Volume 18 • Issue 39 | February 10 - 16, 2006


Drawing talisman comfort from the stuffed to the living

By Wickham Boyle

The other day I saw a lovely little girl being pushed in her stroller; the child was clutching a giant red panda, her arms were entwined around its stuffed head. In the next minute I saw a grown woman, an executive who I know makes oodles of money and wields power in the movie biz. This mogul had a small dog in a papoose strapped to her chest.

I immediately saw these two as part of the same cult; they were both toting talismans or magical charms. My gigantic Oxford dictionary provides in-depth definitions, and it defines a talisman as “a stone, ring or other object to which are attributed occult powers. It is usually worn or carried to avert evil or bring good fortune to the wearer. A talisman can be any object held to be endowed with magic, virtue.”

So were we all inculcated in childhood into the cult of carrying talismans? Come on, I bet it is safe to say that ALL of us had some special object that we carted from crib, to play dates, or pre-school and perhaps this talisman even went with us to college.

In my house, my daughter had a beloved, stuffed otter. For years otter traveled to camp, went on sleepovers and even crossed the ocean on European jaunts. This small stuffed creature went away to university, but was banished back home when my daughter’s skittish roommate was appalled by its moth-eaten, chewed countenance. But on occasion I still find otter under a pillow or tucked in the covers.

You rarely see a kid falling asleep in a stroller or strapped into a car seat without the accompanying stuffed animal. I get it. It is a comfort and also a great pillow. You love its smell — an aroma that is part you and part whatever mom has done in furtive attempts at cleaning. I suppose kids feel that whatever else changes in their uncertain lives, the “lovie” remains constant, and that is pretty soothing.

Maybe the seemingly ubiquitous appearance of small dogs carried by women and the occasional man, is a part of the necessary wish for calm. I know there have been studies done, which say that stroking or petting an animal actually reduces stress in senior citizens or the chronically ill. There is even the label of “comfort animal” that enables dog owners to take their pet into a nursing home or hospice and provide solace to patients. So is that what is transpiring with these tiny dogs? Are they under-cover nursemaids calming chronically stressed out executives?

At first those tiny dogs were only seen as the talismans of the rich and powerful. And we all know how stressful Paris Hilton’s life must be: never really eating, frantic partying, and the crammed date book filled with visits to jewelers to return engagement rings. And then there is the undercover porno career. I am stressed out just making the list. So Paris purchased Tinkerbell and began to carry him everywhere. Following her lead, a wave of miniature dogs appeared. They were in tote bags created just for the phenomenon, they were in arms, strapped to chests, in backpacks, sitting at restaurants or in special car seats. And like the dolls of our childhood they had outfits and could be dressed for rain, snow, sleet or sunshine.

These dogs are not merely a fashion accessory, just like the stuffed animals desperately dragged by tots are not about fashion; no these dogs are comfort animals. And we are beginning to see them everywhere in this stressed-out world.
I can’t wait until the guys who pick up the trash have little dogs sporting Sanitation Department green and florescent orange. I look forward to the moment when I drive up to my seedy gas station and the dog who always barks, you know him, the one we all call Greasy, comes out yapping while sporting a worn denim jumpsuit and ball cap pulled to the side.

I have entertained fantasies of dressing up my 20-pound Maine coon cat, and riding around with him in the basket of my bike. But as my fantasy unfolds, the ever-unpredictable Auggie jumps into traffic leaving a trail of tears and the fun stops. So for now I have no comfort animal I can tote with me. And so I will have to content myself with the vicarious pleasure I get from watching red pandas stuffed in strollers or teacup puppies strapped to women old enough to comfort themselves at home.


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