Aristocracy demands a certain amount of inbreeding to insure the perpetuation of wealth. In the old days you had to marry your own cousin to keep hoi polloi away from the keys to the empire. In the modern day there are enough rich people to ensure genetic diversity so, while they still marry among their own kind, there is less risk of mutation and degradation of the species.

In what can only be a nostalgic nod to their blue-blooded ancestors, the wealthy have maintained the tradition of keeping purebred dogs and cats. Geneticists will tell you that such a thing can't go on forever and that the various breeds will end up gasping for life in the shallow gene pool. Susceptibility to disease and congenital infirmity will eventually thin the ranks of all of these breeds to nil.

The casual cruelty of intentionally breeding a critter out of existence sounds bad enough on its face but there is a more insidious evil lurking beneath the surface. Look carefully into the eyes of your rich Aunt Tilly's Pomeranian sometime and you will be greeted with the chilling reality that there is no "there" there. The poor animal is experiencing the final stages of evolution interrupted and if Aunt Tilly's lucky, the result is merely massive retardation. The Pomeranian along with a hundred other breeds has become the animal kingdom equivalent of the hillbilly kid in Deliverance, without the redemptive banjo prowess.

The purebred dog is a perverse anomaly and an affront to the critter's natural inclination to hump anything that moves. Before you plop down money for a store bought dog with a pedigree, understand that potential retardation is the least of your worries. With each successive batch of pureblooded critters, as with the human aristocracy of old, there is an increased likelihood of outright insanity.


It was our first Christmas as rich people so I couldn't wait to get at the booty underneath that tree. The previous year I netted an ugly sweater, a stocking full of fruit and mixed nuts and a book shaped package of ten rolls of lifesavers candy. At the time, the candy seemed a massive extravagance because my parent's humble means usually demanded functional gifting. We'd get socks and underwear on a bad year and perhaps one toy that didn't require batteries on a good one. Our father always told us that if we complained we'd get a stocking full of reindeer turds so we kept our mouths shut and counted our blessings. All of that was in the past. The rich are different all right; for one thing they get a Hell of a lot better Christmas presents.

Our father had just been promoted to President of something or other and after he divorced my mother he hit the lottery in the second wife department. The new step-mother was heiress to a sporting goods empire and in the early 1970's was pulling down an allowance of $50,000 a year for doing little more than getting liquored up and watching soap operas. At the time you could buy a brand new car for $3,000, so fifty large was truly large and it was just the tip of the ski slope.

Her father, Grandpa Charley, might just as well have had a license to print money. He reinvented the downhill ski at the exact moment that the nouveau riche adopted the Aspen culture as their milieu and Grandpa Charley cashed in big time. He had an exclusive deal with the Olympic Committee and product placement in James Bond movies so everybody who was anybody demanded his product. If you ever want to get really, really wealthy, all you need to do is come up with something that rich people absolutely need two of.

We were at our new step-grandfather's house the night before, on Christmas Eve, when we caught our first glimpse of how the other half lived. Gated communities are relatively common now but at the time it was an exotic concept. The entire township was fenced in and there were armed guards at every entrance. Grandpa Charley shared a private lake with a former United States Vice President and his house was a shrine to conspicuous consumption and hedonism. Charley’s pedigreed Lhasa Apso had her own bedroom with a doggy door that led to a little doggy Disney World in the back yard.

In our house we opened presents on Christmas morning but Charley's side wasn't into the delayed gratification thing. Christmas Eve at Grandpa Charley's was an exercise in wacky excess, ridiculously expensive trinkets parceled out randomly like crumbs thrown to pecking pigeons. There were nine kids in our hybrid family ranging in age from six to sixteen and Grandpa Charley gave us each an envelope containing $5,000, along with a pile of spendy presents. The most extravagant gift I had received when my mom and dad were still married was a ten dollar bill, the Christmas before their divorce. I remember staring at that ten spot for hours, dreaming of what I could buy with it, dizzy over my wealth.

The whole broken home thing might not suck as bad as I feared.


