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2009-04-08 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Might the K-9 chemistry that attracts us to particular dogs…..a puppy love at first sight, so to speak, be rooted in our childhood experiences? Are we drawn toward certain dogs by some sort of deeply entrenched memory or subliminal pull? Let me give two examples:

The other day I glanced at my dog, Edgar Afghan Poe, and for a second visualized a long-forgotten favorite face - that of Ollie the dragon puppet from "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie". Edgar with his sultry eyes and distinctly marked long nose resembles silly Ollie. They could be brothers. I had never made that connection before.

I'm a child of the '50s. "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie" (KFO) might not ring a bell with you, but I loved this puppet show that ran from 1947-57, even pre-dating me. Ollie's antics intrigued me. I can still hear his shaky baritone voice. Actually this ad-libbed theater, the brainchild of puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, was watched by more adults than kids.

Kukla the bald boy puppet who looked like a clown but wasn't; Fran (Allison) a former school teacher turned human muse; Ollie the prankster, snaggle tooth, fire-less dragon; Beulah the witch plus the rest of the Kuklapolitans delighted audiences for years. It was an acquired taste. You had to watch the show a bit to get the full flavor.

When Kukla sneezed, 250 worried fans sent in handkerchiefs; when Kukla's permanent wave machine removed all of Ollie's hair, viewers mailed Ollie hair restorers, wigs and grass seed to grow it back. Critics loved this sharp, witty program with no script. In 1951 after the show was cut to 15 minutes, letters of outrage flooded NBC. The cast also got fan letters from the likes of Marlon Brando, John Steinbeck, and Orson Welles. The pint-sized KFO troupe advertised everything from Sealtest ice cream spoons to the now defunct Pard dog food (partly shown here). Go to: http://www.kukla. tv/video.html to recapture some nostalgic KFO program moments.

Although the real Ollie (Oliver J. Dragon) had a Lucille Ball red coif and a faux ocelot neck, baby-boomer television broadcast in black & white so my Edgar's silver and blonde Afghan tresses match. Ollie was such a ham- performing The Mikado at the Kuklapolitan Opera House, bragging about his #88 vertical appearance in a Sunday NY Times crossword, and hosting the "Today" show with an ingénue named Barbara Walters.

However, Edgar, his canine clone, is quite shy. Their personalities contrast. Ollie had a better sense of humor. Edgar missed out on that critical socialization period when even dogs learn to "get" jokes. You may recall Edgar Afghan Poe (Beacon online 7/31/08) was rescued from a horrendous scene in New Mexico last summer- a home he shared with 66 other neglected Afghan Hounds and 27 parrots. From the moment I laid eyes on Edgar after he arrived from Newark airport, catatonic and plastered to the side of his carrier, we became instant pals. Edgar adores us and his Anderson canine/feline siblings; it's the rest of his new world that is causing the problem.

Edgar Afghan Poe is slowly getting used to "outsiders". Approach takes time. My guests bearing biscuits go to Edgar lounging on a sofa. We dub it "an audience with the Pup." He is still ridiculously afraid of men with sticks, especially fishermen or Cub Scouts cleaning the woods so I doubt if we'll ever see Edgar starring in the "Reluctant Dragon" with the Boston Pops as did Ollie, his twin separated at birth. The conductor's baton would be just too terrifying. Edgar, a whining tenor, is not as brave as Ollie was.

Actually this isn't the first time one of my Afghans prompted a puppet flashback. Back in 2006 I wrote about how my black & tan Beauty Queen snapped her jaws like Farfel, the Nestlé's yester year Setter puppet at the end of the jingle, "N-E-ST L-E-S, Nestle's makes the very best- CHAWCLITT…Snap."

I mentioned how my youngest brother had been afraid of Farfel so being a charming sister I would turn up the TV, and how now my demanding Hound clicked her teeth as Farfelstyle castanets to let us know she wanted to go out, get a cookie, or steal our spot on the couch. Her obedience trained owners still jump to attention at her every command.

As a kid and later as a teacher, puppets fascinated me. I can't tell you how many professional puppet productions of children's classics I'd book for our third grade. The Snow Queen, yes, Reluctant Dragon, Frog Prince…I was more mesmerized than the students. These fixations, puppets and Afghan Hounds, have a way of morphing together. Could it be their pointy profiles or just a spelling similarity? Except for one letter switcheroo, "puppets" and "puppies" are essentially the same word.

For Adoption: Dressed as the Easter Bunny, "Big Daddy", an older Pit mix at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon is hoping that someone nice will offer him a few jellybeans but, more important, a forever home. "Big Daddy' in Cage 3 is a favorite of the shelter staff and followers his fans around "sans leash". "Harvey" in Cage 15 is a mellow Shepherd mix with henna highlights. He was obliging when I brushed out his undercoat.

More Dogs: "Rocky"- athletic blue-eyed Pit mix Cage 13; purebred Siberian Husky Cage 5; "Amelia"- white Pit Cage 27; and possibly a few of the mysterious Shihtzus. (At times a streak of a certain breed enters a municipal shelter. Presently it is raining Lhasas & Shihtzus at Babylon. No one knows why.)

Cats: "Phantom" tuxedo; "Bailey" the marmalade lad-both in the lobby.

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