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Of Dogs, Wives and Parallel Lives

June 26, 1995|JACK SMITH

I have a long letter from Arthur Marx, son of Groucho and author of "My Life with Groucho: A Son's Eye View" (Parkwest Publication, 1991), telling me that his wife is like mine, except that she sleeps with three dogs in her bed, instead of one, like my wife.

I wrote that recently my wife had adopted a Doberman puppy that sleeps in her bed. She calls her Lili.

Lois Marx's dogs are a golden retriever, a French poodle and a Yorkshire terrier. (The Yorkie is named Lily.)

This began about 20 years ago, Marx recalls, when they gave his father a white poodle puppy, Elsie, to replace Groucho's third wife. "He was lonely after their divorce and we thought having a dog around the house would cheer him up.

"Well, it did momentarily, but actually he wasn't a dog person--he could never housebreak any of the ones he had, and his maid didn't want to be bothered. So, one day, about a week later, we received a frantic call from Groucho asking, 'How would you like to have another poodle?'

"Well, before you could say 'dogcatcher,' Lois was in her car and on her way over to Groucho's to pick up the newest addition to our family.

"After a few days of having Elsie sleeping in our bedroom, along with Perry, our first poodle, we discovered that two dogs were the ideal number to have, because when you left them alone in the house they could keep one another company. And when we went for an evening stroll on Rodeo Drive it was easy for each of us to manage one dog on a leash.

"Yes, two were the ideal number--until a beautiful, 1-year-old golden retriever wandered up our driveway one morning a couple of years later. He was hungry, underfed looking, and without a collar or any identification. He'd obviously been dumped by someone who either couldn't afford him or didn't want to bother with him.

"We'd never had a dog that size before--we'd always dealt in miniature poodles--but the dog was sweet, and after we'd fed him two cans of dog food in a row he refused to go away. So we decided to keep him and see if anyone turned up claiming ownership or posted a sign in the neighborhood.

"The first night Brandy--for that's what we named him--slept in our yard. We thought because of his size and heavy coat he was an outdoor dog and that's where he'd like to sleep. We came out in the morning and found to our disappointment that he had jumped the fence. But he didn't go far. When I came out to get the L.A. Times, I found him sitting on our front doorstep.

"To say that having three dogs on our bed has been detrimental to our sex life is not exactly true. It hasn't ruined it. It just took away the spontaneity of it. When we want to have sex these days we first have to catch them and lock them in another part of the house, where they bark and yelp and whine until we've finished making love.

"But that's OK. We love them anyway. As a matter of fact, we've decided that while it's difficult walking down Rodeo Drive with three dogs on a leash, it's good protection; no one would dare to mug us.

"Still, when our oldest poodle went to that great dog kennel in the sky, I realized how uncomplicated life was with just two dogs in our household. I thought Lois felt that way too until one day she took me by the hand and led me into a pet store in Century City . There she found the cutest little 8-week-old Yorkshire terrier we couldn't live without. Correction: She couldn't live without.

"I wasn't so sure, especially after I saw her $1,100 price tag. But since Lois had always wanted a dog she could name Lily, and this cute little pup happened to be a female, there was no question about who else was going to be sleeping in our bed that night.

"I thought you might find it amusing to know that you are not the only one with a wife like yours."

Well, there are certainly similarities between the two women in Marx's story. My wife is strong-willed, loving and gracious, and it was her idea to call our new dog Lili. But she wouldn't pay $1,100 for a dog, not even a Yorkshire terrier. On the other hand, I'm not sure she wouldn't pay $1,100 for a dog if she wanted to. As I say, she is strong-willed, loving and gracious. And she has her own bank account.

I don't believe, however, that a third dog would improve our sex life.

* Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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