Many years ago when I lived in Queens I had a neighbor with a beautiful dog – a Siberian husky. She – the dog -- was playful and rambunctious, always hungry for a pet or a caress. The dog’s owner, a 50-year-old woman, named Terri, who was a widow, would bring the dog to the playground and the neighborhood kids would line up to play with her and pet her. She was the perfect dog – almost - a version of sunshine in animal form, a temperament that ran from playful to mild with an occasional shall we say, bitchiness. Her name "Checkers" though, was somewhat ill-fitting. It was rumored that she was named for the dog "Checkers" referred to in the now infamous 1952 speech by Richard Nixon.
Checkers was all you could want in a neighborhood dog except that often Terri would walk her without a leash and the bitch would get frisky with the men going off to work on the block or whoever else happened to be walking by. It was all playful and harmless, yet to some it was annoying. Here and there a comment would be made: “You really ought to have her on a leash sister,” but Terri would laugh it off. “I know,” she would say, and then call her dog back and make a half-hearted attempt to leash her.
Even that was not so bad except that on occasion, Checkers would run loose without her owner disappearing for hours or even half-days at a time. Often, I would meet Terri herself wandering in the street. She would ask: “where’s my dog, did you see her? She escaped from the yard,” she would explain sheepishly but also with a certain faux alarm. I was irritated, but said nothing.
One morning, Checkers “escaped” and she terrorized young children on the block, as they waited for the school bus. Later when I saw Terri I told her what had happened. One young girl was petrified of dogs and her face was white with fear as she cowered behind her book bag. She did not see Checkers as playful, but rather as a monster with big teeth that would rip her to pieces. In response Terri said, “I heard what happened I felt ‘terrible’ -- problem is that she keeps escaping from the yard.”
Now I was even more irritated. What could be preventing this highly intelligent woman from reining in her dog? She knew very well how to escape-proof her backyard. Then it occurred to me that the dog was representative of something for her. She was living alone on a block with couples and children. She had no husband and it appeared as though she had no love life.
The dog was a way of saying, “I am.” I can produce. I can even reproduce too. But it was more than that: The dog was her id – her basic and instinctual drives for which she had no other expression. Her dog was acting out her id for her. Checkers was everything she was not at least on the outside. She was rolling, rambunctious, playful, full of life and angry too sometimes, but Terri was drab, tired and dull or so she seemed to be. This is why she could not or did not want to control it.
I was aware in talking with Terri, that beneath it all, Terri was all the things that Checkers was too, but it was locked inside of her and she could not bring it out. In a perfect world I would have been able to say that to her and she would have put it to good use. But in real life, intuitively I knew it would not have been received well. Shortly after, Checkers got sick and died and Terri went all over the neighborhood showing pictures of her and weeping in grief.