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October 25, 2015



In following your biographical encounters with Muff and Spot, I was taken with the names you had for your animals as well as names in general that people choose for their pets. It reminded me of an early form of political correctness that a friend encountered in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She had been a math major in college and her first job after graduating had been working on junior-high-level math texts for McGraw-Hill and later Macmillan Publishers.

One of her tasks was to create end-of-chapter questions on the work covered in each chapter, the questions containing situations appropriate for and of interest to young students. This was not as easy as it sounds as she quickly found out. One of the first things she was told by her editors was never to use a human moniker in naming a pet in one of her examples. The companies had learned that there was too great a chance for ridicule among students if one had the same name as a pet. There were presumably many parental complaints, threatened lawsuits, company focus group meetings, and professional guideline pronouncements having occurred, to countenance the continuation of this type of thing by the publishers.

A St. Bernard named Rosalie or a Siamese cat named Casper consequently became fraught with all sorts of political and social minefields in the publishing world. There was room no more for cats named Louisa, a dog called Bobby, parrots named Pedro, or presumably (John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin notwithstanding) a fish called Wanda.

The formerly fruitful innings of champs such as Elsie the cow and Morris the cat would now in the publishing world be strikeouts, with Mr. Ed permanently benched if not sent out to pasture for the rest of his days. And what would one make of nicknames (Rocky, Jock, Bo) that echo very closely actual human names (Rocco, Jacques, Beau)? As in all things, economic considerations will likely trump everything else and as my friend found out it was best to toe the line and err on the side of caution.

So, let's see, if Heather rode the train to Utica with her cat Squeegie in tow traveling at 65 miles per hour, and Cobb took a bus to Schenectady with his dog Fluffer doing a steady 70 miles per hour, how long would it take Kimberly and Kyle to reach Niagara Falls in a beat-up old Chevy with hamsters Kookie and Krispie running in their spinners on the hatchback floor? These are my worst childhood math nightmares coming back to haunt me. I'm afraid those imaginary horror trips to upstate New York (always seemingly with someone named Helen shuffling off to Buffalo) didn't add up then and they don't add up now. Yipes!


No Helmut, No Heinrich, No Bull

The lovely biscuit-hued Vesper, one of our friendly apartment building cats, gets on very well with dogs. She enjoys leading herself and other younger cats into faux attack mode, tackling and butting small dogs and knocking them over onto our soft grassy lawn. All seem to enjoy this experience -- tails both a-wag and a-swish -- including good-natured and amused humans of all ages.

She is also friendly with large dogs in our building and will even make nice, nose-to-nose with them as well. "Works and plays well with others" on her report card is apposite and would merit an unequivocal "Outstanding."

But there are two dogs in residence -- Helmut and Heinrich -- that she does not like, and both are bulldogs. (One might possibly expect them to be named Nigel and Clive, but one's expectation in this case would be wrong.) They are owned by a nice but quiet older couple. The woman has a Germanic accent, while the man was presumably born in the US. Possibly he was in the military stationed in Germany, and met his future partner there. Evidently snoutlessness had appeal for them over time since their former pet -- before Vesper appeared on the scene and had cause to object -- was an aging boxer named Max (Slapsie Maxie according to some).

As for Vesper not liking the two bulldogs, perhaps their lack of snouts has something to do with this. Nose-to-nose kissing could turn out to be quite dangerous for her in close proximity to snaggily askew teeth. Or the heavily moisturized and snuffled gaspings that emanate from their misshapenly squished faces might be very scary to the otherwise remarkably self-possessed Vesper. Twin onslaughts onto her turf may not be to her liking either. Or maybe she simply does not care for their unabashedly guttural and Germanic names, so easy for humans to utter harshly.

Vesper is not human -- not exactly -- but she does know the difference between kiss me and kill me. She is one smart cat who knows when to leave well enough alone where dogs are involved.

Some cat. And that's no bull.

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