Penny’s Puppy by
(247 Stories)

Prompted By Naming Pets

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15 years old with Nicky

My mother was terrified of dogs. Dogs had been used during the 1906 pogroms against my grandparents in Russia. My grandmother would cross to the other side of the street to avoid coming close to a dog. She instilled that fear in my mother as well. I guess I understood, but I LOVED them and always wanted one, particularly after my brother left for college and I was lonely.

My mother also couldn’t keep a secret. One day in 1966, she spoke with her sister-in-law, Roz Sarason, who had some exciting news. Their French poodle, Jacques, had sired a litter of puppies to help the owner of the female dog raise the money to buy contact lenses from my cousin Steve (Roz’s son), who worked as an optician at the time. Penny, the female poodle had a litter of five cute little puppies. Steve claimed the one female in the litter. The rest were up for sale.

“Don’t tell Kenny or Betsy”, warned my aunt. “They’ll want one.”

Naturally, the first thing my mother said when I got home from school that day was to tell me about the puppies. Of COURSE I wanted one of those pups. Dad and I went to see them that weekend and chose one for me. Mom was apoplectic, but that’s what she got for not keeping the secret.

The puppies were, indeed, adorable; little bundles of black fur, their silver coats hadn’t yet come in under the puppy fur. These were miniature poodles (not toy but not standard either, just a perfect size for me). We picked one; a lively little male, paid for him, but left him with his mother until he was six weeks old and weaned.

We deliberated about names. His mother was Penny and she had five puppies, so we thought we’d be clever and name him “Nickel” (like “5 pennies”). But this was a pure-bred poodle (though we never gave him a fancy cut, always a “puppy” cut, we left his fur evenly trimmed across his whole body). We needed a name to register him with the American Kennel Club. I was in first year French class in high school and had a limited French vocabulary. I wanted him to be “Nickel of the Woods”, (in French) since we lived in Huntington Woods. But I did not yet know the word for “woods” which would be bois. I knew forêt, which is “forest”. So according to the AKC, my little puppy had the grand name of Nichol des Forêt. Yet, just as I am ALWAYS Betsy, never Elizabeth, my dog was ALWAYS Nicky. I don’t think anyone outside my immediate family even knew his official name.

I was very happy to have some companionship around the house, but my father adored this dog!

Nicky was Dad’s best friend

Nicky gave my dad unconditional love, never hassled or nagged him. Walking him gave Dad a reason to get out of the house and go visit friends around the corner, or have a private conversation with me. While Nicky was being trained, Dad took him to his car dealership for the day, so my mother didn’t have to deal with that. Poodles are a very smart breed and Nicky was quick to learn. Like most dogs, he just wanted to be loved and petted. I think that describes a lot of humans too.

Shortly before leaving for college in our backyard.

Like many dogs, Nicky was deathly afraid of thunder storms and we had some doozies in Detroit. I’d hold him close, as I felt his whole body tremble. I missed him when I went off to college and looked forward to seeing him when I returned home.

Home for Debbie’s wedding, 3/24/73

But like so many of the breed, Nicky developed eye problems. His retina atrophied and he went blind. His doctor said he’d be fine as long as nothing in the house changed. My mother left the basement door open once when she went downstairs to do laundry. He bumped into the open door and fell down the steps, hurting himself. I was already married and gone from the household. My mother’s frantic voice reached me after she’d taken him to the vet. He was banged up, but nothing broken.

Shortly after that incident, my parents bought a condo in Laguna Beach, CA with plans to spend part of the winter there. They knew they couldn’t let Nicky languish in a kennel. Dad called me the night they put Nicky down. I understood that he couldn’t survive outside our home. I sincerely mourned the loss of my only childhood pet.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a great story about a bright, lovely dog– starting with your brilliantly Frenchified naming him of Nichol des Foret. And, yes, Betsy (never Elizabeth), Nicky was clearly what he should always be called.

    Nicky sounds like a dear companion, especially to you and your father. And, as usual, you have the perfect pictures to accompany and enhance your story.

    Despite all that love, between the thunder, the eye problems and the fall down the steps, Nicky’s life was clearly not without travail. As you keenly note, Nicky’s desire just to be loved and petted was exactly like that of many of us “hoomans” as well. So true of both species!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Nicky was truly loved in our household, John…at least by me and my father. My mother complained when she had to walk him, but she did her part. She was very upset when he stumbled down those basement steps and she took him straight to the vet. It is unfortunate that he went blind (this is common in pure-bred poodles; too much in-breeding), but leaving him alone for a month in the winter was unacceptable as well. I sobbed when my dad gave me the news, but I understood.

