On the Death of My Homophobic Dog

I named him Liberace, but I couldn’t have chosen a less appropriate namesake for this coarse, emotionally withholding Norwich terrier.

Painting by Scott Lifshutz
Liberace the dog.

Painting by Scott Lifshutz

Last Thursday, after 16 years of furry frolics, our best friend shuffled off his mortal coil. He was given a sedative, followed by a lethal heart-stopping injection, whereupon he ascended to his rightful place on the great celestial doggy pouf in the sky.

Liberace—I refer, of course, to our Norwich terrier, and not the louche, bewigged, and maquillaged Vegas entertainer with whom our pooch so grudgingly shared a moniker—had lost most of his sight and hearing in the last year. In the spring he waved goodbye to his marbles. He pooped on the bed and tinkled hither and thither. His back legs started pretzeling around each other. When he walked, which was rarely, he appeared to be mocking the crisscross catwalk strut epitomized by leggy model Kirsty Hume in the ’90s. By Labor Day, our little guy was stuck in an anxious fugue state. The time had come to pull the plug.

We scheduled the appointment with Death two weeks out. This would allow us, or so we thought, to get used to the idea. In retrospect this was a mistake. The run-up to D-day was spent in a state of nauseated anxiety. Advice to anyone contemplating pet euthanasia: Once you have made up your mind, avoid the gruesome anticipation and do it sooner than later.

As soon as Lib expired, the anxiety was replaced by a torrent of grief. This emotional enema was quickly followed by a drenching sense of relief, and then, sweetest of all, nostalgia: The next day I was able to look back fondly over his long life and to see clearly just how little he had in common with his namesake.

While the other Liberace was gayer than gay, our Liberace was profoundly homophobic. Any displays of affection between my husband and me were met with disapproving doggy stares. Bedroom cuddles were interrupted with judgmental growls.

The author, left, with his husband, Jonny, and the dog Liberace.

Screeching difference number two: The other Liberace may have lived for chinchilla and bugle beads, but our Liberace had no interest in adornment. Nary a scintilla of chinchilla ever touched his body. He was the least flamboyant dog in the entire world. Butch and outdoorsy, he liked muddy adventures and would trot along for hours between me and Jonny on lengthy hikes. Any attempts to dress him up were strenuously resisted. He was pugnacious and practical. Think Jimmy Cagney.

And then there was his voice. While the other Liberace spoke in the nasal drawl of a 1950s Midwestern hairdresser, our Liberace’s voice, as channeled by me and Jonny, recalled the squawk of a Dickensian street urchin. Lib’s plangent Cockney pronouncements—always judgmental and unnecessarily frank—became a signature part of his identity.

“Looking good, Liberace!” a neighbor might comment.

“Wish I could return the compliment,” would come the reply. He was Liberace the Insult Norwich.

Our Liberace lacked finesse. The first Liberace may have lived for doilies and folderol, but ours was feral and earthy. When he wasn’t breaking wind, he was chowing down in a messy, Friar Tuck fashion. His one concession to decorum: He never ate dog poop. Dieu merci for that.

Our Liberace was emotionally withholding. While the namesake entertainer was intent on seducing the entire universe with sequined sentiment and honeyed outpourings, our Lib’s philosophy could be summed up as “Hell is other people,” as in Jean Paul Sartre. He abhorred any displays of human emotion. If, post-mortem, he had seen me and my Jonny clutching each other and bawling our eyes out like wailing women in a Greek tragedy, he would have castigated us roundly.

So what, you are no doubt wondering, were his redeeming qualities? Did he even have any? Firstly, he was a real looker. Unlike his namesake, our Liberace was extraordinarily cute. Even in his drool-cup years, he was drop-dead handsome with a tres sexy pair of squeezable haunches

Secondly, our boy was fantastically loyal. His main goal in life was to spend as much time as possible with me and my husband. I once made the mistake of taking him to the dog run in Washington Square. He refused to leave my side and stared at me reproachfully. “Who are all these wankers?” his defiant little visage seemed to say.

Thirdly, our Liberace was relentlessly wholesome. The original Lib may have dallied with dodgy hustlers and crack-lovin’ boy toys, but our Liberace’s idea of erotic pleasure was to eat an organic dog biscuit by the fire. Was this lack of a libido attributable to the nut removal I had arranged when Lib was just a defenseless puppy? I plead the Fifth.

When, several years back, conservative pundits began advancing the where-will-it-all-end argument that allowing gay marriage would open the door to people attempting to marry their pets, Jonny and I gave this daring concept a vigorous thumbs up. We would happily have tied the knot with that darling little pooch.

Liberace, RIP.