After flying like a bullet through the late-summer fields, Bisou comes back covered with burrs. They are tiny and sticky and in less than a minute her silky hair forms big tight mats around every single one of them.
I put her belly-up on my lap and go to work–her long ears first, then the pale gold hair on her chest, the feathers on her legs, the weird long hairs that grow between her toes and are a mark of her breed. No matter how careful I am, pinching the hair between the mat and the skin to keep from tugging, and making short strokes with the comb, it hurts.
Yet she stays in position, her wide eyes firmly fixed on mine, reaching up periodically to lick my face. I have brushed a lot of dogs in my life–large and small, long- and short-haired, tough and sensitive–but never one like this.
This is what more than four-hundred years of selective breeding gets you.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels became popular in the 17th century under King Charles II of England. The King was never without his pack of \”spaniels gentle,\” and published an edict allowing the little dogs to appear in public anywhere in the kingdom. (I would take Bisou everywhere with me too, if I didn\’t feel guilty about leaving Wolfie behind.)
After the burrs and the mats are gone, Bisou shakes herself and plops down on my lap. She is an excellent plopper. It seems impossible to me that a dog with her muscles and speed and passionate drive can turn it all off in an instant, and just plop. I wish I could be like that.
Four centuries of breeding do not come without a price, however. Cavaliers are plagued with heart problems, neurological problems, eye and ear problems, so it\’s crucial to pick from healthy stock.
But before you even think of getting a Cavalier, you need to be prepared for the plop issue.
Whenever she\’s not chasing balls or frogs or butterflies, your dog will want to be on your lap. In the hottest hours of the year she might temporarily desert your lap to lie down next to you, but the entire length of her body will be right against your sweaty leg. Then the minute the temperature drops, she will, with a groan of deep satisfaction, plop down on your lap again.
If you own a Cavalier, make sure before you sit down that you have at hand your phone, your book, your computer, your coffee, and your reading glasses, since once a Cavalier has plopped on your lap, you don\’t get up for trivial reasons. She will be deaf to your commands to move, and if you try to shift her she will somehow make herself infinitely heavier than her eighteen pounds. You will have to lift her bodily, and when you come back to your chair having retrieved whatever it was you thought you had to have, she will have moved into the warm spot that you left behind, and you will have to shift her again. Fortunately, she won\’t hold that against you.
Over the four years that Bisou\’s been with me, I\’ve gotten used to my little red shadow. In the beginning, she would periodically disappear and I would search all over the house for her. Now I know, if she\’s not either on me or within a couple of yards of me, to check the bedroom closet. She follows me in there when I get dressed, and sometimes when I leave she\’s busy sniffing shoes and I shut the door before she can get out.
King Charles was a man of taste. He wore little heels and long curly wigs and liked to have fun. He made it legal for women in England to act on the stage, and without him we wouldn\’t have Dames Vanessa, Helen, Judi or Maggie. But worst of all, I wouldn\’t have Bisou.
|Bisou and the King|