The year the dog learned to laugh and listen to Ravel

Dogs are our friends. They even can be our very special friends. Take Frederick Theodore Prady, for example. He was the toy French poodle I agreed to allow into the house if my two young children gave him an American name, not Yves or Pierre.

Certainly Fred the Dog, as he came to be known, was warm and loving, although his seven pounds could present quite an impediment when he was pressed against you on top of the blanket you were under.

"Fred," I said to Fred the Dog one day, "I get this thing every month from the music club. Deals on albums. And if I sign up a very special friend to be a member, my very special friend gets nine free albums and I get four. What do you think? Want to be my very special friend?"

I assured Fred the Dog that I would cover any expenses that came up. As a new member, he'd be agreeing to buy a bunch of albums after getting the free ones. He seemed to grasp the plan. I helped him choose a music category to be in, with the understanding that he could shop from the club's entire list. He went into Easy Listening.

Not long after his free albums arrived, Frederick Theodore Prady, whose name had apparently been sold and resold across the spectrum of direct-mail marketing, began to receive offers for merchandise, condos in the snow-capped mountains of Kansas, and opportunities to meet beautiful Russian women eager to become American wives. This was the year Fred the Dog learned to laugh.

He stopped laughing when he got the invitation to apply for a credit card. Nothing funny here, I told Fred the Dog. No, we have to think this through.

I did some quick and casual research about fraud and tried to decide if accepting the invitation in Fred's name would be deceitful. Why? They offered it to him. All he had to do was sign his name. Oh. And give them his Social Security number. Oh. Maybe forging a signature and fabricating a federal ID number would weigh to the prosecutorial argument. "I don't know, Fred," I said. "I'm not so sure about this."

While Fred the Dog settled in with "Two Hundred Violins Playing Ravel" – or some such – that he'd received as part of his enrollment gift, I decided to take the matter to that evening's family meeting.

"You're crazy," 50 percent of the adults present told me. Being the other 50 percent, I was automatically outvoted. The nonadults were more pragmatic: "Could Fred the Dog go shopping with his credit card?"

With reluctance and regret, I told Fred the Dog he would not be getting a charge card.

Aside from the legalities, I had to face certain concerns about his maturity. Painfully, I reminded him of his early days in our home and his clear pattern of irresponsibility. "Don't you remember puddles on the kitchen floor, kids' slippers chewed into oblivion, toys left everywhere for me to trip over?"

But Fred the Dog seemed to accept the decision comfortably. After all, he still had Sinatra.

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