During the past year I have acquired a number of ribbons. They are all pretty small, being about an inch or so in length and in a variety of colors, often seasonal. There are small elastic bands on them to hold them in place.

These ribbons have fallen from Harrigan's fur when he has been to Massachusetts to visit me along with his best friend, Llewellyn. Harrigan is a Tibetan Terrier and while I have no pets, I think if I ever did get one it would be a dog of this breed. Harrigan is even tempered, smart, patient, not too big, cute and absolutely charming. He isn't a noisy dog that barks constantly and he is very friendly.

Harrigan is a city dog and lives in New York. When groomed, Harrigan comes home with ribbons on his fur, rendering him adorable, but in the eyes of some people, a bit effeminate. After all he is a male dog. This often causes people to refer to Harrigan as a "she," but I don't think it bothers Harrigan much, despite the fact denigrating songs have been composed about him. After a while the ribbons start to loosen and some eventually fall out, so I pick them up and save them. A few times I even wore a solitary ribbon in a strand of my hair and went to school, where I teach. I nearly thought this might catch on as a fad until the students asked where they could get some similar ribbons, and I suggested checking the local yellow pages under Dog Groomers.

Recently we were visiting our friends Alex and Suzie on their farm in New Jersey. They have lots of animals there including sheep, chickens, ducks, cats and a dog. Harrigan came along also, wearing his ribbons, perhaps slightly overdressed for farm life.

"You've got to get Llewy to stop putting ribbons on that dog," Alex told me privately.

"Why?," I asked.

"It looks faggy for a male dog," Alex explained, "and it's stupid to put ribbons on a dog like that."

"I'll tell Llewy," I promised Alex.

Now, I am the first to admit that Harrigan has a city dog attitude and training. When he comes to visit me in suburbia, despite all the lawn and wooded areas around, he still makes a beeline for pavement or the curb when it's time for him to "do his business." This makes my driveway and sidewalk a place to tread carefully at times.

But out on the farm that day, Suzie and I took the dogs for a walk, and I saw Harrigan fearlessly plunge into the stream, ribbons and all. Harrigan also barked a lot at the sheep and cats, and judging from the odor on the ride home the next day, he must have had a grand time rolling in some animal feces. He also seems to hold his ground pretty well with other dogs of male gender. Not bad for Little Lord Fauntleroy of the canine set.

This gender issue reminds me of when my son Ryan was about 6 and the Cabbage Patch Kid craze hit the apex of popularity. After some serious thought about possible effects, I bought him a Cabbage Patch Kid. It was a male doll named Matt. Later, Matt had two pals move into our house, Bellamy and Drew. The interesting part about seeing him with dolls was that it really didn't change gender roles at all. There would, for example, often be "fights" between Drew and Matt. Drew, having a mean streak, would often tie up the others ruthlessly with ropes and strings. Ryan would build elaborate wheeled vehicles or body armor or prisons for them out of Construx. In other words, the behaviors I saw between my son and his Cabbage Patch Kids differed little between that and interaction with his friends and other toys. The dolls were like very large action figures in a child centered world of pretend.

A few days ago I saw Harrigan again, and this time Llewellyn had brought him home from the groomer ribbonless. I looked closely for signs of an increase in male behavior in Harrigan but didn't see any. He seemed the same: still barking at kitties, demanding walks, and asking for cookies. Thinking about it now, it's similar to seeing someone for the first time with their beard or mustache shaved off. Or, one of the local neighborhood teenagers without a hat you had assimilated as being part of the kid. So, while some people insist that clothes make the man, ribbons don't necessarily make the dog.

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© Laurel O'Donnell
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