The deal at Grandpa Charley's on Christmas Eve was just the gravy. The real bonanza would happen on Christmas morning when we'd attack the small mountain of presents at our house. We were now rich in our own right and with the necessity to fit nine children and two dogs under one roof, our own house was something like a mansion. When my father bought it I remember him commenting that the wallpaper and carpeting alone cost more than he paid for our former dwelling. Our stepbrothers and sisters took it all in stride, having grown accustomed to grand surroundings but it was new and exciting to my siblings and me.

Our mother came away from the divorce with little more than a mobile home and a waitressing gig at The International House of Pancakes so dear old dad must have done something right. We'd get a third Christmas with our mum at the trailer park but we knew that the presents there would degenerate back to socks and underwear. The genuine warmth of the humble little Christmas at mom's mobile home, food with actual love in it and gifts made of cloth, was a more sincere affair by far but I know that it saddened her that she couldn't compete with our father's grand style.

I could hardly sleep the night before our first Christmas in the mansion. I lay awake in my bed that night thinking about the five thousand bucks from Grandpa Charley and how cool it was gonna be to be rich. Our living room had vaulted ceilings that allowed for an enormous Christmas tree and around its base lay an equally enormous complement of gifts. There was a pile of presents some twenty feet in diameter and as tall as a ten year old encircling that decaying pine and I was gonna be the first little monkey down those stairs in the morning if I had to stay up all night to do it.

As it turned out there wasn't much risk of anyone in the house sleeping late on that Christmas morning. The growling and howling and terrible death screams that emanated from our mansion woke up half of the people on our block. The neighbors on either side of us both called the police when they heard my little stepsister screaming. Poor old Alice next door was a busybody and had her nose pressed to the glass in her breezeway, near enough to actually see the blood splattering on the windows of our living room.


Our new stepfamily came equipped with a demonic little poodle named Muffin and for our first Christmas in the mansion my dad bought the gargantuan St. Bernard for show. He had big money and a big house so it seemed only fitting to purchase a really big dog. Samantha was a drooling monstrosity that acted nothing like the gentle oafish St. Bernards in the movies. Her growl sent a chill down your spine because you knew that she was big enough to do real damage if she snapped. Years later Stephen King wrote a book called "Cujo" about a killer St. Bernard and readers must have assumed it was a complete flight of fancy. It read like a documentary to me and mine.

I'm a lifelong dog-lover but I had no affection for either of those soulless beasts. Muffin, the yippy little poodle from Hell, seemed to have only two brain cells, the one that caused the high pitched yip and the one that compelled her to skittle across the floor on painted toenails to yip at you from another direction. Samantha the St. Bernard was simply insane.

I often wished that the yippy poodle would come to a bad end but I never dreamt it would be such a gory exhibition. When my little stepsister started screaming, the whole family rushed to the living room for the Christmas morning spectacle none of us will ever forget.

The feral St. Bernard had what was left of Muffin clenched in her jaws, shaking the carcass back and forth violently, spraying blood and pieces of expensive poodle all over our Christmas presents and the newly redecorated living room. Little Muffin was surprisingly resilient. What was left of her head was still connected to what was left of her torso and she managed to yip and whine throughout her vivisection. The little poodle had an impressive blood supply, nearly enough to coat every surface in the living room.

By the time we wrested the bloody mop of entrails and rended flesh from the mouth of Cujo it looked as though someone had hurled a poodle grenade into the house.

I wish that I could put a happy spin on the bloody mess but I cannot. When the police showed up they called the animal warden and our St. Bernard was unceremoniously dispatched to dog heaven with a hypodermic. We were shocked speechless when our stepmother ordered the kids to collect the pieces of Muffin for potential reassembly. Her ears, tail and at least two of her legs were entirely detached. What was left of her cranium looked like a lump of raw hamburger with eyeballs and was connected to the torso by a few narrow strands of nerve and sinew.

Our wealth afforded little Muffin elaborate reconstructive surgery and nothing short of a miracle of veterinary medicine. For something like the cost of a new Corvette, the evil little animal was sewn back together and somehow managed a full recovery.

When the stepfamily and the money vanished a few years later I gained a new appreciation for the simpler things in life. The socks and underwear under the little tree at my mother's mobile home had an honest utility and the humble gatherings at Christmastime in the trailer park never degenerated to bloodshed and mayhem.

The soulful mixed breed mutts from the Humane Society were a Godsend.

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