Muffie, our moonlighting model

There was a note of wonder in her voice. "Just take a look at this!" she was smiling broadly.

She handed me one of the several million Christmas gift catalogs that have invaded our home since about June 1. This one included items on behalf of the dog population, which, as ever, seems in need of rescue and protection. Aprons with slogans like "In the dog house again," those sorts of things, and - "My goodness! For heavens' sake! Well, I never!" I exclaimed, after following the trajectory of my wife's index finger as it pointed at a small photo halfway down page 10.

Now I am aware that visual recognition comes fairly low down the list of intercanine socializing techniques (nasal recognition is much higher up), but the fact is that we humans do use our eyes in this regard. Line up our Bugs or Muffie in an identification parade, and I'd pick 'em out before you could swallow half a spoonful of vichyssoise. That's how quick a trice I'd do it in.

So when I fixed my gaze upon the head and shoulders pictured in the catalog (just below "Letter-writing Pads for Toy Poodle Fanciers" and just above "Tastefully Personalized Keep-Your-Pooch-Dry Bags in Purple or Tartan"), my exclamation was the epitome of spontaneity.

The picture was indisputably Muffie. The spitting image. Her barking likeness. I'd know that dog anywhere.

Flipping further through the catalog, we found she turned up on four other pages. In her final appearance she is modeling a smart-looking harness.

Now this dog of ours is a Glasgow guttersnipe without pedigree. She could not possibly be mistaken for some clonelike fox terrier, or yet another black lab, or an Afghan or a spaniel of impeccably predictable background. No. Although it's true that our tyke shares with many mutts her black-and-tan markings, bent-over ear-tips, and periscope tail, yet her markings are a mix of precise and random uniqueness. Her ear-tip-bendings are individualistic, her tail all her own. Finally, it is in the arrangement of her facial features - including lashings of mascara, liner, and eye shadow that compete, allure-wise, with Brigitte Bardot's - that she is different. And she has a way of looking at you (and your camera lens) that, I swear, belongs to no other dog.

So the only conclusion that can be drawn is that she's been moonlighting. How she managed it isn't altogether clear. Presumably she has an agent, or at least contacts in the advertising and modeling worlds. I am a little hurt that she has kept her budding career secret from us, but naturally I wish her well....

Come to think of it, this discovery helps explain a few things I have been subliminally conscious of in Muffie's attitude lately. I had put these indicators down to something I have observed in dog behavior over the years.

When you first bring a dog home, it may start out a little uncertain of its position in the domestic pecking order. It will ingratiate itself to you by certain ploys - in Muffie's case, by placing her muzzle on your right knee and fixing you with a gaze of unremitting intentness. Finger-washing is another ploy she performs at intervals, with a catlike persistence.

But since the second dog, The Bugs, arrived, I've observed certain differences between her ploys and his. The Bugs rolls over at every opportunity, just to show how utterly devoted to us he is. He also - though he's the size of a sheepdog rather than a pug - jumps up on your lap with only the slightest invitation and snuggles there for as long as he can fool you into thinking that both of you are comfortable. Since his legs are quite long, lap-dogging like this is less than tidy; his legs stick out of the snuggle like wayward tree branches. But he is so obviously happy to be sitting on you - as if his dearest ambition has at last been achieved - that you tend to indulge it as long as you can.

By complete contrast, the Muffie dog wouldn't for a second contemplate such undignified wholehearted activities. She patently dislikes being picked up, complaining vocally if you try it. On the occasions she does roll over, it is entirely on her own terms. You can't force her.

And recently she has shown signs of an even greater independence and standoffishness. Dogs are communal creatures and may instinctively understand the principle of "economy of effort." I get the impression that Muff is entirely happy to let The Bugs do the rolling over and lap-sitting stuff, and since he does it so well, it is unnecessary for her to do it, too.

So she concentrates on other tactics. One of my favorites is what might broadly be called the Refusal Effect. This is something that dogs develop after they have lived with you for some time. They know your ways inside out, and you theirs, so now (this is their theory) it would be pointless - wouldn't it? - for them to go on obeying you. That sort of thing is for newcomers, surely.

She has perfected the "You talking to me? I'm busy" stance. You say: "Come here!" And she turns away and cocks her ears and twitches her nose as if at some distant prospect. She is the world's most articulate nose-twitcher. Out walking, she lingers. The Bugs is up with you, leaping and wriggling with cheerful camaraderie. The Muffie is 100 yards back, privately investigating.

When my wife returned yesterday from walking the dogs, she said: "Muff disappeared for 10 minutes!" Of course, the dog was not concerned. She knew she wasn't lost. But yelling and pleading had been of no avail. She had rejoined the walk only when she felt like doing so. No apology.

"Oh," I said, "it's being a celebrity model that has gone to her head. She's a dog star. Any day now, Hullo Magazine will run a profile of her 'At Home With Her Family' or as a 'Star Attraction at Annual Charity Ball.' "

"That's nonsense," said my good wife. "Sounds like just the sort of thing you'd write about."


William Hogarth's serious wit

The 18th-century engraver and painter William Hogarth was also a theater enthusiast. His paintings, no less than his satirical narrative prints, are instilled with an immediacy that suggests he saw these depictions as dramatic instants.

Hogarth was a strange mix, never settling for a predictable role nor satisfied with conventions. He moved among the worlds of sardonic storyteller, history painter, and portraitist. Not surprisingly, his contemporaries found him difficult to pigeonhole. He was on one hand a popularist with an eye on the market, sometimes choosingto portray famous actors so he could promote the sale of engravings based on his paintings of them. On the other hand, he could compete with the old masters (particularly Raphael) in his ambition to paint grand compositions for public buildings on biblical subjects.

He took art very seriously, yet a robust humor was never far away. In his mature work, idealism is often challenged by a touch of chaotic naturalness. If he was commissionedto paint a family portrait, he painted adults and children as if they were real people bursting with life and movement. And he sometimes introduced mischievous domestic animals as a foil to the air of posed solemnity usual in this genre.

In his best-known self-portrait, Hogarth is almost upstaged by his pug dog. (He had a succession of these pets.) X-rays reveal a long development of this image. It started out as a picture of himself as a formally garbed gentleman artist- engraver, but ended up a picture of what art historian Elizabeth Einberg calls "Hogarth the painter and thinker" in "artistic undress."

Symbolic volumes of Shakespeare, Milton, and Swift almostseem to support his mirror image, while his palette, which once had brushes in its thumb hole, now displays his theoretical curved "Line of Beauty and Grace."

But it is his pug that firmly brings everything down to earth. With its rapt contemplation, this sinewy creature seems to say "Who wants art? Give me dinner any day!"

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