Friday, December 28, 2012


     We were filled with enthusiasm and energy, a troupe of stage-struck, starry-eyed and--though not one of us would admit it--slightly homesick singers and dancers. Our bus and truck musical would play 101 cities across the United States and Canada. After months of one, two and three night stands the cast and crew settled down in Los Angeles for a six-week run.  We rented furnished apartments, did our laundry, took dance classes and one day, our leading lady – who loved dogs – asked for a ride to DeWolf’s Toyland Kennels in Temple City, California. The kennel, located just outside LA, bred toy poodles. Five of us just went along for the ride but we all succumbed to puppy love.
     My husband, an ex-dancer who became a stage-manager, lost his heart to an energetic six-pound, white toy poodle with a freckled nose and ears that resembled first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s bouffant hairstyle.  Naturally, we named her Jackie.
     One of Jackie’s kennel-mates, the elegant Missy enchanted our leading lady while sweet and cuddly Debbie beguiled the dance captain and the smallest of the poodles, Big Daddy, made off with her partner.  Mimi, a black and white mischief-maker, reeled in a tenor. When other members of our troupe met our puppies, they too were smitten and within a week, Mr. Kelly, a Sheltie, and Ming Toy, a Pekinese had joined the company. By the time we left Los Angeles, a Yorkshire terrier and two dachshunds had been added to the entourage. All of the puppies were of breeds small enough to adjust easily to hotel rooms and sit comfortably on the buses and trains we used for transportation. Wardrobe trunks now held dog blankets, sweaters, squeaky toys, cans and boxes of dog food and boots to protect paws from salt when we hit the snows of winter.
     “Look!  A dog show,” the words greeted us every time the tour bus made a stop. Our star performers were ignored as puppy after puppy left our bus to investigate and rate each rest stop.
     When the curtain came down at 11:00 p.m.; we’d return to our hotel rooms, unlock the doors and stand back. The race was on. Dogs would chase each other up and down the hotel corridors, in and out of rooms, around and over the furniture and through our legs. Missy would pause for any leftover dog biscuits. 
     Jackie, a dancer’s companion, became the Pavlova of poodles--though too shy a dog to tread the boards professionally--developed the ability to leap from one side of the bus to the other. 
     Our dogs were the family we needed on the road. They brought the company closer together and made us all less homesick. The cast exchanged feeding and training tips, admired newly clipped and shampooed puppies, celebrated birthdays, and established enduring friendships. And we celebrated Christmas by throwing a party for our dogs.   
     Jackie continued her travels after the show closed; accompanying us as we traveled with national tours and industrial shows. She visited Wilmington, Delaware during pre-Broadway try-outs, watched soybeans grow in Waterloo, Iowa while we performed in a show that featured dancing tractors, plows and earth moving equipment and suffered a severe case of indigestion in Hershey, Pennsylvania, when she mistook a bar of chocolate soap for a slab of candy.  Between jobs, Jackie practiced Grand Jetes, if we left the dining room to answer the phone, Jackie would spring to the table and devour homemade baked beans or rice pudding--her favorite dishes. On our return, we’d find a happy poodle, stretched out next to an empty bowl, grinning at us and belching indelicately.
     Although her entire life was spent in the theatre, Jackie remained a morning dog; if the rising sun and washing our ears didn’t wake us, a quick nip on the derriere would.
     We were rehearsing a musical in Seattle, Washington when Jackie, almost sixteen years old, passed away. She missed our stop at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; I know she would have enjoyed walks along the Potomac. We were consoled in our grief by cast members, who had loving relationships with their own traveling companions: dogs who understood the adventure to be found on the road; show business gypsies with four paws.
Happy Holidays, Jackie.
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