Penny was my mother's Cocker Spaniel. Fifty years ago Cocker Spaniels were the most popular breed in the nation, and they weren't the brain-dead couch pillows with a body temperature they seem to be today. Penny was highly intelligent and quite able to decide where her interests would best be served. In my family, it's a high compliment to call a dog "Penny smart."
I remember the day she came: I was perhaps 4 or 5 years old, and came down one morning to find we had a...PUPPY! I'm not sure how old she was, but definitely still a pup. The story was that my physician father had a patient who owed him money; the patient had a son-in-law who had a puppy and wasn't treating her well, so...the debt was paid. According to my father, that man never paid him another cent; but Penny was surely payment enough for any professional services he may have provided.
She guarded our home with zeal, and she knew the difference between people who came to the family entrance and those who came to my father's office, who was to be barked at and who wasn't. She detested men in working shoes, with one exception: a family friend who was a plumber, at whom she never barked.
Penny was a great hunter, as of course Cocker Spaniels are supposed to be. She often would catch small birds and bring them to my mother as a gift offering. One day she found out my youngest sister had acquired a parakeet; when Skippy got out of his cage, Penny stalked him and ate him! She spent her most of her day under my mother's desk, having her belly rubbed as Mom worked in my father's office.
In those times there were no leash laws in New York City, and she roamed freely when she liked. Occasionally she would track my mother to a friend's house where she played Canasta with a group of friends. This was in an apartment building on the fifth floor: Penny figured out how to wait in the elevator and where to get off it, then she'd go an patiently scratch on the door until someone let her in. Dogs could go into stores and often Mom would take her shopping, or out with us on family outings.
Since she wasn't spayed until fairly late in her life, she had three litters of puppies, seven each. All of them lived, too. In every litter there was one that looked like her; and one that looked like Ernie, the ugliest mutt in the neighborhood. Ernie lacked charm to the human eye, but clearly Penny found him quite attractive. Ernie wasn't picky: he'd mount anything or anyone who would stand still long enough; when she was in heat, Penny was quite content to let Ernie take his turn with the others.
The picture at the top of the page was taken about 1954, when she was in her prime. The one above right was taken not long before she died of congestive heart failure in October of 1961. She is buried at the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, the oldest pet cemetery in America. She was as much a sister as a pet, and nearly half a century later, my family still grieves for her. I suppose her descendants are still living in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx to this day.
Little sister dog,
Gone for half a century
We still grieve for her.