As a gesture of goodwill, Commerce Secretary Juanita M. Kreps recently gave Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev a black Labrador retriever, a breed whose rarity in the Soviet Union is probably attributable to the fact that it is a swimming as well as a running imperialist dog.
We do not know whether the intelligence community was consulted on the advisability of helping the Soviets close the Labrador gap, or whether Mrs. Kreps's gift was inspired by Karl Marx's 1843 observation that "Communism, in particular, is a dogmatic abstraction." However, in behalf of Soviet-American amity, what we might be concerned about is whether Mr. Brezhnev is aware of the peculiarities of the Labrador breed. For if he is not, and difficulties ensue from this gift, it is doubtful that the personnel tending the Washington-Moscow hotline are terminologically equipped-given the normal problems of translation-to take on a Labrador crisis. In this regard, I may perhaps be of some assistance, having resided, since his infancy, with a black Labrador retriever, Walter, now age four and weighing 110 pounds.
As is well known in Western dog circies, the Labrador experiences a notoriously prolonged puppyhood and adolescence, so that at ages when other breeds have settled into canine maturity, the labrador persists in the tradition of the fraternity-house prankster.
All persons associated with Labradors can cite their own examples of this characteristic. Among mine are my canine colleague's propensity for rifling the luggage of newly arrived house-guests, and confronting them, often at the dinner table, with a snoutful of one or another personal article. Having consulted the works of recognized dog psychologists, I earnestly counsel the invariably horrified guest against any demonstration of interest, as this would reinforce the larcenous behavior. But the capacity for savoir faire is usually overwhelmed by the sudden intrusion of a Labrador bearing, for example, your toothbrush and underpants. Merely closing the door to the guest-room is useless, as Labradors can easily turn doorknobs, a skill, incidentally, that is also employable for late-night social calls on unsuspecting guests and household members.
What must also be observed about Labradors is that, in regard to romantic attachments, the males show a bi-sexual, multi-species egalitarianism, but when confronted by a group of people, they unfailingly give their preference to the person who is least fond of dogs. This was illustrated not long ago when Walter, shrewdly timing his movements, caught a dog-despising visiting pyschiatrist from behind, and subjected him to what was unquestionably an affectionate embrace. The recipient of this attention went livid, but was helped toward regaining his composure by a nimble-minded observer who asked him, "Why, among the many people here, id the dog seelct you?" The question meshed so nicely with the shrink's views on how to navigate in this trouble-ridden world that it inspired serious introspection that helped dissiapte his upset.
What may be of particular interest to Mr. Brezhnev is that the Labrador seems to be a natural partisan of the dictum "From each according to his ability to each according to his need." I infer this from the fact that Walter skillfully empolys his considerable abilities to satisfy his manifold needs. Prominenet among these, the Soviet leader ought to know at once, is cheese, which, if not freely given, can inspire a Labrador to espionage-like feats. In the case ot Walter, we discovered, he was prying open the refrigerator door late at night and helping himself to cheese. This was unaccepatble, not the least reason being that he confined himself to the more expensive varieties. The problem was solved by delicately balancing a can of water on the top edge of the refrigerator door; when the nighttime cheese predator next forced the door, he was rewarded with a drenching and a memorable but harmless knock on his head. After that, he left the refrigerator along.
Much more could be said, but for the purpose of alerting the Soviet president, that's the warp and the woof of Labradors.