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This article was prepared for the February 28, 2001 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Between the Lines

Long before there were stupid pet tricks, we suspect,

there must have been stupid pet names. Surely you have seen or heard

about the stupid pet tricks made famous by late night television’s

David Letterman. And you may well be familiar with — or even

created — some stupid pet names.

Of course stupid isn’t necessarily stupid. Some of them are actually

quite creative — even brilliant — to the person who named

the animal. But in any case they are a far cry from the pet names

of our childhood. Back in the late 1940s and 1950s, grandma’s dog

was Tippy and our dog — a collie — was Princess. Television

had taken Lassie.

Now pet names are as wide-ranging and evocative as people’s names.

Examples: Rembrandt, Gropius, Mecca, Algebra’s QTPi, Aries, Beastie

Boy, Dudley Do Right, Molly Brown, Bohemian Rhapsody, Loreal.

Thus, when it came time to edit our cover story on the reopened pet

cemetery in Hamilton (U.S. 1, February 7), we hardly noticed the names

on the memorials in Craig Terry’s photographs. There was Snooky,

"our

beloved pal," printed on the cover of the issue. And inside was

the photograph of a snow-draped headstone for "Chinky,"

described

as "our beloved Siamese cat."

We printed the pictures and ran the story. Then came the fun. Some

veterinarians weighed in. We got a call from the owner of a

pet-sitting

business who noted that her firm does more for pets when they are

alive than the Hamilton company does when they are dead. A week after

that we received an E-mail communication, reprinted here:

I AM WRITING in response to the article in the February 7 issue

titled "For Man’s Best Friends, a Resting Place." One of the

pictures is titled "Missing Chinky." Chinky is a Siamese cat.

Do you realize the racial connotations behind the name, Chinky, and

the type of cat, Siamese? It seems pretty clear. What shall I name

my Chihuahua or my black Labrador?

Hmm. Chinky, the Siamese cat. It took us a while to figure it

out. Siam must be a country in Asia, or at least once must have been

a country there. Asia is the continent that includes China. And

"chink"

must be a derogatory slang synonym for people from China.

The writer’s hypothetical examples were even more challenging for

us. Chihuahua? And black Labrador. Labrador — was it some troubled

region, like Canada’s Newfoundland or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,

that has become the butt of insensitive commentary and stupid jokes?

No, we realized, it was the black that must have excited this writer.

What would be the harm, we wondered, if a someone had a black Labrador

with a sonorous bark and called him Satchmo? Or if the dog were

incredibly

athletic and were named Michael? We imagined a black Lab standing

peacefully to one side while a pack of other dogs scrapped over petty

issues. Someone might name that dog Martin. How bad a name and a

legacy

would that be?

But ultimately we decided to let sleeping dogs lie, or at least

prevent

the dead from rolling over in their graves. So in response to our

letter writer, we will say simply that our bark is far worse than

our bite. See you in a week.


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