed to be prevented from licking their own genitals.

Lucy seemed uncomfortable in the plastic cone, however, so we got her a smaller fabric version in black. It looks less like Tudor wear than the somber bonnet of a Mennonite woman.

I don’t know why I keep comparing my dog to members of strict religious sects. Those don’t at all reflect her nature. Or the nature of dogs in general.

Don’t worry, though: I’m not about to launch into a meditation on the nature of dogs in general or humankind’s unique bond with the species. That’s the province of dog memoirs, a literary genre that brings out the cat person in me.

I think the problem is that dog memoirs are essentially sappy love stories told from the perspective of the dominant partner (in this case, the human), and the one in charge is usually the less sympathetic, less interesting half of any romantic pairing. In literature at least, the one who loves most has a more intriguing story to tell.

But in a memoir we can’t hear from the dog, who, even if naughty, remains subordinate to whomever controls the Milk-Bone supply. And so the memoirist ultimately comes across as entitled and narcissistic, extolling a creature whose noblest trait, according to the memoirist, is a boundless capacity to adulate the memoirist.

By the end of the first chapter I usually want to tell the writer, Well, of course you were astonished to encounter unconditional love. You’re insufferable.

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