Snobby dogs don't come from this type of town

February 21, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

I almost fell out of my plump family-room chair.

This dog had just trotted across the TV. It was a poodle dog -- the kind of poodle dog that has shaved flanks and large poofs of hair. The traditional poofy poodle dog as seen in movies set in Paris.

But this was not just any poofy poodle dog. It was the best poofy poodle dog at the Westminster Kennel Club Show, which is sort of the Olympics of the mutt world.

That made it the top poofy poodle dog in the United States.

Then the TV announcer identified the dog's hometown and owner.

Now where would you expect the nation's top poofy poodle dog to come from?

Of course. Beverly Hills. Or maybe Manhattan. Palm Beach or Palm Springs. Some place rich, where the person who walks the dog wears mink. The poofy poodle dog has always been identified with wealth, social status, snobbery. When did you ever read about a poofy poodle dog chewing up someone who tried to rob a tavern?

Which is unfair in a way. My neighbors have a poodle dog but it isn't poofed. Unpoofed, it looks like a regular dog. When it sees me, it growls, barks and tries to gnaw one of my knees. Personal differences aside, I like that dog.

But when this country's finest poofy poodle dog walked across my TV, the announcer said: "It is owned by Edward Jenner of Burlington, Wis."

Burlington, Wis.?

That is when I almost went into shock.

I know Burlington, Wis. Next to Chicago, I have spent more time there than in any other place in the world.

Burlington is near several small lakes that form sort of the poor man's Lake Geneva. Years ago, my relatives and friends bought or built little weekend houses in or near Burlington.

Over four decades, I've been in every bar in Burlington and have consumed tons of the local haute cuisine: beef jerky washed down with beer. I've bought thousands of brats and pork shanks from Herman the German, the best sausage-maker in this part of the world. I've consumed almost my weight in schnitzel at the White Oaks bar and restaurant, where you can still get a slab of prime rib and a liter of beer for less than a day's pay. It is also where the local nudist colony holds an annual banquet. Thank goodness, they keep their clothes on.

At the town's biggest hardware store, they sell large worms and leeches. Not as a dining item -- although one never knows -- but as bait to wrestle 8-ounce bluegills from the local lakes.

And Burlington's softball players will never live down the humiliation of being crushed by my Chicago team in a game to raise funds so the local fire department could buy an indoor toilet.

As I said, I know Burlington. But one thing I have never seen in Burlington is a poofy poodle dog.

Burlington is a blue-collar town. And it has blue-collar dogs. My favorite was a fat mutt named Mooch, who would come to the back door every dusk and howl until I gave it a slice of Herman the German's bratwurst. Over time, the cholesterol got Mooch, but what the heck, he ate well.

So if a poofy poodle dog wandered through Burlington, I'd expect it to wind up on somebody's Weber grill.

But the TV announcer said the winning poodle, which went on to grab another trophy for best of something else, was from Burlington.

It was like hearing that Roseanne was a society debutante.

After the show ended, Jenner answered his phone.

And it turns out that I was right after all. Don't believe what you hear on TV.

"She's 5 years old, and I've owned her for two years," said Jenner, 69, a professional dog trainer and breeder, "but she was raised and trained in Alpine, Calif."

Jenner is not your typical Burlington kind of guy. He owns a home on 160 acres outside of town, where he has more than 50 dogs, as well as sheep, horses and a llama. It is believed to be Burlington's only llama.

That could be your lifestyle -- raising blue-ribbon mutts -- if your father was a rich banker and you grew up on Chicago's North Shore.

"I have a home in Lake Forest, which is where my wife spends most of her time. We've been married for 48,000 years. No, just 48," Jenner said.

"I've lived in Burlington for eight years. I have nine grandchildren. They call me grumps, not gramps. I tell them: 'All the dogs bite.' And I mean it."

Jenner says his wife aspires to be a "dog person" but has less expertise than him.

"My wife keeps calling me (from Lake Forest). She has a West Highland White terrier, and it's about to have puppies. She has no idea what to do.

"She called me once and said: 'These dogs are stuck together. What should I do?'

"I said: 'They're breeding. They're supposed to do that.' That shows how much of a dog person she is."

Incidentally, the name of the prize-winning, national champion poodle is La Marka Nina Oscura.

And how did that name come about?

"I don't know," Jenner said. "I forgot to ask."

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