Weeding The Culls

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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Guys are clearly the least romantic of the genders, and the extra pressure of Valentine's Day -- a day devoted entirely to romancing women -- puts a lot of pressure on us.

That's why the minute it's over -- and I mean 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 15 -- we guys start slipping ever-so-subtlety back into our normal routines. By now, we're all the way back.

While most women don't even notice this gradual regression, Rachel Toor is not most women. Toor is the author of "The Pig and I" (Hudson Street, $22.95), a book that, as you might suspect, bashes the male gender mightily.

In it, she bemoans the fact that she gets more pleasure, motivation and inspiration out of her pets than she does out of her men.

Subtitled, "Why It's So Easy to Love an Animal, and So Hard to Live With a Man," Toor's book recounts with nostalgia her experiences with Prudence the sweet little mouse, Hester the grumpy "bitch rat," Hannah the quiet but cuddly mutt, Pepper the willful pony, and Emma the "diabolically clever" pot-bellied pig. Toor is less kind to the men she has dated, whom she compares, often unfavorably, to various persuasions of dogs.

But despite Toor's obvious bigotry, "The Pig and I" apparently has some redeeming qualities.

"Any woman who has experienced the pure joy of loving an animal and the often-less-than-pure joy of loving a man will recognize herself in Rachel," one obviously female reviewer wrote. "Any woman who has fallen for a man for all the wrong reasons will chuckle as she sees her own flawed judgment writ large."

Some guys who read Toor's book, however, take issue with her basic premise. For example, one obviously male reviewer wrote, "Loving a pet is easy and unconditional and much less emotional work than loving another human being."

Being an owner of multiple pets and somewhat on the sensitive side of the scale, I can see at least a little bit of where Toor is coming from. Like Pepper, my horse would like nothing better than to join my three dogs inside the house each night. And for my part, I only wish I could afford to build a house that would allow him to do just that.

It goes without saying, of course, that dogs are wonderful companions. They don't call them man's best friend for nothing.

But while my three dogs do a great job of fulfilling the friendship function, they don't seem to do much else of value, at least from a human perspective.

They could take a lesson from Champion J Luvs Schoolhouse Doodlebug, the wirehaired dachshund from Pine who has taken best of breed two years in a row at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. Doodle, as he prefers to be called, knows what's important to humans -- winning.

On a recent Tuesday, a harmonic convergence occurred: Doodle and Toor collided at deadline time back in the production area of the Roundup.

Just as I was telling the production gang what "The Pig and I" was all about, a call came in from Doodle's handler reporting his latest Westminster win. As we waited for the press to slow down and stop (it's an old press) so we could include this late-breaking story, the production gang inevitably turned to the subject of attracting dogs into our lives..

We all allowed as to how we had known our share, when somebody put forth the premise that us all ending up together in one place might be more than coincidence -- that maybe the backmost part of the Roundup was where life's losers were sent. You know, a kind of purgatory-on-earth.

But then, just as we were wallowing in collective self pity, Roundup Julie walked in and firmly pronounced herself a winner and delivered a little pep talk.

As pep talks go, it certainly wasn't made of the same stuff that Knute Rockne used to deliver to inspire his teams to acts of valor.

But Julie said one thing that stuck with us all.

"I've weeded the culls," she said.

What a great Rim country colloquialism, I thought. But when I looked the "culls" up in the dictionary just to make sure it didn't exist, darned if it wasn't there:

"Something picked out from others, esp. something rejected due to inferior quality."

Suddenly the day began to assume a brighter cast back in the production dungeon. When you're in the newspaper business, it's always a good day when you learn a new word.

And one could do worse than hanging out with dogs. They're friendly, after all, and you never know when one might turn out to be best of breed.

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