This week I yapped with Dugan Fittin, a Yellow Lab who retired to Sea Oaks after a successful showbiz career.
Whenever I interview a celebrity, I still get nervous, cuz pooches who live their lives in the spotlight can be sorta snooty. Turns out, Dugan’s a totally laid-back, friendly pooch, like a favorite uncle or big brother. As he came up for the Wag-and-Sniff, I could see why he’d won all those Blue Ribbons. He was built like a Brick Doghouse, awesome conformation, big ol’ face, so pale yellow he looked almost white.
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. Bonzo, a real pleasure,” he said. “C’mon in. Take a load off. This my Dad, Jim. And my little bro, Dexter. Tucker’s under some chair or other. He’s a ’fraidy Cat. My Mom Sandy’s at work.”
“Please, call me Bonz,” I said. Yep, Dexter’s a cat. Sleek, black. I nodded. He nodded.
“I’m eager to hear all about your exciting life in the show ring,” I said, opening my notebook.
“It was fun, but hard work, and I’m gettin’ up there, gonna be 13 this Sunday. I’m glad I’m retired.”
“Well, you look great!” I said sincerely. “So let’s get started.”
“Dad and Mom and my human sisters, Christine and Alexandra, lived in New Jersey. Dad had shown dogs for years, all Labs. When his last Lab, Murphy, went to Dog Heaven after a successful career in the ring, Dad said ‘No More Dogs.’ But after a couple months, he changed his mind when a breeder friend called about a litter in Buffalo (mine, of course) and said Dad could have the Pick of the Litter. Even though I was just a fluffy pupster, Dad knew right away I was the ONE. But they had to wait ’til I was 8 weeks old to bring me home. You’ll never guess what my Papers name is.”
“One of those long, goofy ones, I bet,” I replied.
“Get this: It’s Winding Oaks Frosty Fella!”
“Are you woofin’ me right now?”
He laughed. “Nope. Thank Lassie they call me Dugan!”
“Fer sure,” I agreed.
“Dad started teaching me the basics right away. Then my trainer started my Serious Training. They have a ton of dog shows in New Jersey and I knew I had some big pawprints to fill. Murphy was a Champion. But I took to it right away, learned how to stack perfectly …”
“Er, what’s ‘stack’ mean?” I asked, picturing a pile of dog biscuits, and wondering what the point was.
“Oh, it just means ‘pose.’ You hafta be Totally Perfect, nose to tail. Anyway, I’m the son of Champions, so I guess I was a natural, entered my first show when I was only 9 months old and won Best of Class, Best of Winners and Best of Breed. For six years, I won shows all over the Tri-State Area. Got tons of ribbons. It was my job. The ring was my office. Sometimes, I admit, I miss the excitement.”
Then he got a faraway look. “I’ll never forget the night I won Best of Breed at the Twin Brooks show. There was this gorgeous Yellow Lab, she’d just won her class. Her name was Crystal. She was so pale she almost glowed. Our eyes met across the show ring floor, but we only yapped briefly when we were packing up to go home. She was from Manhattan, Upper West Side. I never saw her again.”
“I think we all have a memory like that,” I sympathized, relieved when he changed the subject.
“For a while I was an only pet. Then one day we were taking a ride and Mom and Dad stopped at an animal shelter, just to browse. I waited in the car. They saw this crate on a table with four gold eyes peeping out. It was two black kittens! Mom and Dad convinced the shelter humans to let me come in and meet ’em because I was so well behaved. Well, even though I was, like, 30 times bigger than them, PLUS being a DOG, both those fluffmuffins came right up to me and started purring. I mean, how could I resist? And we’ve been pals ever since.”
“Wow!” I said. “So, how’d you get down here?”
“After we’d been Snowbirds for years we decided to move down for good. Then, this Big Terrible Storm came. Dad called it Sandy. So me and Dex and Tucker and our human sisters packed up the car and drove down here. Mom and Dad had to stay with the house, even though there was no ’lectricity and it was 40 degrees inside. We were so worried about ’em. But everything turned out OK.
“Now we have a Routine. Me and the cats and Dad wake up at 4:30 and …”
“ ’Scuse me,” I interrupted. “Did you say 4:30, like, in the MORning?”
“Yep. We got in the habit when I was doing dog shows. We go out and Do Our Duty. Then we have breakfast. When we take walks, all the neighborhood dogs and their humans stop to say hello. By around 8, We’re ready to conk out. It’s a good life!”
Heading home, I was thinking about what a nice guy Dugan is, even though he’s famous. A pooch could learn a lot from him. Except for that 4:30 in the morning thing.
Till next time,