      And of course, don’t we all just want to be loved, John?

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your story, Betsy. So often, a pet provides the love that someone needs. That seems true for your father and for you. Remember Nicky for being the wonderful pet you needed and also for the love you gave him, which made his life a happy one.

    PS – Most of our kids’ dogs quake when they hear thunder or fire crackers, makes the 4th of July weekend special!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I was only home with Nicky for four years and those were busy high school years, but my father knew there’d always be a tail wagging when he got home from work and Nicky would jump into his lap when Dad sat in his chair after dinner. That dog really did provide the emotional support my dad needed after my brother and I were out of the house and that was, indeed, a blessing, Laurie, for both man and dog.

      I didn’t know it then, but do now, that most dogs are frightened by loud sounds. I have friends who have “thunder vests” for their dogs.

  3. Yep, the registered name is for just for show (literally). The call name’s what counts. Nicky sounds wonderful; it really helps that poodles are such a smart breed. Dealing with a dog’s thunder fear, check, dealing with a dog that goes blind late in life, check. But it’s clear from your story that Nicky had a wonderful life. Good on you.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Tom. Nicky was a city dog, so was never off-lease, but yes, he had a good life. Except when he was really a little pup, following my dad around that car dealership (which must have been so cute, now that I think of it). Dad opened one of those big, heavy doors for the two of them to walk through, but Nicky took a step back at the last second and the door closed on his hind leg, breaking it! Dad rushed him to the vet (he bit my dad, but he was in a LOT of pain, so Dad understood). So poor Nicky, just a few months old, was in a cast for about 6 weeks. It wasn’t funny, but he did sound like peg-leg on the wood floors for a while! I am happy to report that there were no lasting consequences.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    This was a lovely story, Betsy. I think the French name was great too, even if he was really “Nicky”. Dogs are such good companions, and important in our lives–you can’t convince a dog person that they aren’t intelligent, have personalities, and communicate, because that is so evident. Trying to live up to our dog’s example is a worthy goal.

  5. So sorry Betsy to hear about Nicky’s blindness and I understand he couldn’t survive in a strange house, but a shame no one could take him when your parents moved.

    One of our cats lived a relatively long life but towards the end seemed to be disoriented and would turn in circles in a corner of the kitchen. Until the vet told us, we weren’t aware that he was blind!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’m told that the atrophied retina is common in purebred poodles, Dana. An unfortunate result of too much inbreeding. Nicky was 12 at the time, so not a youngster, but it was sad. My parents didn’t move, just went away for a month, but Nicky couldn’t adjust to being anywhere else. My dad probably felt it the most, as he was the closest to him. It just had to be that way.

  6. Marian says:

    I got such a great picture of Nicky, Betsy. As I learn more about poodles, I really like them, and Dick and I have talked about getting a standard if we ever decide to take on a dog. You have tempted me more with this story.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Poodles were originally bred to be hunting dogs (that’s why the funny hair cut – to keep their joints warm when they retrieve in water) and they are whip-smart, very loyal and great companions. My former next door neighbor here on the Vineyard has had a succession of standards who were all lovely dogs. I highly recommend them. Also, they don’t shed, which is why they are cross-bred with other breeds (hence the “golden doodle”, “labradoodle”, etc.).

  7. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Betsy, and it almost makes me want to get a poodle too! Did you change your title some time this morning? The first email I got about a comment on the story (must have been John’s) said “Please moderate Nichol de Foret.” Later I started seeing emails about a story called Penny’s Puppy, and I thought it was a different story, maybe written by our writer named Penny. Anyway, I loved the story (and the photos), no matter what the title.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      You caught me, Suzy. I did change the title very early in the morning (John and I are early risers). I decided giving away the punch line wasn’t a great idea, but didn’t come up with something better until about 6:30am EDT.

      Glad you enjoyed my story and think poodles are good dogs because they are (even if I haven’t personally owned one in over 40 years. When I used to wait for the school van to come for Vicki and we’d see all the neighbors out walking their dogs, I’d ooh and ah. Vicki said, “Mom, why don’t you get a dog. You obviously love them”, to which I replied, “Because I’m too lazy to care for one. I don’t want to be out there walking one in all kinds of weather so early in the morning!”)

      And that about sums it up for me. Cats were much easier to care for with the kids around. And now we travel, so have no pets at all.

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