We’ve heard all the words before. We even may have uttered some of them ourselves.
A dog is man’s best friend.
Happiness is a warm puppy.
Love me, love my dog.
But there’s one sentence, above all others, that has gained a lot of traction the last few years: You can tell a lot about a person by how he treats his dog.
A dog breeder and a dog groomer for the last 21 years, DeWitt Bolden is a three-time winner at the Westminster Dog Show, the Super Bowl for dog lovers that begins its annual two-day run in New York City today. The Boyes Hot Springs resident owns four miniature poodles. When he steps out, to a place where dogs aren’t permitted, Bolden has a neighborhood girl, Samantha, sit with them until he returns.
Bolden cares. So I wanted to know something.
“Do you think Michael Vick is rehabilitated?”
It was a question that would test the compassion of any dog lover.
At the coffee shop Bolden stared at the table top. Vick is the NFL player convicted of dog brutality in 2007, sentenced to 23 months in prison, much of his $130 million Atlanta Falcons contract voided, the guy under house arrest, later working as a $10-an-hour construction laborer as part of his sentencing.
Giving Bolden a little more time to chew on the question, I added, “He was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2010. Some people think Vick has paid his debt, that he has shown remorse, that it’s obvious he’s changed, so leave him alone. Others think that what he did was unforgivable, that he can never erase it. Where do you stand?”
“I don’t think enough time has passed,” Bolden said. “It’s been a good start but it’s only been a start. You don’t get respect, you earn it. Only Vick knows what (images) he sees, when it’s late at night and no one is around. I hope this has been an awakening for him.”
If Vick would call him, Bolden would tell him what he sees when he looks at his four miniature poodles — Bella, Alton, Anna and Willie. Bolden would tell Vick of the lightness of being his pooches give him, a rhythm as it were, in which he and family move in smooth, greased grooves.
“They have boundless compassion,” Bolden said. “You can have a rough moment with them and they’ll still wag their tails at you. They offer love to us and we certainly could use that in this world.”
Yes, happiness is a warm puppy, a dog being able to access a place shielded from other humans, to a person’s core as it were, unspoken yet vital, a relationship unique in that regard. How else to explain a dog show crossing all borders, attracting all comers, no matter how high their station in life?
Yankees great Lou Gehrig entered a German shepherd in the 1933 Westminster. The 2008 Best in Show, a beagle, was invited to the White House. The 2010 winner, a Scottish terrier, paid a visit to Donald Trump, at his request, and then rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, although few details were provided on how that could have happened.
When Bolden described his three Westminster winners, all miniature poodles, the qualities were such that you would like to have the same reaction when you look at human beings.
“It’s the look of intelligence a poodle has,” Bolden said. “You look at it and something is looking back at you. The way they present themselves, the way they arch their neck, there’s a natural dignity to them.”
That he’s won three times, well, that’s almost an afterthought to Bolden. Sure, he’s not about to return those three beautiful rosette trophies; yet they are not displayed in his house. Winning three times, in the dog world — Bolden considers it winning an Oscar — is not the reason he breeds the minis or why he has a stable of 100 dogs he regularly grooms, dogs of all breeds.
“I’m doing this because I want dogs to be healthy and happy,” Bolden said. “Like someone once said, ‘If you do it right, you won’t make any money breeding dogs.’”
Paying it forward, that’s what Bolden is saying, and he hopes that’s the good that will come out of the Michael Vick mess.
“Because of all the attention his story has generated,” Bolden said, “I would like to think Vick is doing something so extraordinarily positive out of something so horrible. I would like to think his story has been an education for people. I would like to think this is influencing the 5- and 6-year-olds, the dog owners of the future. I would like to think Vick has ended up saving lives. Because, you know, it’s not really about the dogs. It’s about us.”
It’s about how we value all creatures, great and small. That Michael Vick gets that, really gets it, is Bolden’s hope.
“Because if he does,” Bolden said, “he will have accomplished more off the football field than he ever did on it.”